BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - When Robert Nixon left his post as assistant principal at Governor Livingston High School last summer, he didn’t expect to be back a year later. But upon hearing that Scott McKinney was leaving as principal to take over as assistant superintendent, Nixon knew there was no other place he would rather be.
“Immediately, I loved the school, the community, the kids, the people here,” he said. “People asked me how I like it here and I would tell them it was my favorite job that I had ever had.”
But 20 years ago, Nixon never thought he’d be sitting in the position he is in today. Originally starting his college career at what is now Stockton University as a pre-med student, with his sights set on physical therapy, Nixon never saw himself as a future educator. Halfway through college, he decided that he wanted to study sports medicine, which Stockton didn’t offer. So he transferred to Montclair State University, where sports medicine was a concentration within the physical education major.
Once there, the head athletic trainer at Montclair State suggested that, in order to become more marketable, Nixon should get his certificate in education. And he did. His first job out of college was as the athletic trainer at Cranford High School, where he also taught physical education and health.
“What I found out quickly was that I enjoyed the education part significantly more than I enjoyed the athletic training and sports medicine part,” Nixon said. “After four years, I stopped being the athletic trainer and started to coach football and basketball and still continued to teach phys. ed. and health. I realized that what I maybe wanted to do then was get into administration, specifically in the area of athletics.”
With that new goal in mind, Nixon went back to school and got his administration certificate. His first administrative job opportunity was at Bound Brook High School, where he was the assistant principal and the athletic director. Like at Cranford, he quickly found that he enjoyed the education aspect of his job much more than the athletic part. After six and a half years at Bound Brook, and now with small children of his own, Nixon found the sometime 14-hour days to be too much, and decided that it was time to move on.
His next stint put him at GL as the assistant principal in 2012. He spent two years at that position, a stop on his journey that he is beyond happy that he took.
“The first thing that connected me here [at GL] was the students,” Nixon said. “The combination of high expectations and high achievement in all areas, along with the down to earth family element that you feel about it, I think separates it from everything else.”
The next logical step for Nixon was to move to the central office, a move he took at the end of the 2013-2014 school year when he accepted a job back at Bound Brook as the assistant superintendent of curriculum instruction. But it didn’t take long for him to start questioning whether or not that was really where he wanted to be.
“Within a few months, I knew that at this phase in my career, the central office wasn’t for me,” Nixon said. “I missed the connection with staff, with students [and] working as part of the building administrative team. Just being part of the culture of a school building is more exciting and more fun. It’s a lot more work and it’s a lot more hours, but to me that’s the exciting part of the job.”
When McKinney was hired as the new assistant superintendent in the Berkeley Heights School District, Nixon was immediately interested in the now open principal position. He applied, and was hired, and he’s excited to be back, this time for longer than two years.
“I’m probably not even quite yet to the halfway point of my career, [and] I think I finally found the exact job I want, in the school that I want, so I feel fortunate to be here.”
While the road to get here has had many stops, Nixon is happy to be back at GL, and is grateful for all the knowledge he has picked up along the way.
“It’s been a long journey in not a long time of my career,” Nixon said. “This is going to be my eighteenth year in education and I’ve had a lot of different stops, done a lot of different things, worn a lot of different hats, and I think at the end of the day, that gave me the experience that I wanted.”