This school year marks the 125th anniversary of Nichols School in Buffalo. As WBFO's senior reporter Eileen Buckley tells us while the coed, private, prep school is embracing its past, the campus is working to become more diverse and innovative in attracting future students.
It was after 10 a.m. and Nichols high school students were changing classes. Like a college campus, they moved freely from one building to the next. There is also a middle school, but those students remain in the building for classes.
Inside the administrative offices, WBFO met with Head of School Bill Clough and Jerry Jacobs, Jr., co-CEO of Delaware North. Jacobs serves as Chair of the Nichols Board of Trustees and is a proud graduate of the school.
“As you walk around this campus, it looks great. It’s just beautiful. You know, Nichols is a special place and so I graduated in ‘81 and, I like, many alum of Nichols, have almost a closer passion or affiliation than I do with my college and that’s just a testimony to the type of experience that you have when you are a Nichols student,” said Jacobs.
Jacobs and Clough share the same vision Clough arrived four years ago to lead the school working on a strategic direction and master plan for the future to boost enrollment, financial support and create a diverse campus.
“I walked into a community, that my perception of this place, is that it was a traditional place, but that tradition right now is being tasked to be also progressive and more forward thinking,” Clough explained.
Nichols was founded in 1892 by William Nichols. About 570-students attend in grades 5th through 12th. Tuition for those students ranges between $21,000 and a little over $22,000 per year.
“Well I’m really happy that we have put a big valley on increasing diversity among our student body and I mean diversity in the largest sense – socio-economic diversity, racial diversity, religious diversity and making Nichols a place where anybody who is aspiring can afford to be and enjoy, and take advantage of this great school,” Clough remarked.
WBFO News asked the school leader about stereotypes that the school is ‘elite’ and for those from privileged families.
“I think that we’re really proud that 30-percent of our families are on financial aid and that’s a really robust number and we have a really robust budget. The reason for that is that we have so many loyal alum who are supporting that effort and the fact that we do have an endowment with $26-million is a really important piece to that and so we are making a conscious decision to bring families who wouldn’t normally be able to pay our full tuition to this school and they enrich this school and frankly we would love for that number to be doubled someday,” Clough responded. “I think elite is a funny word. It’s not a word that certainly I use in my vernacular when I’m talking about Nichols. What we like to talk about is excellence. We like to talk about striving. We like to talk about students who want to be successful in everything.”
Clough has worked on a strategic direction for the school's future. Both he and Jacobs are working to redefine the school to the entire Buffalo community. Most recently they created a new position, hiring a director of Inclusivity & Community Building, Dr. Ramone Alexander was hired about two months ago. Clough and Jacobs say the new director is just digging into to build diversity.
“And diversity is a top priority for the board. It comes up at every meeting and when we think about the mission of the school, which is basically preparing these young minds for the work of life, and the idea here is that when we send graduates from this school off to college that they are prepared for college in every aspect of the word, so this is really one of the top priorities of the school and I will tell you that there is a strong believe that if we don’t embrace diversity and embrace inclusion, the school won’t be relevant. In order for this school to stay relevant and to stay an iconic member of the educational community in Buffalo, we have to be more forward thinking, more inclusive, more diverse in every aspect of the word,” Jacobs remarked.
The school has been creating new partnerships for learning as part of its strategic plan. In just a couple of years its Entrepreneurial Studies program has doubled in size.
“And we have created partnerships with all the major laboratories and business ventures, 43 North downtown and it’s exciting. We’re trying to capture a little of the entrepreneurial spirit at work in Buffalo right now,” Clough explained.
“I will tell you, some of the fun stuff that is happening here that I wish I was still a student here for. The robotics lab, which is just a riot and actually kids that take robotics can get a sports credit, so it’s sort of recognizing a whole different element of athleticism, mental athleticism,” Jacobs stated.
We rolled our recorder in a classroom as instructors worked with students on a robotics lesson. There are 70-full time high school faculty members and 40 in the middle school.
Clough told us the biggest challenges when it comes to students is ironically trying to slow them in learning, trying to make sure they are not overloaded.
“We have more request for ‘I have a free period and I’d like to fill it with another class’ and sometimes our biggest job is to slow them down and say ‘you need a little break' and we're really fortunate in that way and there is a culture of aspiration, which is lovely to be around,” Clough declared.
As the leaders reflected on the school, they said it’s important to honor the past and its tradition, but reposition the school for its future.