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‘Always served the school board with heart’: Nick Collins reflects on public service

Rebecca Barnabi

nick collins Twenty-four years ago, a VMI graduate who attended on football scholarship ran for election to his local school board.

As a former jock, he wanted to prove that an average Joe like himself also had a perspective to offer. He would go on to mentor fellow board members and serve six terms.

“I thought, you shouldn’t have to be a Rhodes Scholar to be on the school board. I’m just an average Joe, ex-jock. I like doing things for my community,” said Nicholas T. Collins, who just retired from the Augusta County School Board. He represented the North River District.

When he lost the election in November 2023, he said he was near to being ready to leave anyway. Earlier this month, Sharon Griffin assumed representation of the North River District and Collins assisted her in the transition.

At the board’s regular December 2023 meeting, words of appreciation were expressed for his service and mentorship.

“Your passion for kids in Augusta County is remarkable,” said Augusta County Schools Superintendent Dr. Eric W. Bond. He said that Collins’ service was “job well done” and that he will be missed.

Board member John Ward, who represents the Riverheads District, thanked Collins for his guidance.

“Thank you for your service,” Timothy Simmons, who represents the Pastures District, said.

Tim Swortzel represents the Wayne District.

“We’ve had numerous conversations. We go way back,” Swortzel said.

When David Shiflett joined the board as one of five new members, Collins was chair.

“We’ve done a pretty good job at compensating our teachers, staff and support staff. Not as much as we would like,” Shiflett, who represents the Middle River District, said of the board’s accomplishments.

Shiflett said that Collins was “always in the trenches with the county’s teachers and always served the school board with heart.”

He said he enjoyed working with Collins.

Mike Lawson represents the South River District and thanked Collins for his time in guiding him and his service on the board.

“My prayer for you is this next season be a fruitful season for you and your family,” Lawson said.

Donna Wells, who represents the Beverley Manor District, said Collins is a great mentor.

“Thank you for leading me the last few years,” she said.

Collins said at his final school board meeting that he will continue to advocate for more local funding for Augusta County Schools.

“I think we got great schools. Why do we have great schools? Because we have great people,” Collins said.

However, in his last few years on the board, Collins said he became concerned about how politics were affecting local school boards, particularly because of actions taken by Republicans at the federal and state levels.

Collins made sure to talk of the school board as “we” and not “me,” and to bring a spirit of being a team player like when he played football at VMI.

“I feel like anything that happened for the majority of those years, the school board acted like a team. We didn’t always agree on everything. But, in the end, it was always what ‘we’ had done, not what any individual had done.”

He is happy with how the Commonwealth handled the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 with masking. When Gov. Glenn Youngkin chose a date for Virginians to stop masking, Augusta County chose a later date, because infection numbers remained higher in the county.

“Because, in my mind, we knew better,” Collins said. “We were watching our data trend downward like the whole state was, but we didn’t feel like we were at low enough levels to take the masks off.”

The school board also went its own way when it came to resuming in-person instruction.

“We went to school,” Collins said. Students attended alternate days to lessen how many were in each classroom.

Students were also fed every day regardless of a pandemic.

The school system learned that virtual learning does not work for all students, especially younger learners.

The board carried the same tradition last year when it came to updating its policies regarding LGBTQ+ students.

“We felt like we’ve done a good job. We’ve treated everyone with respect. We’ve tried to accommodate their needs,” Collins said, of the county school board respecting students and parents while following Govs. Ralph Northam’s and Youngkin’s policies, but making them unique to Augusta County. “So it’s Augusta County’s policy.”

When Collins looks back on his time with the school board, he said he will always remember how they were able to get Chrome books into the hands of every county student over a few years. The school board members were excited when every student had a computer for school.

“To see that from start to finish — I just think that was big. We’re in a modern world.”

According to Collins the teachers and staff at Augusta County Schools make a difference.

“Dr. Bond is an excellent superintendent and he has a good senior staff,” Collins said.

Collins said he looks forward to spending more time with his wife, Joan Collins and adult daughter and son, and making travel plans.

He half owns and operates Weatherman-Collins Contracting LLC in Staunton and runs a beef cattle farm with crops.

He has no definite plans or aspirations to run for elected office again, but will be sure to attend Augusta County Board of Supervisors meetings and advocate for more local school funding, particularly for capital improvement projects and new construction. Collins said Augusta County Schools get the least amount of local funding on a per pupil basis of any school system in Virginia.

“I think I can still be a voice.”

Augusta County: Nicholas T. Collins voted off School Board after 23 years – Augusta Free Press

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.