The TASIS community is delighted to welcome new Headmaster Christopher Nikoloff, who will lead the School after spending 18 years at the excellent Harker School in San Jose, California, where he served as Headmaster since 2005.
Prior to serving as an administrator at Harker from 1999–2005, Mr. Nikoloff served as Dean of Students among other roles at the Ecole Bilingue de Berkeley in Berkeley, California, where he worked from 1992–1999. He has also chaired the Accreditation Committees of the California Association of Independent Schools (CAIS) for the French American School of San Francisco and the Silicon Valley German International School.
A native of upstate New York, Mr. Nikoloff graduated with a B.A., magna cum laude, in English and philosophy, and an M.A.T., summa cum laude, in education and English literature, both from Boston University, where he studied with Christopher Ricks, Geoffrey Hill, and William Arrowsmith. In 2008 he earned an M.B.A. from Santa Clara University.
Mr. Nikoloff, who will move to Lugano with his wife Corina and their three sons in mid-July, will look to build on the admirable work done by outgoing Headmaster Lyle Rigg, who agreed to come out of retirement in 2015 to devote two full academic years to the School he first began serving in 1979.
Mr. Nikoloff was able to spend a week on campus with Mr. Rigg in June, and he graciously agreed to sit down for a short interview.
What aspects of the move to Lugano are you and your family most excited about?
The school and the community are the most exciting parts of the move. My family and I are excited to join the community—everyone has been so welcoming and supportive. The values of the school align significantly with mine as an educator. Of course the surrounding area is beautiful and in the heart of Europe. All of that is really exciting.
How difficult is it for you to leave Harker after 18 years?
Bittersweet. There were many heartfelt goodbyes. Leaving northern California after 26 years and Harker after 18 is not easy, but I am also really excited to be a part of the TASIS community and the broader areas of Lugano and Ticino.
What characteristics have enabled you to find success as a leader?
I love schools. I love children. I love what schools stand for. And I look at schools as a great place of hope and joy. So I think that excitement fuels me. I love people. I love the opportunities and challenges of bringing out the best in students and the adults who work with them. I think schools are humanity’s hope for the future.
Is that how you’d describe your management style—as empowering people?
That’s what I strive for: supporting and serving the people who are supporting and serving the kids. If I can bring out the best in the adults who are serving the kids, and consequently see the students thrive, I am very satisfied.
What goals do you have for your first year at TASIS?
The number one goal for the first year is to get to know the community—to become acquainted with the School and its people, the geography of the School, the human landscape of the School. My goals will be to understand, to listen, and to see how we can together keep moving the School forward. I believe in continual improvement and hope that I can enlist the greater community here in that journey, which is well under way already.
What are your long-term goals for the School?
My long-term goal is to be a steward of the values of the School that are rooted in Mrs. Fleming’s vision—academic excellence, beauty, civility, appreciation of the arts, global-mindedness, and a commitment to humanity. If together with the TASIS community we can continue to further these goals, I will feel I have been a successful steward of the institution.
What are your thoughts on Mrs. Fleming and her philosophy and legacy?
I had heard of TASIS for many years. The school is recognized around the world. But I did not take a close look at the school until this opportunity was brought to my attention. After looking more closely, I became further drawn to the values of the School. Independently of TASIS, I have always been a believer in strong academic content reflecting what Matthew Arnold called “the best which has been thought and said in the world.”
Also, to create a globally-minded School that has a commitment to bringing good into the world, to be a force for good globally, was so forward looking in Mrs. Fleming’s time and is so needed today. Finally, to bring that back to the daily appreciation of beauty, the arts, and civility makes these values personal and intimate. You see these values in the multiple interactions on campus, the simple things, whether in the greetings, the thoughtful gestures, the holding of a door, the beauty of the campus, or the celebration of the arts. The values are timeless.
What are the benefits and challenges of working with an international population?
With over 60 nationalities represented in our community, students will have the opportunity to see the world from many perspectives. This plurality invites everyone to look at humanity as a whole; our challenge will always be to ensure that we are listening as respectfully as possible and forging a common path together.
How can alumni benefit schools, and vice versa?
Alumni are an important voice in any school community. They have experienced the School, they are out in the world, and they have a unique perspective on what the School brings. Hearing their voice and including them in the future plans of TASIS is critical. We hope we can reach out and help them feel connected to the School, help them foster those memories and connections, and provide a platform for them to share their voice.
What are your thoughts on the extended global community of TASIS and how we can make it thrive?
I am excited to hear that an organic community has developed and that TASIS is so active in fostering that community. It’s important that we provide those platforms, whether digital or physical, that are conducive to alumni getting together. I see our alumni as a force for good in the world, per Mrs. Fleming’s vision, and we hope we can partner with them to further that vision for future generations.
You’ve had a chance to get to know Lyle Rigg well over these past few months. Is there anything you’d like to say about him?
I am sure the community knows this already, but it bears repeating that the school has a treasure in Lyle. His service to the School and his stewarding of its values both here and in England are humbling to contemplate. I am honored to follow him. I would love the community to know that during what had to be an incredibly busy year —the last year of a Headmaster—he has been generous and gracious with his time to the very end. I’m very grateful for that. We have been able to strike a relationship and rapport that can only help the transition. I’m sure I will continue to seek his counsel once he’s in Maine. We will not need the Batphone but the Lyle phone!
Not only has Lyle been gracious and generous, but his warmth and sense of humor as a human and as an educator have come through. I know it is a cliché, but his will be big shoes to fill.