For Regan Nickels, the educational apple didn’t fall far from the tree.
“My parents were both teachers; there was a difference to be made in this job,” the new Sequim School District superintendent said July 19, his second official day on the job.
A longtime resident and Maine native who worked for several years in Washington state, Nickels was named Sequim’s top administrator in March, succeeding two acting superintendents.
Most recently, the superintendent of Regional School Unit 22 in Hapden, Maine, Nickels once again traveled across the country to lead a Sequim district with approximately 2,440 students and a budget of approximately $47 million.
Born and raised in Maine, Nickels began her career teaching math and science in eighth grade before moving to Bremerton with her husband John, a U.S. Navy submariner. She taught third, fourth, fifth and eighth grades in Bremerton before returning to Maine in 2005.
“We used to come to the [Olympic] Peninsula to recreate many, many times,” Nickels said last week.
When the job offer popped up, she jumped.
“Sequim was the only neighborhood I looked at,” she said.
Describing Sequim is a wonderful place to live — “the city itself offers so many opportunities,” Nickels said — the superintendent said she was working on the format of a listening tour, seeking conversations with community members as well as with staff and, in early fall, with returning students.
Growing up in a small town and then marrying into a military family, she said, tends to make people like her plug into a community from the start.
Communication will be key in the early days of getting to know Sequim, Nickels said — something that has come into focus in the previous two academic years affected by the COVID pandemic.
“[Those years, I learned] how critical is communication; it’s early, often and varied,” she said. Educators needed to become acutely aware and responsive to the needs of students and families.
Sometimes that meant offering a school in a hybrid style (remote and in-person). And while distance learning has some advantages, Nickels said in-person learning offers a unique experience.
Talking with stakeholders, she said, is something she would like to focus on: What is the district doing to serve students and what are their long-term needs?
Along with these early conversations, Nickels said it is focusing on three areas: student experience and success; registration; and the overall district budget.
Nickels’ transition from classroom teacher to administrator was both gradual and nurtured by a colleague.
“I had a natural inclination to be a teacher-leader,” she says, having led a teachers’ association during her school years.
It was while she was on maternity leave that a friend who was looking for advice on how to move forward with her career; Nickels suggested she pursue a major certification. Her friend agreed — if Nickels would join her in the process. So she did.
“What I’ve learned as a leader in education is that’s what you do,” Nickels said. “A superintendent provides guidance and leadership; rather than telling people what to do, they can be a team player and share ideas. »
After years in the classroom, Nickels said she enjoyed working with adults.
Nickels said she and her husband were avid sea kayakers and when they weren’t working they enjoyed reading and hiking with her German Shepherd.
She said she still remembers her favorite teachers, especially those in her first, fifth, and eleventh grades.
“They had high expectations, but they also recognized the potential,” she said. “They’re the ones making you feel like they see you.”
While in Washington State, Nickels earned her master’s degree in educational technology from City University of Bellevue, and her certificate in educational leadership and administrator certification from Western Washington University in Bellingham.
After returning to Maine, she worked in various administrative roles. She was principal of George B. Weatherbee School (Grades 3-5) and Reeds Brook Middle School, both in Hampden.
Nickels was named superintendent of RSU 22 in July 2020 after serving as assistant superintendent of business operations in that Maine district from 2017-2020.
His contract at Sequim is a three-year contract with a base salary of $230,000.
Sequim’s superintendent position became vacant late last year after Jane Pryne resigned after 13 months as acting superintendent. Pryne replaced Superintendent Robert Clark, who resigned after a complaint in October 2020 placed him on administrative leave. Retired superintendent and Sequim resident Joan Zook has accepted the interim post after Pryne for the remainder of the school year.