MVRHS principal Stephen Nixon resigns

Superintendent James Weiss last week granted Mr. Nixon a leave of absence for health reasons. A letter to parents announced his resignation.

Martha's Vineyard Regional High School principal Stephen Nixon, who submitted his resignation last week, is shown greeting students on the first day of school last September. — File photo by Ralph Stewart

Updated 5:25 pm, Monday, April 28, 2014.

In a letter to parents sent Monday afternoon, Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools (MVPS) Superintendent James Weiss announced that Stephen Nixon, principal of the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) for the past six years, had submitted his resignation effective at the end of the current school year.

Mr. Weiss also announced he had granted Mr. Nixon a leave of absence. “I know I speak for everyone when I wish Steve the best,” Mr. Weiss said.

In response to an inquiry last week from The Times about the status of Mr. Nixon, Mr. Weiss said Mr. Nixon, 57, had requested a leave of absence for health reasons. Mr. Weiss said he granted that request. Last week Mr. Weiss said there was no time period specified.

In his letter to parents dated April 28, Mr. Weiss said he has appointed Assistant Superintendent Matthew D’Andrea as acting principal. “Over the next few weeks, we will begin the process to select a new high school principal,” he said.

The news arrived at the same time that students returned from a one-week spring vacation break.

“Steve has been principal for almost six years, and on the staff for 16, as a teacher, assistant principal, and principal,” Mr. Weiss told The Times in a phone conversation Monday. “Certainly he’s had a good career at the high school.”

Mr. Weiss said he would present Mr. Nixon’s letter of resignation at a meeting of the MVRHS school committee on May 5. Over the next few weeks, he said he would begin the process to select a new principal, starting with the appointment of a search committee.

“We will be contacting the NAACP and the Tribe, and the committee will involve students, staff, community members, and school committee members, as well,” Mr. Weiss said. “I’ll be working out the details.”

Wonderful years

In an email to The Times late Monday, Mr. Nixon said he asked Mr. Weiss for a medical leave for the remainder of the school year, based on his doctor’s advice.

“The health issues are something I have been dealing with throughout this school year,” Mr. Nixon said. “While I was out we had some conversations as a family to decide what was best for us in the long run. Based on our decision we decided it was best at this point in time to resign.”

Mr. Nixon provided The Times with a copy of his resignation letter.

“After spending 16 wonderful years at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School I realize that I have accomplished many of the goals I set out to tackle when I moved into administration. We have an in-house alternative program, a Therapeutic Support Program, some of the highest test scores in school history, a Freshman year that totally changes our perspective on the transition year, and the introduction of a new nursing program to name a few.

“Recently our family has looked at a lot of opportunities that have presented themselves to us, most being off-Island, and we feel the time is right for us to take advantage of these, as we look to the final years of our professional careers. So, it is with great sadness, and yet a feeling of excitement, that I would like to announce my resignation as Principal of Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School effective June 30, 2014.

“It has been an honor to work with some of the greatest teachers and administrators in education. It has been a privilege to work with so many dedicated, parents, community members, and town governments. Most of all it has been life changing working with the greatest students anywhere.

“I wish you all well and our family will always have fond memories of you and you will be greatly missed.”

Mr. D’Andrea takes over

Mr. D’Andrea, a former elementary school principal in Mattapoisett, was named the new assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction for the MVPS in August 2013 and joined the Vineyard school system that fall. He filled a position left vacant by the resignation of Laurie Halt.

Mr. D’Andrea has a doctorate in policy and law from Northeastern University and a master’s degree in elementary education. He is state certified as a superintendent/assistant superintendent, principal/assistant principal, and teacher.

At the time Mr. Weiss announced the selection of Mr. D’Andrea, he commented on what made Mr. D’Andrea stand out from the other candidates. “I would say two things were really important,” Mr. Weiss said. “I think he brings strong interpersonal skills to the job, and he’s got some good experience in terms of working with curriculum and working with teachers.”

Successful in life

Stephen Nixon was named principal of MVRHS in February 2008. He took the reins from Principal Margaret (Peg) Regan on July 1.

Mr. Nixon had served as the regional high school’s assistant principal since 2004, and he had 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 making the appointment, Mr. Weiss cited Mr. Nixon’s knowledge of the Island and his experience.

In the final stages of the principal search process, 65 Island teachers endorsed Mr. Nixon as their choice for their next principal.

At the time, Mr. Nixon said his 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.”

Mr. Nixon 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 he was appointed assistant principal in 2004.

While working as assistant principal, Mr. Nixon pursued his doctorate degree in educational leadership online at the University of Sarasota in Florida. It took him several years to achieve his goal, because he first had to complete coursework in residence at the university on weekends and during school vacations before his acceptance into the doctoral program. He successfully defended his Ph.D. dissertation at the university in 2009.