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Sparta superintendent surprises district with retirement announcement

Officials begin search for successor

Even the Sparta Board of Education was surprised by a request to retire from Superintendent Gordie Nickels at its regularly scheduled meeting, Monday, April 16.

“Caught off guard,” according to board President Andy Jensen, the board approved the request with “great sadness” before calling a special board meeting the next night to officially begin a search for Nickels’ replacement.

The board voted 7-0 to approve Nickels’ request for retirement, and expressed appreciation for his service. Jensen said Nickels had been key to healing the district and improving staff relationships when he was hired in 2013.

“Gordie came to us at a time when we needed someone just like him — kind, considerate, a good man, and he will be sorely missed,” Jensen said in a statement. “He is leaving Sparta Area Schools in much better shape than when he found us, and we wish him all the best in his new endeavors.”

Jensen also credited Nickels for leading the way on the $58.6 million bond request passed by voters in 2016. “It really was his baby, and because of his hard work, we now have a much needed middle school being built for Sparta Area Schools, along with safety items being addressed within the other schools.”

Nickels said that there wasn’t any one big reason for his decision to retire. After 35 years in education, he said he just felt it was time to pursue other things.

“I am a very spiritual man, and I try to follow God’s voice,” Nickels said. “I just felt like I was being nudged and that there might be other work for me to do.”

The job of superintendent is “pretty much 24-7,” he said, “but I am not complaining. I loved every minute of it and feel blessed to have been in it for as long as I was. I never wanted to do anything else. It just seems like now is the right time to slow the pace a bit, have some more time for the family and see what else is out there.”

Nickels recently received a favorable review from the Board of Education and was offered another three-year contract, which had not yet been signed. His last day with the district will be June 30.

The Michigan Leadership Institute with Regional President Gary Rider was selected to lead the search. MLI and the board are seeking public input from parents, students, staff and the community on the district website to aid in the process, said Rider. A short survey can be found on the district website through April 27. In addition a public forum is scheduled for 6:30 p.m.Tuesday, April 24 in the Administration Building Board Room, 465 S. Union St.

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Janice Holst
Janice Holst
Janice Holst is a reporter covering Kent City and Sparta. She has been both a teacher and a journalist. A former MLive reporter, she wrote features and covered local government and schools for Advance Newspapers for nearly two decades. She also was a recipe columnist and wrote features for Mature Life Style and occasional entertainment pieces for On The Town magazines. She lives in Sparta Township and enjoys spending some of her retirement hours writing the stories of the northern Kent County school districts. Read Janice's full bio or email Janice.


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  1. I really enjoyed working with Gordie when I used to cover Sparta Area Schools for SNN. Thanks for all of your positive efforts!


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