New Kent County has a new schools chief.
Brian Nichols, an education veteran who rose from the ranks of elementary school teacher in Newport News to chief academic officer in the city, started his job as the school district’s superintendent last July 1.
Nichols replaces David Myers, who had led the district since 2014. In April, Myers became assistant superintendent for data for the Virginia Department of Education, where he oversees data collection and usage.
“We are thrilled to welcome Mr. Nichols to New Kent County Public Schools,” School Board Chairwoman Sarah Grier Barber said in a statement. “His experience in public education and enthusiasm for learning and teaching will be a great asset to the division and community.”
Barber said Nichols’ base salary is $147,000.
Nichols, who grew up in Gloucester County, was a first-generation college student, graduating from Christopher Newport University before launching his education career in Newport News.
He taught first and second grade there before taking school administration roles.
“The biggest thing for me is impact,” Nichols said. “For me, the opportunity to be a principal was an opportunity to broaden that impact and go from 20-25 to 500 or more and still stay closely connected.
“That was a big draw for me to New Kent. I can be superintendent and have thirty-three, thirty-four hundred kids but still know kids and families.”
Nichols became chief academic officer for Newport News in 2013. He was tapped at the end of 2017 to lead the city school district of roughly 28,000 students on an interim basis.
Now, he has the job of leading a district to himself.
“New Kent schools, we are successful, but there’s this relentless desire to do better and do more,” Nichols said. “When you go somewhere that is already doing well and still has the desire to keep pushing the envelope, that’s probably the most exciting part of the work so far.”
All four county schools meet the state’s full accreditation standards. County students fare above the state averages in reading, math, social studies and science. The district’s graduation rate is also higher that the state average.
There is an achievement gap in the district, though.
While black students in the district graduate at the same rate (94%) as their white peers, they score lower than white students in reading, writing, math, social studies and science, according to state data.
New Kent, tucked between Richmond and Williamsburg, is a growing rural county. Still, its enrollment of about 3,300 students is far less than the 28,654 students who go to school in Newport News.
Nichols said he wants to build off the success that already exists.
“We want students to graduate. We want them to graduate on time. But what else?” he said. “When a kid walks across the stage at the Siegel Center, what are they walking into? That’s the bridge we really need to build to make sure the kid is walking into something meaningful.”
Myers, his predecessor, was named the best superintendent in central Virginia by the Virginia School Boards Association in 2018. He helped launch CodeRVA, a regional magnet school in Richmond with a dual mission of teaching students computer science while also having a diverse student body.
Nichols said he’s looking forward to working with CodeRVA and expanding the use of technology in New Kent.
“I have enjoyed many years of great New Kent superintendents and am confident that Brian Nichols is the next incredible step for our school division and community,” said 3rd District School Board member Gail Hardinge, who is the chairwoman of CodeRVA’s governing board.
“His ideas, enthusiasm and energy fit well with our already strong leadership teams, and his eagerness to be an integral part of New Kent will mean a great deal to our families.”
While he started his role officially last week, Nichols met with students, teachers and principals while school was still in session in June. He said those visits have motivated him during his transition.
Said Nichols: “I only know one way and that’s all in, and that’s how we’re approaching it.”