The Sag Harbor Union Free School District Board of Education unanimously voted to approve the appointment of Jeff Nichols as the district’s next superintendent of schools May 11. The acting superintendent and current Pierson High School principal’s promotion went into effect Tuesday.
Nichols has led high school staff the past 20 years, serving the district since 1997. Under his leadership, Pierson was recognized as an International Baccalaureate school for developing students’ intellectual, emotional, personal, and social skills; produced multiple Intel Science Competition award recipients — semifinalists and finalists — and continued to support and maintain excellence in the arts. He shares the same goals of board and community members to educate the whole child to his or her fullest potential. The district said in a statement his commitment is evident by the fact that Pierson graduates have gone on to attend highly-regarded colleges and universities or pursue vocational career goals with the skills needed to be successful.
“Over the years, Jeff Nichols’ commitment to put students first has earned him the trust of students, parents, colleagues, and community members alike,” said Board of Education President Jordana Sobey. “He possesses a strong commitment to fiscal responsibility, along with a heightened awareness of education issues both locally and on a national level, and has demonstrated the ability to view the future through the lens of a leader. His institutional knowledge of our school district and positive relationships with our community will continue to be a critical asset as he transitions into his new role.”
During the past six months, Nichols assumed the position of superintendent twice, first as acting superintendent during November and December 2019, prior to the January retirement of Superintendent Katy Graves, and again as interim superintendent in April 2020, in each case while continuing to serve as high school principal. Graves first left her post to have surgery, and then to assume a new role as executive director of the Eleanor Whitmore Early Childhood Center in East Hampton. During both instances, Nichols served his dual leadership roles without additional compensation.
“I have had the pleasure of knowing and working closely with Jeff Nichols for more than 20 years. I am so pleased he has been appointed superintendent,” said Sag Harbor Elementary School Principal Matt Malone. “He is a thoughtful leader who approaches his responsibilities with great care. His intelligence, experience, and proven ability to lead here in Sag Harbor will enable him to help us all continue to do great things for the children and the entire community.”
Peter Solow, a teacher, parent, and former board of education member, has also known Nichols for more than 20 years, and said observing the new superintendent from his own variety of roles has helped him see Nichols from different perspectives.
“During his tenure as Pierson principal, we have seen a continual improvement in our educational program and the positive transformation of our school due to his leadership and his aspiration to make things better,” Solow said. “From his personal experience, he possesses an understanding of the organizational history of the district. I am confident that he has the capacity to effectively deal with the unprecedented challenges we face today. His thoughtful leadership and performance over the past weeks have been exemplary. In this context, the appointment of Jeff Nichols to the position of superintendent is a relief, because, I believe he will provide continuity and stability in a time of profound uncertainty. I am confident that he will also provide reassurance for our students, the district, and our community.”
Nichols, in addition to serving as superintendent of schools, will temporarily remain principal of Pierson High School. This will allow the district to minimize disruption to students during the COVID-19 pandemic. Nichols entered into a five-year contract —publicly available — with his annual compensation increasing from $233,435 during the 2019-20 school year to $265,000. The district anticipates certain cost savings by having him fill both roles while the fight against the novel coronavirus continues and distance learning remains in effect.
“Especially because, like everyone else, we are in these unchartered pandemic waters, Mr. Nichols is a great choice by the board of education to be the superintendent,” said teacher Jim Kinnier, who is head of the teacher’s union. “He knows the students, teachers, and staff. He knows the community. As we move forward, his calm, fact-based decision-making will help the district survive and thrive. All members of the team will come together and make this historic time a positive one.”
Pierson Middle School Principal Brittany Carriero said Nichols serves as a model for how to effectively lead a school by always putting the children first and never seeking the spotlight.
“Through both good times and bad, he has led our school community in a calm and thoughtful manner,” said Carriero, who added it’s been an honor to work with and learn from the new superintendent the past seven years. “In times of uncertainty, it is a comfort to have someone so effective at the helm. Sag Harbor is a tight-knit community that will benefit from a superintendent with his institutional knowledge. He possesses excellent communication skills and utilizes them to problem-solve issues in a collaborative fashion. I look forward to seeing the Sag Harbor schools continue to grow and thrive under the strong leadership of Jeff Nichols.”
Nichols’ appointment was the culmination of a lengthy and in-depth search process, which began in fall 2019 conducted by School Leadership, LLC, a highly-regarded national professional education search firm. Subsequent to meeting with the board of education and soliciting input from administrators, teachers, parents, and community residents, School Leadership presented a pool of qualified candidates for consideration to the board of education. After analyzing and discussing the qualifications of each candidate and conducting a rigorous interview process, the district said it became abundantly clear that the candidate possessing the qualities the board and community were seeking in the next superintendent was someone who was already known and respected by the community.
“I would like to express my sincere appreciation to the board of education for the confidence they have shown in me,” Nichols said. “I enjoy working in Sag Harbor and consider it a privilege to work with administrators, faculty, and staff who are talented and dedicated to preparing our students for the future. I feel especially fortunate to work with students who are kind, compassionate, and willing to work hard to achieve their goals. We have much to be proud of and I look forward to a future filled with new opportunities for success.”