Updated June 19, 4:00 p.m.
When Kevin Nicholson walks into S.E. Gross Middle School to take the reins as principal on July 1, he won’t exactly be a stranger.
Nicholson, who was hired by the Brookfield-LaGrange Park District 95 school board on June 14, formerly was a science teacher at Aptakisic Junior High in Buffalo Grove, when District 95’s superintendent, Mark Kuzniewski, was the principal.
Though Nicholson left Aptakisic to become a teacher in Barrington School District 220 and later assistant principal at John T. Magee Middle School in Round Lake, he and Kuzniewski kept in touch.
“I certainly reached out to him to let him know the position was available,” said Kuzniewski.
But Nicholson rose to the top of the candidate list “of his own merits and qualifications,” Kuzniewski said.
The process for hiring a new principal at S.E. Gross was an intense, if brief one. After the job was posted a little over a month ago, Kuzniewski said 85 people applied. Kuzniewski brought in 15 of those applicants for one-on-one interviews and then selected four to be interviewed by two committees, one comprising staff and parents and one of school administrators.
The two finalists, both assistant principals, sat down to an interview with the district 95 school board, which chose Nicholson.
“We had two great candidates,” said Kuzniewski. “I would have been comfortable with either of them.”
Nicholson, 44, came to education after a stint in the corporate world, working for a Chicago area electronics firm. It was during work that had him working on a project involving a kids program that he decided to change his career path and become a teacher.
He received his master’s degree in teaching from National-Louis University and his M.S. Ed. from Northern Illinois University. Nicholson spent eight years as a classroom teacher in Buffalo Grove and Barrington before heading to Round Lake for the 2011-12 school year as assistant principal of Magee Middle School.
And while he says he misses the classroom, Nicholson said he’s looking forward to making an impact as a principal.
“I think when you get to the principal level you can impact kids on a greater level,” Nicholson said.
Nicholson said he’s looking forward to addressing aligning the district’s curriculum in the coming years with the common core standards being adopted by the state.
“I like curriculum a lot, giving kids knowledge and skills and ways to apply that knowledge,” he said. “If you’ve got a good curricular base you don’t have to worry about teaching to the test, because you’re not focusing on basic facts but giving kids skills they can apply to different situations.
“The shift is how to give kids these skills and give kids the ability to demonstrate how to apply those skills.”
Nicholson has also been involved in community service-oriented programs, particularly in Round Lake, a district whose enrollment is predominantly low-income. It an aspect to education he’s sold on.
“Service is an important part of character,” Nicholson said. “We teach the social responsibility component.”
School board President James Landahl indicated that Nicholson’s background in curriculum was an important factor in his hiring.
“We are excited at the prospect of having Kevin lead us to the next level working with our current administrative team to further develop our curriculum with some special attention of common core standards and addressing the needs of our lower-performing students,” he said in a prepared statement read into the record at the school board meeting June 14. “We’ve worked hard to provide a challenging and robust curriculum so that all children or all learning styles have the ability to learn how to learn.”
Nicholson, who is married and has three children, lives in northwest suburban Lake Zurich. His annual salary will be $88,000. A copy of the contract was not immediately available.
Nicholson replaces Todd Fitzgerald, who leaves S.E. Gross after serving as principal for six years to become principal of Percy Julian Middle School in Oak Park.