Two compete for Board of Education post: Nevada County trustee candidates bring passion, experience |

Two compete for Board of Education post: Nevada County trustee candidates bring passion, experience


Nevada County Board of Education

Area 2 Trustee

Name: John “Jack” Meeks

Occupation: Retired teacher

Hometown: New York, New York

Name: Heino Nicolai

Age: 66

Occupation: Independent Sales Representative

Hometown: Dresden, Germany

The Nevada County Board of Education’s seat for Area 2 trustee has been in a relative state of limbo this year.

In July, Michelle “Shelly” Sexton, who held the seat since 2014, resigned in order to travel. Paula Sarantopoulos – who served on the Grass Valley School Board for 15 years – was selected to fill the vacancy, and at the time of her appointment indicated that she would run to retain the seat.

However, Board of Education areas are classified differently than in other races and trustees can run for any area the board represents. With that, Sarantopoulos decided to run in Area 1 and is doing so unopposed. Her name will not appear on the ballot, according to Teal Caddy of the Nevada County Elections’ Office.

Nevada County Board of Education veteran Jack Meeks and incumbent Heino Nicolai will now leave it to the voters to decide who will hold the Area 2 seat through 2022.

Meeks served on Board of Education from 1994 to 2014. Following Sexton’s resignation, Meeks applied but was not appointed to the Area 2 seat.

Incumbent Nicolai was appointed to the Area 2 seat on the board following the 2017 resignation of trustee Bob Altieri. Nicolai has lived in Nevada County since 1990, and served on Clear Creek School District’s board for 17 years.

What are your thoughts on the current level of safety in area schools? What else would you propose be done to ensure kids feel safe at school.

Jack Meeks: Our rural county gives kids a wider view of nature and life’s perils, but frustration and self-pity can produce a vengeful assassin anywhere. There are warning signs, unheeded or discredited.

Each school site needs a designated ombudsman, teacher or counselor, to privately receive reports of suspicious threats, activities, assaults, injuries from students, friends, parents, public. All teachers and support staff need formal retraining annually in empathy, approachability, friendly concern and spotting warning signs, with mandated reporting and feedback from mental health and government agencies.

Heino Nicolai: How we identify and address school safety is dynamic and not a one size fits all solution. All districts in Nevada County have safety procedures that are reviewed and updated annually.

These procedures are a result of communication in both directions with school districts, charter schools, and the board of education along with outside agencies such as law enforcement and fire protection, education related organizations such as California School Boards Association, insurance companies, and industry professionals current on today’s issues, wants and needs.

School shootings were not of major concern a decade or two ago. Nor was cyber bullying before the proliferation of social media into our daily lives. At this time I have no additional proposal to ensure kids feel safe at school, other than to continue and expand where applicable the open dialog with our community.

Would you consider the consolidation of some of the smaller school districts in the county? Do you think taxpayer dollars could be better used if such consolidation occurred?

Meeks: High schools offer more economy-of-scale course electives, Local K-8 schools preserve neighborhoods worth more than tax savings, and enjoy flexibility, innovation, less arbitrary course requirements, community traditions.

Nicolai: Yes, I would consider consolidation if it makes sense financially and is driven by the community that the school(s) are serving. School districts are and have been set up to serve families and children in a particular geographic area. And, what works and is wanted and needed in one community does not necessarily work or is wanted in another. This is why when deciding on where to live consideration of the school serving that potential new residence is and should be a factor.

Editor’s note: The original version of this story incorrectly stated who served on the Grass Valley School Board.

Jennifer Nobles is a staff writer for The Union. She can be reached at or 530-477-4231.

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