A lifetime in education

Revelstoke’s Jeff Nicholson is retiring after 28 years

(Liam Harrap/Revelstoke Review)                                Jeff Nicholson retires at the end of the month after 19 years on the board for School District 19.

(Liam Harrap/Revelstoke Review) Jeff Nicholson retires at the end of the month after 19 years on the board for School District 19.

At the back of the restaurant, a gentleman sits in a booth sipping coffee. Two pins are visible on his blue vest. One is an apple with the words six terms embossed on it. The other is a rose celebrating 20 years.

“20 years of what, I don’t know,” says Jeff Nicholson softly.

Every other year, Revelstoke hosts students from Ono Cho, Japan and Revelstoke students travel to Japan in return. Ono Cho is known for its roses.

This is the last month Nicholson will sit on the board for School District No. 19. A position he’s held for the last 19 years.

“He’s devoted his life to education,” says Alan Chell, a fellow school board trustee.

He says Nicholson is known for his thoroughness and research.

“He always brought a notebook to meetings.”

When Nicholson started there were seven trustees.

“Due to severe declining school enrollment we decided to reduce the number of trustees to save money,” says Nicholson.

Today, there’s five.

Until recently, school enrolment across the province was in decline. In response, schools were forced to close and Revelstoke was no exception.

READ MORE: The final day of Mount Begbie Elementary

The Big Eddy school was shut in 2002, Mountain View in 2012 and Mount Begbie Elementary School in 2012.

READ MORE: Big Eddy subdivision moves forward

This year was the first real increase in enrolment for School District 19. There are 107 kindergarten students compared with 70 to 85 in previous years. This change is largely due to a shift in demographics. In the past, families had three to five kids. Now one to three children are common.

Nicholson says it’s very difficult closing one school, let alone several.

“It’s horrible. People are very attached to their old schools. The kids take it in stride quite well, but the parents take it harder.”

However, Nicholson also saw new schools open, such as Revelstoke Secondary in 2011 and Begbie View Elementary in 2012.

In the 1990’s, Revelstoke was average in academics and graduation rates. Today, it has one of the highest graduation rates in B.C.

“I think it may be partly because there are more options for kids to take,” says Nicholson.

The options are almost endless for students: jazz band, concert band, superfit, choir, work experience, and trades training courses.

There is one upcoming challenge for the district that Nicholson did note and that’s language.

“We don’t have a French immersion program yet. People have applied for one over the years, but we felt it wasn’t sustainable. But the French population is growing.”

When Nicholson first came to Revelstoke in 1971 and took a job as a biology teacher.

He soon became captivated with biology, especially parasites.

“They lead such fascinating life cycles,” says Nicholson. His eyes twinkling as he remembers.

One fond memory for Nicholson was when Dr. John Woods, a wildlife researcher from Banff Nation Park would bring animal livers to the class to dissect. The scientist wanted to see if giant liver flukes, a type of parasite, had made its way into the Columbia region. When Nicholson’s Grade 11 biology class got to parasites, the researcher would arrive with his livers and the students would start cutting.

“I remember one liver, the worst I’ve ever seen. Just a mess of tissue and a strong smell. The smell went around the school, upstairs and downstairs. The principal even came around to ask what we were doing.”

Nicholson says it was interesting to see how the children reacted.

“Some would carry on and continue working and other couldn’t stand it. They had to go to the window and stick their heads out.”

Nicholson pauses and chuckles at the memory.

The superintendent of the school district, Mike Hooker says Nicholson will be missed.

“He is such a nice man and a fabulous teacher.”

Hooker has known Nicholson for his entirety on the school board.

“I don’t know any as unflappable as him,” says Hooker.

Nicholson says he doesn’t have any huge plans in retirement. Mostly just work on his house and researching his family’s history.

“And hike Mount Revelstoke. That park is one of the greatest amenities in Revelstoke. Honest to god. There are no subdivisions up there, we’ve just kept it the way it is.”

Nicholson hikes the summit trail two or three times — a week.

“I like climbing more than walking level. It’s satisfying.”