Whistler's school district has a new superintendent in charge.
Longtime Sea to Sky school district (SD48) assistant superintendent Christopher Nicholson officially took over as superintendent of schools on Monday, Nov. 1, after his predecessor, former SD48 supt. Lisa McCullough, left for a job with B.C.'s Ministry of Education earlier this year.
Nicholson said he is "humbled and thrilled" by the appointment.
"Working together through COVID, our staff, our students, our families, our partner groups have just been incredible," he added. "It really gives me great pride in being a part of this district and now having the opportunity to lead."
Born and raised in the Lower Mainland, Nicholson has worked in public education since beginning his career as a junior high English teacher in Richmond around 27 years ago. "I'm one of those fellows who's wanted to be a teacher for as long as I can remember," he explained. "And I say that due to some very special teachers that I had when I was a student in elementary and high school."
He quickly transitioned into a full-time learning support teacher, (prior to teaching, Nicholson worked with at-risk youth and adults with cognitive challenges in group homes) before eventually moving into district administration in New Westminster. There, Nicholson served as the district vice-principal of student support services and director of learning services, where he was tasked with overseeing inclusive education.
Since joining SD48 as assistant superintendent three-and-a-half years ago, Nicholson has been instrumental in refreshing the district's education plan, Pathways to Learning, and also headed up SD48's technology initiatives. To that end, he's responsible for bringing Google's learning platform to Sea to Sky students and procuring Chromebooks "as a cost effective way to ensure that almost every student would have access to a device," he explained.
"And my goodness, did that ever come in handy [in 2020,]" Nicholson added with a laugh.
That abundance of experience will serve Nicholson well in his new role, as he looks to continue building relationships with school district stakeholders and continue supporting SD48's current strategic plan.
"We're in year three of our six-year plan, so we need to stay the course," he said. "It's a fantastic plan, it's focused on those enduring understandings of 'inclusion is a right, diversity is a strength and personalization is the way,' that are really ringing true now more than ever during COVID."
Nicholson also underscored his and the district's continued commitment to truth and reconciliation, which remains a major part of that plan. The district will soon hear the results of an equity scan investigating how the district currently supports Indigenous learners, he said, that will ideally provide SD48 with valuable data on which to base a "roadmap" moving forward.
While SD48 does boast relatively high graduation rates, particularly when it comes to students with Indigenous ancestry or particular vulnerabilities, Nicholson said the district is currently focused on improving opportunities for all of its students following graduation. "Our kids of Indigenous ancestry, especially, continue to be overrepresented in courses that may limit life chances," he explained. "So just increasing those chances for everyone, with a focus on Indigenous learners, is the key."
Other initiatives currently underway at the district include the development of specific anti-racism and anti-ableism policies, as well as "maintaining the public confidence that schools are safe places for kids," Nicholson said.
With student enrolment in the resort projected to climb in the years ahead, Nicholson said SD48 will maintain its pressure on B.C.'s Ministry of Education to consider creating an additional local school.
"It will continue to be part of our school district's top three priorities," he said, admitting that seismic upgrades and an expansion of Howe Sound Secondary School in Squamish are currently taking precedent.
"That looks to be where there's where there's the most pressure point right now," he said, "and then that's followed by the ask for a middle school in Whistler."
Continued Nicholson, "It's up to the Ministry. We'd love to have one, but they give us the go-ahead and the funding, of course."