SALT LAKE CITY — Nikki Ward’s life has always been associated with education. Her mother was an elementary school secretary and her father was a high school teacher and a coach, so “I spent summers helping my mom distribute supplies [and getting] ready for the upcoming school year, tagged along with my dad as he scouted basketball games and attended countless of his team’s games,” she said.
That prompted an educational vocation that led her to Gonzaga University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in English and a master’s in administration, curriculum and instruction. She then spent four years teaching sixth grade at St. Thomas More Catholic School in the Diocese of Spokane.
After moving to Utah in 1996, she taught for two years in the Jordan School District before applying to teach second grade at Saint John the Baptist Elementary School in Draper. The founding principal, Sr. Karla McKinnie, offered her the assistant principal position, “and I have been on campus ever since,” said Ward, who has two children: Chris, who graduated from Gonzaga University; and Katie, a senior at the University of San Diego.
In her 22 years at the Skaggs Center campus, she went from assistant principal at the elementary school to principal at the middle school, then became principal at the elementary school.
Serving as the middle-school principal was one of her most gratifying and difficult experiences, she said. “I took over mid-year in the midst of a split community, and thought because I had middle-school experience, I would be fine. I was wrong, but sought the assistance of Sr. Genevra Rolf, Tim Carr and countless others to create a middle-school program to meet the needs of 11-14 year-olds.”
She has always had the blessing of having an incredible faculty, she said, adding that she learned very quickly that “No one knows how much you know until they know how much you care.”
She developed relationships with the students, many of whom now are parents of her current students at the elementary school, she said.
While she will continue to act as the elementary school principal, Ward has additional responsibilities this year: she is the new associate superintendent for Utah Catholic Schools.
“Mrs. Ward comes to her new position with a great deal of experience and wisdom as a school leader,” said Mark Longe, superintendent of Utah Catholic Schools. “She has a passion for Catholic education and love for the children and community she serves. She is highly competent and skilled, especially in the areas of assessment and program improvement.”
Ward took on the additional responsibilities because she would like to support the principals and build community within the Catholic schools, she said, adding that she knows it will be a challenging year.
Her goal “is to provide support for the principals, especially in the area of accreditation,” she said.
As associate superintendent, Ward will be the Western Catholic Education Association commissioner for the diocese, Longe said. This means that Ward will be responsible for overseeing the formal accreditation process at all Utah Catholic schools. She also will begin gathering and analyzing assessment data to design professional learning programs for teachers, he said.
Ward said she is honored to have the opportunity to support all of the Utah Catholic schools. “I am committed to the ministry of Catholic education and will keep the schools in prayer this school year,” she said.