In 1995 a corporate transfer moved the Nikkel Family, BeLinda and her husband David and their daughters, from Oklahoma to Texas, causing Oklahoma to surrender an educator once named Oklahoma Science Teacher of the year. But Oklahoma’s loss was Texas’, specifically Lewisville ISD’s, gain! BeLinda Nikkel began her LISD career as Assistant Principal of Heritage Elementary in 1995, and by 1997 was named Principal.
The impact she made as first a science teacher and then an administrator in Oklahoma was quickly understood at Heritage.
“BeLinda knew the names of every student in her school,” Alex Buck, whose children attended Heritage under Nikkel’s leadership, told LEF. “She was visible and engaged in the many programs that were available.”
Her favorite programs were the renovation of the outdoor classroom into the Texas Our Heritage garden, and the advent of the senior breakfast and the Heritage Flying Hawks Senior Scholarship.
The garden is a sight to behold. “She constantly fought to get her kids the best facilities, teachers and learning experiences,” Buck said. It is no surprise that with the help of parents, local garden clubs and LEF, the Heritage community, under Nikkel’s leadership, was able to transform the typical outdoor learning area. Years after her retirement it is still utilized and still wins awards, including the 2012 Texas Master Naturalist Exemplary Project of the Year.
Wanting to maintain the sense of community with students after they move on from elementary school, Nikkel worked with the PTA to establish the Heritage Flying Hawks Senior Scholarship, awarded annually to a senior graduating from LISD who attended Heritage for elementary school. Along with that came the senior breakfast, a time when seniors are invited back to their elementary school to reflect on their roots and to show those who had a hand in shaping their early education just how far they’ve come. It’s a sweet event that continues at Heritage and has been replicated at other elementary schools.
Upon retiring after 32 years in education, another scholarship was created: The BeLinda Nikkel Heritage Elementary Hawk Scholarship, awarded to an LISD senior who attended Heritage and who demonstrates community involvement. Nikkel presents this award herself each year at LEF’s annual awards night. She keeps up with many former students, including most who have received this award. “The scholarship allows me to continue to invest in the students and to continue to see their success in life,” Nikkel said.
Though a retiree since 2011, Nikkel continues to serve the students and teachers of LISD. Not only through attention to the scholarship that bears her name, but as a member of the LEF board of directors and as an interim administrator for LISD schools in a leadership transition.
“Our motto at Heritage was ‘Soar to Great Heights,'” Nikkel said. “The best part of the post-retirement roles is that I get to continue to see students do just that. Whether it is through LEF, where I see students, many of whom I have known since they were in elementary school, receive scholarships, graduate and go off to college, I tell them ‘keep soaring!’ And when I am serving as an interim administrator on a campus where I haven’t been before I meet new students and new families, and I am able to tell them that — tell them to be the best they can be now and as they move on. That, and the hugs in the hallway are the things that keep me coming back.”
Those who knew her at Heritage aren’t surprised that she is still around. “That she remains involved in the district after retirement when she is not a district resident speaks to how deeply her DNA is woven into LISD,” Buck said. “She is simply one of the finest principals this district has ever produced.”
In your educational journey, who impacted you? Have you reached out to that educator to let her know the impact she made? Have you considered cementing her legacy with a scholarship in her honor? LEF is proud to partner with you in the work of leaving a legacy.
LISD seniors interested in applying for this as well as all of the other scholarships administered by LEF should click here. Applications must be completed and submitted, along with all required references, no later than 4:30 pm on January 29, 2016.