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FMPSD Bids Farewell to Superintendent Doug Nicholls

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A mentor, a role model, and an inspiring leader - Fort McMurray Public School Division’s (FMPSD) Superintendent, Doug Nicholls will be missed for many reasons when he retires after six-and-a-half years on January 31, 2020.

Doug has been in the K-12 education world for over 40 years with experience in both rural and urban centres. The last 20 years of his career have been in the superintendent role spanning Saskatchewan to Prairie Rose in southern Alberta. During Doug’s years with the Division, FMPSD saw an enrollment increase of 19 per cent, staff productivity and morale remained high, and programming as discussed later, expanded.

We caught up with a few people who wanted to share their sentiments on his departure.

Jessica Roy, Principal, Dr. Clark Public School has been with the Division for 29 years. She says:

“Doug has proven himself to be an amazing leader, mentor and friend. There is no doubt that he is a very strong champion for FMPSD staff, children and families. When he joined the Division, Doug’s first mandate was to get the entire staff on board by ‘telling our story.’ To fulfill this goal, Doug made it his mission to be visible in the Division by visiting students and staff, attending school events as well as multiple functions in the community. One could always count on a few tweets from Doug going out every day regarding the exciting things happening in FMPSD.”

Creating relationships and empowering people has always been a priority for Doug, continues, Roy.

“Doug showed us that being present and supportive is how you build strong relationships with your stakeholders. He held all administrators to a very high standard, supported us when we stumbled and encouraged us to look ‘onward and upward.’ Under Doug’s leadership and with his encouragement, I felt I could be free to think outside the box and expand on programming in a creative manner. This resulted in students having engaging and more worthy educational experiences. I know that I speak on behalf of the administrators in FMPSD when I say that we will dearly miss Doug’s humour, leadership and support and we know that there will always be a little piece of his heart left in Fort McMurray.”

Indeed, under Doug’s leadership, FMPSD programming expanded to include Leader in Me in several elementary schools, PACE (Program for Academic Challenge and Enrichment) Academy was launched, grade configuration of 7-12 in high schools happened, and stronger partnerships with community groups and social profits came about.

One of these social profits is the Multicultural Association of Wood Buffalo (MCA). Dango Gogo, Chair of the MCA Board, and local lawyer sits on the MCA board with Doug. Both moved to town around the same time.

“He is an amazing leader, who has an incredible sense of humour. Doug commands respect, but makes you relaxed as well, and that’s a hard combination to find in a leader. His vast knowledge about everything is impressive. He genuinely respects diverse cultures. Losing him will be one of the hardest things faced by the Multicultural Association. I’ll miss his wisdom,” Dango notes.

Reflecting on his time at FMPSD, Doug has a few things to highlight.

“The overall highlight has been to watch the continuous improvement within the Division, and capacity-building of our staff when it comes to commitment to students. Our staff always keeps students front and centre. FMPSD should be collectively proud of these achievements.”

“I believe in servant leadership. We exist for students, staff and parents. For me, leadership is defined by being visible, building capacity, being collaborative, and being a good listener. A great leader is someone who can make difficult decisions when needed, and who recognizes the wisdom in the room. Leaders who don’t believe in their community, or who think they have all the answers are ineffective. Being able to receive constructive feedback is important. Effective leaders commit to personal and professional growth.”

And, of course, May 3, 2016 stands out as the most challenging time of his tenure.

“That day was certainly the most stressful time. We had close to 6000 students and staff in 16 schools, and had to evacuate with little to no warning. Our staff did amazing work to ensure students were safe during the wildfires. Three years later that remains in my mind recognizing the amazing job the staff did. That was an incredibly demanding experience for all of us.”

What’s next for Doug?

“Several plans on the horizon. I’m hopeful to stay in education in some capacity if the opportunities arise. I’m looking forward to spending time with my children (he has two daughters), and granddaughter, as well as doing house renovations. Roberta and I aren’t used to staying in one spot, so travelling is in the plans. Golf, and being more active, as well as learning Spanish are on the agenda too.”

Recalling his decision to move to Fort McMurray, Doug notes:

“When I decided to move to Fort McMurray several people directly, or indirectly questioned my decision, and I told them I wanted to do something different, and wanted a unique experience. Six-and-a-half years later I can tell you that’s exactly what it has been. We found all the myths to be untrue such as ‘there’s nothing to do, and ‘it’s too far North.’ Fort McMurray is a beautiful place to be with so much to do, increasing amenities, and a very friendly and generous community. I always share all this with people. We are already planning a vacation here in July 2020. Fort McMurray is undervalued and underappreciated provincially and nationally. It’s been a rewarding personal and professional experience.  I want to thank past Board Chair Jeff Thompson, and Chair Linda Mywaart as well as all the  trustees for their support over the years,” Doug adds.

Linda Mywaart, FMPSD Board Chair bids Doug a fond farewell.

“It has been a huge privilege to know and work with Doug for the past six-and-a-half years. He came to FMPSD with a solid foundation of experience and wisdom, established through his years of teaching and school division leadership. Upon arriving here, he simultaneously immersed himself in our Division and the community. He became the face of FMPSD leadership, both inside and outside of our schools, working tirelessly, with determination and integrity, to make us the best we could be as a Division.”

“Doug embraced the strengths of FMPSD, but at the same time fostered visionary thinking, and enthusiasm for positive change to propel us forward for the benefit of the students we serve. He focused a great amount of thought, time and energy on building capacity within FMPSD. He has led and mentored many staff, advising and encouraging them along a road of continuous improvement, positioning them and the Division for a bright future.

Students, parents, guardians, staff and community members have been attracted to his warm personality, and his obvious willingness to partner with them in the education journey. We are extremely grateful to Doug, for his years of devoted service. Thank you seems a small expression in comparison to the monumental impact made in FMPSD by Doug’s superintendency. His love for learning, his leadership and his laughter are now a significant part of the FMPSD legacy, and we wish him the best as he now moves on to other ventures. I suspect that no matter where he goes or what he does, Doug will continue a lifetime of doing what’s best for kids.”

Thank you indeed seems a small expression, but thank you for everything, Doug, and especially for Doing What’s Best for Kids.


Photos: Doug with CFO Allan Kallal and the late Dave McNeilly at the dedication ceremony of Dave McNeilly Public School in 2014; with his wife Roberta; at the annual Employee Recognition event this year with Chief Deputy Superintendent Phil Meagher and Board Chair Linda Mywaart; fangirl moment with a Dr. Clark Public School student this November; with Shannon Noble, Assistant Superintendent, Inclusive Education; and Doug went above and beyond for Division Office’s United Way campaign Jail ‘n Bail event - raising $1,500 surpassing our goal of $1,000. The outfit was his idea.


Kiran is a national award-winning communications specialist, freelance journalist, and social media consultant. She loves telling community stories, and is a strong advocate for inclusion, diversity, women’s rights, and multiculturalism. Got story ideas? Contact her via Twitter: @KiranMK0822.