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Seneca Valley School Board honors two departing members

Departing Seneca Valley School Board members Jim Nickel and Kathy Whittle exchange a hug
Departing Seneca Valley School Board members Jim Nickel and Kathy Whittle exchange a hug after the board meeting on Monday night, Nov. 13. William Pitts/Butler Eagle 11/13/2023

JACKSON TWP — The Seneca Valley School Board meeting on Monday night, Nov. 13, was the last for two of its nine members, Jim Nickel and board president Kathy Whittle. Both decided to step down at the end of their terms, which expire at the end of this year.

Nickel, who represents Region 2 (Cranberry Township West I and West II), will be replaced by Kari Zimmer, who won the district’s only contested school board election last week over Kayla Burgert. Whittle, who represents Region 7 (Evans City and Seven Fields), will be replaced by Nick Brower, who won in an unopposed race.

Linda Andreassi shares a hug with departing school board member Jim Nickel
Seneca Valley School District communications director Linda Andreassi shares a hug with departing school board member Jim Nickel during a board meeting on Monday night, Nov. 13. William Pitts/Butler Eagle 11/13/2023

Nickel took his spot on the board in 2011, with Whittle following three years later. Whittle initially was appointed to fill out the unfinished term of Kelly Kopera, who resigned due to health issues.

“It’s bittersweet … I decided not to run,” Whittle said. “It's been 10 years, and it's time for me to do other things with my family and volunteer, and I just felt that this was a good transition to have some other opinions and voices on the on the board.”

“I've been passionate about education … passionate about the youth of our community for a very long time,” Nickel said. “But I feel like it was time to have a new voice, a new perspective. Just somebody different.”

One of Nickel and Whittle’s favorite parts of each school board meeting was the “I led the pledge” segment, where a student from the district comes in, bangs the gavel three times to officially start the meeting, and recites the Pledge of Allegiance.

In honor of the two departing school board members, the board put together the biggest “I led the pledge” ever by bringing in Shelly Hess’s entire kindergarten class from Rowan Elementary School — all 10 students — to recite the pledge in unison.

Once the meeting officially got underway, the seven other school board members, along with a few school administrators and staff members, expressed their gratitude to Nickel and Whittle for their combined two decades of service.

“We run this district together with a thousand employees, and the mark that you leave … your decisions, your wisdom, your thoughtfulness and your love … carries on forever,” said district superintendent Tracy Vitale. “So I am forever grateful.”

Eric DiTullio recalled that when the board was voting on whether to appoint Whittle back in 2014, he was the only one to vote “nay” — a decision he said he regrets.

“Kathy, you’ve been an amazing board member all these years,” DiTullio said. “Your level-headedness, your passion for the district has always come through on everything you've done.”

DiTullio was just as glowing about Nickel, who he served with for 12 years.

“There is absolutely nobody else who I have ever had the honor and privilege to serve with more than with you, sir,” DiTullio said. “And I appreciate everything you've done … not just for the district, but for me as a person over the last decade-plus.”

Toward the end of the meeting, Whittle and Nickel had a chance to give their closing thoughts.

“I think what makes us the board that we are is that we’re good-hearted people.” Whittle said. “We have different sets of opinions. We have different sets of beliefs, and we've all shared them. But what makes us different is that we’ve always done it with respect.”

When it was Nickel’s turn to speak, he couldn’t hold back his tears.

“There have been good times and not-so-good times in the past 12 years, but the one constant has been the incredible support from my colleagues on the board, and from an incredible leadership team, and from each and every member of the Seneca Valley team,” Nickel said.

The board will hold a reorganizational meeting on Monday, Dec. 4 to welcome its two new members and decide who will be board president and vice president.

An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the reorganizational meeting will take place Dec. 5.

Seneca Valley School Board meeting members
From left, departing Seneca Valley School Board member Jim Nickel, assistant district superintendent Dr. Sean McCarty, board vice president Jeff L. Widdowson, and departing board president Kathy Whittle at the board meeting on Monday night, Nov. 13. William Pitts/Butler Eagle. 11/13/2023.

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