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Lopez Principal to retire and embark on new journey

Left and above: Retiring Principal Roland MacNichol with students in the high school AP Literature class taught by Elizabeth Simpson.  - Colleen Smith Armstrong photos
Left and above: Retiring Principal Roland MacNichol with students in the high school AP Literature class taught by Elizabeth Simpson.
— image credit: Colleen Smith Armstrong photos

When you enter Principal Roland MacNichol’s office, black and white photos of such greats as Eleanor Roosevelt, FDR, JFK, Martin Luther King, Jr., Langston Hughes and Ghandi hang on his walls. Inspirational words from the Dalai Lama are tacked up next to photos of the MacNichols’ family ranch in Idaho.

It’s warm and inviting, much like the principal himself.

A favorite among the staff and students alike, MacNichol will retire after five years of helping steer Lopez School into a high-performing, academically rigorous institution. The 2008-09 school year will be his last, although he is quick to say that he and his wife Terri, a San Juan County Public Health nurse, are staying on Lopez.

“I’m not retiring to play golf! I’m taking some time to create a little space and imagine other things. It’s really clear I need a break at this point in my life. I feel like I’ve made a contribution here, and it’s time for someone else to do that now.”

MacNichol is interested in getting back to teaching, which he has been missing, and working with non-profits that serve families and children.

“I’m looking forward to having a different perspective on the Lopez community,” he said. “Since I’ve been here, I’ve been the principal, which is a public figure. It’s exciting for me to enter the community in a new way. Unless I get an appointment with the Obama administration in Washington, DC, we’re clearly staying on Lopez!”

MacNichol was a high school humanities teacher for 22 years, mostly at Gig Harbor High School, before returning to his alma mater, the University of Puget Sound, for his master’s degree in education and administration.

His affection for Lopez goes back to the late 1970s, when his good friend from UPS, Celia Marquis, moved to the island.

“My wife and I visited Lopez often and both our daughters went to Camp Nor’wester,” he said.

While MacNichol was working on his administrative credentials, he began every paper with, “As principal of Lopez School,” which became a joke among his classmates.

In 2000, he was hired as the high school building administrator for Clover Park School District in South Tacoma, a diverse inner city high school, where MacNichol did what he considered “about the hardest work you can do in schools.”

“And I loved it,” he said. “I had no intention of moving, but Celia called me and said the principal position opened up at Lopez School.”

MacNichol applied, was interviewed in the spring, and by the summer of 2004 was K-12 principal of Lopez School.

He worked with former superintendent Larry Johnson for one year and has spent the last four years with current superintendent Bill Evans.

“One of the great things is being in a partnership with Bill,” MacNichol said. “He is the most decent man. I’ve learned a lot about integrity from him. When I told him I was retiring, Bill wrote my parents a letter. It was a beautiful letter. My dad got tears in his eyes.”

Said Evans, “Roland is a quality administrator and a quality human being – one who has influenced powerfully those with whom he has come in contact. He is as good as it gets in administrators. I am honored for the opportunity to work with him. I’m deeply saddened for the loss to education and the loss to Lopez schools, but very excited for him as he steps into another adventure.”

Some of the major events during MacNichol’s tenure include the secondary school converting to block scheduling; developing the alternative high school program; bringing the graduation rate up to 98 percent, and the college-bound rate to 95 percent; organizing an annual middle school fall retreat at Camp Nor’Wester; helping the Farm to School program take off; and fostering a relationship with the Lopez Island Family Resource Center through the Readiness to Learn grant.

In the area of sports, the boys basketball, girls volleyball, and the co-ed golf team have gone to state.

“I’m proud of the outstanding work the staff has done to create an enriched program that is student-centered and offers alternative learning,” MacNichol said. “We also offer core values and beliefs for the kind of humans we hope leave here. We are committed to blending experiential learning with high educational standards. And we have great families and great students, so we can’t take all the credit.”

MacNichol’s philosophy is straightforward.

“I really believe that you can’t teach people who you don’t know – or don’t know well,” he said. “Because we are so small, our students don’t fall through the cracks. If they do, and this is what I tell my staff endlessly, then shame on us.”

One of the challenges for MacNichol is governing the elementary, middle school, and high school, for he’s always running back and forth between the two. Yet he knows every single students’ name.

“I genuinely like kids and always try to be respectful and real to them,” he said. “Almost always, students respond to being real. I will really miss the daily experiences with kids. I haven’t been out of schools for 32 years.”

Lopez School will post the principal opening in January and schedule interviews for February. Superintendent Evans hopes to have the process buttoned up by the end of March.

“The process takes a while, as we want to involve staff, parents, students, administrators, and the community in as many meaningful ways as possible, and that takes time,” Evans said.

The school board makes the final decision in the hiring process. The new administrator will take office on July 1, 2009.

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