New Kent County Public Schools
Sharing a Strong and Positive Vision for Education and Community Growth.
Keeping the community and its valued students in mind, New Kent County Public Schools sets the educational standards
New Kent County Public Schools (NKCPS) serves the students of New Kent County, Virginia, a quiet but growing rural community, situated between the cities of Richmond and Williamsburg. With 3,500 students in grades pre-K through 12, the district is not just shaping students, it is molding futures.
Superintendent Dr. Brian Nichols shares, “One of our foundational principles in New Kent is that smart is something you become. We provide the environment for you to become smarter, and that holds true for students, it holds true for staff, it holds true for families and communities. By partnering with us, you’re going to get smarter along the way, and we’re going to get smarter as a team. That is really the grounding philosophy of the work we do.”
The Three E’s Approach
At the core of New Kent’s approach is the belief that education extends beyond the traditional diploma. Dr. Nichols emphasizes the “Three E’s”, which are Enrollment, Employment, and Enlistment. “The goal is for every graduate to walk across the stage with not only a diploma but a pathway to success in post-secondary education, a fulfilling career, or service to the nation,” he says. “My goal for our students is that it’s no longer just good enough to get a diploma, you really have to have more than that to be successful. We want every kid to walk across the graduation stage and not have that be the culmination, but really just the bridge into their next step.”
For Dr. Nichols, living in the district he serves allows him to connect with families and gain authentic insights. “In order to lead, for me personally, I have to be in the heart of the community. I need to be able to live, work, and serve here, and that’s really what I do. I don’t mind answering a question at the grocery store, at the Mexican restaurant or at a carnival, or whatever the case may be,” he portrays. By attending and participating in community activities, and engaging in real conversations, Dr. Nichols believes the district builds trust and forges stronger relationships. “We listen and we do things about it, but it comes from being in the community and serving the community in that authentic way,” he conveys.
Pathways and Partnerships
New Kent County Public Schools exemplifies an approach to education that extends beyond traditional boundaries, providing diverse and impactful educational opportunities. The district is committed to offering career-focused classes beginning in middle school, where courses such as agriscience expose kids to future options. With an enrollment of 1100 students at the district’s only high school, the possibilities are plentiful. The efforts to introduce programs such as agriscience, horticulture, engineering, marketing, culinary arts, pharmacy tech and more, demonstrate a holistic view of education that extends beyond traditional academic subjects. Collaborating with regional programs, especially in areas like diesel mechanics, small engine repair, and EMT training, reflects an awareness of the local job market and a commitment to preparing students for real-world opportunities. Dr. Nichols elaborates, “There is a desperate need for firefighters, and EMT personnel. So, working with our county partners, our regional technical program built that program. Year one would be EMT and hopefully year two, if we are able to build that, will be fire, and then students can go right into our community into jobs. You name it, we’ve built it, either directly or with regional partners so that we can bring it to scale. And we’re always looking at new additions to that.” He notes that exercise science and sports medicine are areas of student interest, suggesting that this is a potential future offering.
New Kent also has a strong theater program, offering another unique career pathway. “We do all sides of that,” Dr. Nichols acknowledges. “We have kids that go into the back side of the house, with the sets and the producing and those components and they go on to really great colleges, awesome scholarships and great opportunities. And we have kids on the mainstage that do those activities too.” Additionally, an international partnership with Astor College in Kent, England, and the exciting opportunity to travel to England for a joint casting for an international show, contributes to an enriched experience for students.
Recognizing the need for an ROTC program at the high school, Dr. Nichols initiated a collaborative effort with community members to secure support. He recounts, “A traditional ROTC program has federal funding tied to it, it also has a lot of hurdles that you have to jump through. While we were jumping through those hurdles, and crossing our T’s and dotting our I’s, we found an opportunity to stand up the Corps of Cadets program quicker. Kids still take military science 1,2,3, and 4, the major difference between the two is that we are funded entirely local. So, working with the county we were able to fund the entire thing and set it up.” The Navy’s enthusiastic partnership paved the way for the program’s initiation last summer, initially operating on a halftime basis with nearly 40 students. “We know by year two, it’ll be a full-time program, we’ll need to bring on a second instructor. It’s going to be one of the biggest, most beautiful things we have. Really, even if you don’t enlist, it provides a lot of opportunities for kids in terms of scholarships. It provides a lot to kids in terms of self discipline and working through those different components. It’s just a win,” he asserts.
Teacher Philosophy and Recruitment
Allison Anderson, Executive Director of Human Resources, delves into the district’s approach to teacher recruitment. She shares, “We are really proud that our HR team has spent the majority of our careers in schools. Having been a teacher myself, I know the number one thing I want to look for in hiring a teacher is somebody who likes kids and somebody who’s going to make good decisions for kids.”
With this in mind, the district embraces alternative pathways for those looking to transition into teaching, such as dedicated paraprofessional instructional assistants who have degrees. “They are already here, already dedicated, and they already know the hardest part, which is classroom management,” acknowledges Anderson. “So, we developed a career switcher program that allows them to become licensed rather quickly. And we do that with Old Dominion University.” Mid-career professionals who have a passion for teaching and are looking for change can also go through the ODU program.
The district partners with William and Mary University as well, connecting with those who are enrolled in their robust teaching program. “We are way past the time where the applicant pool was just full, and you would have your pick of several people in a pool. So, we developed those pipelines, and they have worked very well for us,” Anderson remarks.
As part of the fastest growing county in Virginia, the district continues to work with entities such as the New Kent Chamber of Commerce, building on internships and work-based learning opportunities in the community. “The Chamber is critical,” admits Nichols. “When I talk about knowing what the market is demanding, and what’s out there, we really rely on the chamber for that.” With companies like Advance Auto Parts locating and bringing jobs to the area, he stresses, “We want our kids to have the skills and abilities to be able to walk right into those types of jobs as well. That whole manufacturing side is one of our next steps into providing a career pathway for kids.”
While New Kent County Schools grow, safety remains an important priority. “We have a very strong partnership with the New Kent sheriff’s department and New Kent Fire & Rescue, and every day, we are making sure that we have that strong communication line between those entities,” highlights Dr. Nichols. “It’s hard to get smart when you don’t feel safe. So, safety is the number one thing that we do.”
Looking to the future, a new strategic plan is underway for the district, which Nichols underscores will reflect the voice of the community, students and staff. As a final thought, he imparts, “I’m incredibly excited about the future here. It’s really an honor and a privilege to be able to do this work and connect the way we do.”
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AT A GLANCE
New Kent County Public Schools
What: A school district where what comes after graduation is a primary focus
Where: New Kent, Virginia