Saying Goodbye: Head of school Christopher Nikoloff announced resignation

January 27, 2017

In an email sent to the Harker community on Nov. 28, Head of School Christopher Nikoloff announced his resignation and revealed that he will assume the position of headmaster at The American School in Collina d’Oro, Switzerland, on July 1, surprising students, parents, and faculty alike.

Nikoloff’s 17-year Harker career began when he became head of the Middle School in 1999. Three years later, in 2002, he moved to the position of assistant head of school, before succeeding Howard Nichols as head of school in 2005.

I leave with a mixture of sadness, pride and great hope for Harker’s future,” he wrote in the email. “Since its founding in 1893, and through the stewardship and legacy of the Nichols family, Harker has been committed to bringing out the best in each child in all areas inside and outside the classroom.”

From both a professional and family-oriented perspective, Nikoloff is excited to expand the horizons of his career in education.

“The opportunity to lead a school in an international setting is a pretty rare opportunity, and that’s for the professional level. On a personal level, the opportunity to raise my family in an international setting and in a very different environment was also a factor,” he said in an interview. [I most look forward to] the personal and professional growth from working in an international setting or living in an international setting, any kind of expansion of your mind and social network and your understanding of different cultures.”

The American School in Switzerland (TASIS) is a preparatory day and boarding school that houses a diverse student body from around the globe. Founded in 1956 by Mary Crist Fleming, TASIS was the first American boarding school established in Europe.

Lyle Rigg, the current headmaster at TASIS, will be stepping down from his post at the end of the school year. He explained Nikoloff’s candidacy and expressed his vision for the future of TASIS under new direction in an email interview.

“The TASIS board of directors selected Mr. Nikoloff from a field of many strong candidates. Over 100 candidates applied for the position and seven semi-finalists were interviewed in Virginia by

the steering committee. Mr. Nikoloff was the clear choice of students, teachers, parents, administrators, and board members,” he wrote. “Without question, I think that the future of TASIS will be very bright under the leadership of Mr. Nikoloff. I think that Mr. Nikoloff will help TASIS focus on strong academics and will help ensure that the community will continue to strive for excellence in all areas.”

Throughout his tenure, Nikoloff interacted regularly with the staff and faculty. Teachers and staff members who know him well and have worked with him closely praise his accomplishments and leadership qualities. Nicole Hall, one of two assistants to head of school, admires Nikoloff’s politeness when interacting with the school and his sense of humour.

“One of the things that I think Mr. Nikoloff has done really well is [how] he treats every member of the community with respect, regardless of who you are or where you are. Student or prospective student, facilities, maintenance, teacher, everybody he has treated with respect,” Hall said. “The values that he brings to the community are extremely beneficial to all of us. I am really going to miss all of his really cheesy jokes and puns.”

Diana Moss, a 21-year Harker Spanish teacher, described Nikoloff as a head of school.

“I think he was just a gracious, and thoughtful head of school who helped transition us from a small middle school to being one of the top college prep schools in the the country,” said Diana Moss. “I think [the opportunity] is fantastic. I did the same thing with my family, I spent a year with them in Chile, and for my children it was the best education imaginable. It makes a lot of sense for him to be in Europe close to his family; it is a natural next step from him.”

Nikoloff could not pick one single memory that has defined his Harker experience; however, he recognized a series of accomplished goals that contribute to the legacy he leaves behind.

Any kind of evidence that students [were] reaching their full potential [would be my favorite memory], whether it [was] in an academic setting such as the research symposium or in an extracurricular setting such as a performance or in the athletic setting such as a football or volleyball game or swim meet,” he said. “We have accomplished many of the goals. The science center, the aquatics center, the Davis Field, acquiring a third campus, currently the gym and the theatre are under construction—lots of infrastructure goals were met. A strong admissions picture, students reaching their potential in many activities both inside and outside the classroom, alumni and students achieving great things both nationally and internationally—all these things are very satisfying.”

Accompanying the email, Board of Trustees chair Diana Nichols confirmed the hiring of a professional search firm to find a new head of school. Due to the short time frame, the board and the search team are considering an interim head, provided that the perfect candidate can not be found.

In addition to outlining the search process, Nichols also highlighted Nikoloff’s leadership.

“We are going to be searching for both an interim head and a full-time head. The reason is because we started our search very late, and we didn’t know that we would have an open position until quite late, so the likelihood of being able to find the kind of quality of person that we want at such a late date is not high. We’re committed to finding the very best head of school we can for the Harker students,” Nichols said in a phone interview. “To come in and take over the school after two long-term people left was no easy task, and he did that with grace and with charm. The qualities that I appreciate in him are that he is a very easy-to-get-along-with person. He is very low-key in the sense that he is not easily ruffled.”

Nikoloff will continue to serve as head of school for the remainder of the academic year before he and his family make the move to Switzerland over the summer.

This piece was originally published in the pages of The Winged Post on January 24, 2017. 

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