SEQUIM — 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 that work,” said the Sequim School District’s new superintendent on Tuesday, her second official day on the job.
A longtime resident and native of Maine who worked for several years in Washington state, Nickels was selected Sequim’s top administrator in March, succeeding two interim superintendents.
Her contract in Sequim is a three-year contract with a base salary of $230,000.
Most recently the superintendent of Regional School Unit 22 in Hapden, Maine, Nickels has made the cross-country move once again to lead a Sequim district with about 2,440 students and an approximate $47 million budget.
Born and raised in Maine, Nickels started her teaching career in eighth-grade mathematics and science before moving to Bremerton with her husband John, a U.S. Navy submariner.
She taught third- , fourth- , fifth- and eighth-grade classes while in Bremerton before moving back to Maine in 2005.
“We used to come to the [Olympic] Peninsula to recreate many, many times,” Nickels said last week.
When the job opening appeared, she jumped.
“Sequim was the only district I looked at,” she said.
Describing Sequim is a wonderful place to live — “the town itself offers so many opportunities,” Nickels said — the superintendent said she is working on the format for a listening tour, seeking conversations with community members as well as staff and, in the early fall, with students upon their return.
Growing up in a small town and then being married into a military family, she said, tends to get people like herself plugged into a community right off the bat.
Communication is going to be key in the early days of getting to know Sequim, Nickels said — something that was spotlighted during the two previous academic years affected by the COVID pandemic.
“[Those years, I learned] how critical communication is; it’s early, often and varied,” she said. Educators had to become keenly aware and responsive what students and families needed.
Sometimes that meant offering school in a hybrid style (remote and in-person). And while remote learning has some advantages, Nickels said in-person learning offers a unique experience.
Talking with stakeholders, she said, is something she said she’d like to focus on: What does the district do to serve students, and what are their long-term needs?
Along with those early conversations, Nickels said she’s narrowing in on three sectors: student experience and achievement; enrollment; and, the overall district budget.
Nickels’ transition from classroom educator to administrator was both gradual and one that was spurred by a coworker.
“I had a natural inclination to be a teacher-leader,” she said, having led a teacher association during her classroom years.
It was while she was on maternity leave that a friend sought advice about career advancement; Nickels suggested she pursue a principal certification. Her friend agreed — if Nickels joined her in the process. So she did.
“What I’ve learned as a leader in education is, it is what you make it,” Nickels said. A superintendent offers 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 enjoys working with adults.
Nickels said she and her husband are avid sea kayakers, and that when not working she enjoys reading and hiking with her German Shepherd.
She said she still recalls her favorite teachers — in particular, those in her her first, fifth and 11th grade years.
“They expected a lot but they also recognized potential,” she said. “They’re the ones who make you feel like they see you.”
While in Washington state, Nickels earned her master’s degree in educational technology from City University in Bellevue, and her certificate in educational leadership and her administrator certification from Western Washington University in Bellingham.
After moving back to Maine, she worked in various in various administrative roles. She was principal at George B. Weatherbee School (grade 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 district in Maine from 2017-2020.
Sequim’s superintendent position became vacant late last year after Jane Pryne resigned after 13 months as interim superintendent. Pryne replaced superintendent Robert Clark, who resigned after a complaint in October 2020 put him on administrative leave. Joan Zook, a retired superintendent and Sequim resident, accepted the interim position after Pryne for the remainder of the school year.
Michael Dashiell is the editor of the Sequim Gazette of the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which also is composed of other Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News and Forks Forum. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.