SOLON– Tony Nicol knows Solon. He’s a Spartan who basically never left the area. Now after an eight-year absence (he was briefly the Solon Middle School (SMS) counselor), he’s back for good as Solon’s Middle School counselor/facilitator and varsity girls basketball coach.
Nicol was an English teacher at Linn-Mar High School for five years, and then was a dean of students handling disciplinary issues for ninth and 10th graders. He said he was committed to Linn-Mar and wasn’t looking for another job until he heard about the job in Solon. The counselor job was expanded to include a role as a facilitator (kind of like an assistant principal), and then Solon also needed a new varsity girls basketball coach.
Done deal and he couldn’t be happier.
He’s met some of the basketball team and they start formal practice in November.
Nicol’s coached for 19 years in various roles, including a stint as Solon seventh grade girls basketball coach in his final two years of college, and he’s excited to run his own program after eight seasons as the boys’ sophomore coach at Linn-Mar.
But his main job will be as SMS counselor where he helps kids make positive choices, find support and help another kind of team be successful.
Comparing middle school when he was a youngster to today, Nicol said kids no longer have to go it alone when they face problems like bullying or difficulty fitting in at school.
When problems arise, Nicol assembles a team consisting of himself, teachers and other school staff, the student, and parents, to find solutions and get kids on track for success.
This semester he’s introduced himself to Solon fifth graders in a morning class that had students asking open-ended questions about their new counselor. Other classes will engage students in discussions on small group dynamics, socializing, and other topics. He teaches every day and the fifth grade cycles through his course every few days.
Next semester he’ll lead a similar class with the Solon sixth graders.
It has been his favorite part of the new job. The fifth-grade elective class is part of his strategy to reach out to students.
“The key is having them see you in a positive light as someone who can help with your problems,” he said. It makes his job easier when kids reach out to him and that’s when his help can reverse student issues.
He sits down to listen to students figure out what they’re dealing with and how he can help. Some issues just need a brief chat and a pat on the back, but sometimes he’s got to assemble the team.
Either way, Nicol is trying to help students make winning choices.
He said that already knowing the staff has made his transition easier at SMS.
“They know where I’m coming from,” he said, adding that he and SMS principal Mike Herdliska graduated together in the same Spartan class of 1987.
Nicol is completing an administration degree at University of Iowa, where he also received his teaching certification and counseling degree.
Tony’s wife, Lisa, is a French teacher at Washington High in Cedar Rapids. They have two children who’ve open-enrolled into Solon since the family lived in North Liberty. They moved to Solon three years ago after fiddling with the idea of moving to Cedar Rapids or Marion.
Nicol said he was staying put, and the only question he’s had about living so close to his new job was what kind of roof to put on the house. The family isn’t going anywhere, he said, so they decided on a metal roof with a 50-year warranty.
Tony’s father, Scott Nicol, is a retired education consultant who worked at Grant Wood Area Education Agency; he was also was a long-term substitute counselor at Solon. The elder Nicol remains involved in Solon schools as an active volunteer and Spartan fan.