Nixon is the new regional high school principal
Assistant principal Stephen Nixon experienced a "Super Tuesday" of his own this week, when superintendent of schools James Weiss called to appoint him as the next principal at Martha's Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS). Mr. Nixon will take the reins from Principal Margaret (Peg) Regan on July 1.
Ms. Regan tendered her resignation last September, effective at the end of the school year, in order to pursue other interests after nine years as principal.
Mr. Nixon has served as the regional high school's assistant principal since 2004, and he has been on the faculty since 1998. He emerged as the only local candidate among four finalists chosen by a high school principal search committee from a field of 12.
In a phone call to The Times yesterday to announce the appointment, Mr. Weiss said he had been deliberating on the decision since Mr. Nixon and two other finalists underwent interviews on Feb. 15 and 19. One finalist dropped out.
"I think he'll make an excellent principal," Mr. Weiss said. "We had three candidates, two who were truly outstanding, and it was a tough choice, but I think Steve's knowledge of the Island and his experience will make him an outstanding principal in a time which is going to be a challenging one."
MVRHS school committee chairman Susan Parker said yesterday she was happy with Mr. Weiss's choice. "Steve cares deeply about the high school, is well regarded by both the faculty and the students, and will provide strong and steady leadership of the high school going forward," she said.
Mr. Weiss said on the plus side for Mr. Nixon, he can begin the transition into his new job right away. Reached at his school office yesterday, Mr. Nixon said that he knows that Ms. Regan will be helpful in that process between now and July.
Mr. Nixon added that his long history with the high school is definitely an advantage in providing continuity as he assumes his new role. "I think that's really important, because you can move into the job and hit the ground running," he said. "You don't have that two- or three-year lull when you have someone from the outside trying to learn about the community and the environment and all that," he said, adding, "It's also a nice comfort level."
Mr. Nixon also moves into his job as principal knowing that he has strong support from the high school's faculty and staff members. In the final stages of the principal search process, 65 of them endorsed Mr. Nixon as their choice for their next principal in a letter to the editor printed in the Jan. 31 issue of The Times.
"Well, certainly the staff was behind him, but the key thing here was not that letter but the input forms and emails that I received from staff members, from community members, and from people across the Island who really were very thoughtful in their discussions, and that led me in the direction of Steve," Mr. Weiss said.
Reached at his office at the high school yesterday, Mr. Nixon said the support of the faculty and staff during the search process meant a lot to him, as well as the students who wished him well. "When you have the kids pulling for you, that's great," he said. "They're the main reason for the job, because it's all about them. I'm looking forward to working with them."
When asked what he might focus on as principal, Mr. Nixon said, "One of the things that I've been saying all along is that our goal is not just to make our young people successful in school, but to make them successful in life. And so we're going to look at what it takes in this day and age to get them prepared for what's ahead for them so we've given them everything possible to be successful." With everyone in the building pulling together as a team, he added, "We not only can keep up the great name the high school has achieved over the years, but try and make it even better."
Mr. Nixon said one of the biggest changes over the course of his career as an educator has been the increase in mandates for schools at both the state and national level. Each change puts more responsibility on schools, which takes up a lot of time, energy, and money, he noted.
"On one hand, you're trying to get the kids prepared for the future and they need to pass some of these tests like MCAS to graduate," Mr. Nixon explained. "And on the other side of the coin, you don't want their education to be strictly geared towards passing a particular test, because that takes the excitement and joy out of learning."
It is difficult to judge a young person's entire high school career based on the outcome of one test, but that is what the mandate says educators have to do, Mr. Nixon said. "It's our job to make sure we surround that educational component, the testing component, with something that's stimulating and exciting."
To that end, Mr. Nixon proposed a new senior project program put into place last year with the approval of the school committee. As a former classroom teacher, he told the committee he remembered all too well how difficult it was to keep senior students interested and to get them excited about something. He also was mindful of the many students who never receive recognition for their skills or talents, he said.
Two senior students participated in the pilot senior project program last spring. Instead of taking eight courses they might not need to meet graduation requirements, they could opt to complete a senior project of their choice that took the place of four courses and counted as 10 credits. While working on their projects they attended school on an alternate day schedule similar to the work/study program.
A senior project consists of three components - a journal to document progress, a 10-page paper, and a 20-minute presentation at the semester's end before a five-member committee, including two chosen by the student. The project is graded on a pass/fail basis.
This year the program has grown to include nine students, who work with in-house mentors. "I think the senior project program is a really good example of how you can do some things educationally that can bring the excitement and enthusiasm back, especially to the older students, the kids who have been here for a while, so they really don't lose touch with what education is all about before they move on," Mr. Nixon said.
In the midst of working as assistant principal, Mr. Nixon also has been pursuing his doctorate degree in educational leadership online at the University of Sarasota in Florida.
Tuesday turned out to be a day of milestones for Mr. Nixon. Not only was he given the principal's job, but he also found out he passed his "first defense," meaning he was given the go-ahead by his doctoral committee to start collecting data, and once that is complete, will begin writing his dissertation. Mr. Nixon said he hopes to have his doctorate by the end of the summer.
He earned his bachelor's and master's degrees in history from Montclair State University in New Jersey, where he grew up. After receiving his bachelor's degree, Mr. Nixon became a high school history teacher, taking night classes to earn his master's degree.
He began working as a history teacher at MVRHS after he and his wife Maryellen (Talon) moved to the Vineyard in 1998. Between 2002 and 2004, Mr. Nixon took his first administrative position as the interim dean of students, and was appointed assistant principal in 2004.
The Nixons have three grown children and one grandchild, and another one expected this summer.