OGDEN — Richard Nye is coming home.
Nye attended Bonneville High School, grew up in Ogden and still lives there now as a 42-year-old with his wife and three kids.
Nye said the biggest challenges facing Utah’s educational system today are funding, a shortage of teachers and supporting the emotional well-being of students.
“The teachers need to understand they matter in the lives of children,” he said. “Children need them, and they need to be treated by the community as professionals and recognized as such.”
Nye served a two-year LDS Church mission in Alaska where he volunteered at bush schools.
In obtaining his degree and getting his first teaching gig at West Haven’s Rocky Mountain Junior High in 2001 as a science teacher, Nye said he was drawn to education because he felt setting children up for success in life was incredibly rewarding.
“(It’s what) drew me into education,” he said. “It’s knowing I could have that type of an impact.”
When he takes over in July, Nye said his top priority is using data and cost benefit analysis to find out where the district sits and then plot a path for improvement.
To do that, one measure he’ll look at is graduation rates. Ogden’s 2016 graduation rate for its two traditional high schools and one alternative high school is 68 percent, the lowest district rate in the state. Nye called that “unacceptable.”
“I want to be able to work shoulder to shoulder with my teachers and administrators to make sure to meet our goals and objectives,” he said.
Nye has two master’s degrees and a doctorate degree. He also taught several assessment and cognition courses at Utah State University.
He was the Ogden School District's director of assessment, research and evaluation for several years before leaving to become the deputy superintendent of student achievement for the Utah State Board of Education, where he has worked since 2015.
Norman remembered Nye pushing to make sure the value of benchmark testing was worth the time commitment.
“He was concentrated on the bottom line,” Norman said. “How we impact students.”
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Norman also called Nye a good listener and said he’s a good speaker because he doesn’t try to overpower the conversation.
Nye is also tall, which Norman said makes younger students look at him with awe — but he always kneels down to their level.
“His face just glows when he’s with kids,” Norman said.
Angie Stallings, another deputy state superintendent like Nye, started in her job within three months of Nye’s start. She said he’s very inclusive and leads by example.
“He’s got a very generally kind of calm demeanor, but that doesn't mean he doesn’t have high expectations for his employees or that he doesn't give hard or good feedback when it’s needed,” Stallings said.
She said Nye was instrumental in revamping the state’s system of assigning letter grades to schools in the recently-passed Senate Bill 220. She also called him a champion for school accountability.
“He has a great ability to talk about those issues with large audiences — large legislative audiences — and make them more comprehensible,” Stallings said.
Nye said this iteration of school grading will be better than what has been in place because it isn’t “zip code-based” and gives schools the option to succeed.
“The grade is the tip of the iceberg that leads the person down to understand more,” he said.
Student Assessment of Growth and Excellence tests, more commonly known as SAGE, are “by far the best assessment system we’ve had,” Nye said, though he noted the tests aren’t effective for high school students because they don’t go toward the student’s grades.
Nye said the tests are effective because teachers get feedback when it’s still relevant.
“It’s been giving us the information regarding students, and we can actually do something for them and intervene when necessary,” he said.
“The decision was made.”
Ogden School Board President Jeff Heiner said Nye was considered for the superintendent position back in 2012 when Sandy Coroles was ultimately selected to have the position in the interim, replacing Brad Smith.
Heiner said it was well-known Coroles planned to retire soon.
“The idea was Rich was on board to be next,” he said.
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But then Nye took a position with the state and Coroles stuck around, serving for superintendent as several years went by.
Heiner said the board has the leeway to appoint a superintendent or do a national search for applicants. He said the board has chosen to appoint the last three times, even though he suggested a national search back in 2012.
“There were other board members at the time that said, ‘We’ve got good talent within the district; we’re confident in the talent we have,’” he said.
When Coroles’ retirement became imminent this year, Heiner said Nye’s name was floated once again.
These discussions happened during closed sessions at board meetings, Heiner said, and some board members reached out to Nye individually.
Heiner said the longer the discussions went on, the clearer it became they all wanted Nye.
“We could go out and interview all these people internally and externally, but when it all comes down to it, all seven board members were settled on who they wanted as superintendent,” he said.
Heiner said there are risks regardless of whether the board would have sought applicants or appointed someone to the position, adding he’s happy to have Nye back in the district.
“At the end of the day, we’re going to make the decision that we already knew,” Heiner said. “The decision was made.”
District spokesman Jer Bates said Nye will serve a two year appointment, and the district's superintendent contracts are reviewed for renewal on an annual basis.
Nye's contract and salary isn't expected to be finalized until June.