When Lakeview Fort Oglethorpe High School students return to class in August, there will be a new sheriff in town.  That well-worn cliché has special meaning for Chance Nix.

Nix is succeeding Terri Vandiver as principal at LFO, and he’s no stranger to the school.  Ten years ago, Nix completed a two-year stint as the School Resource Officer (SRO), and decided to go into education fulltime.  No one keeps statistics on this, but I can’t think of another former SRO who has become a high school principal.

“It’s crazy, I know,” Nix told me.  I asked him to recall his SRO days. I wondered if he ever saw then-principal Jerry Ransom in the halls, and said to himself, “Hey, I could do that job.”  Nix laughed and said, “No way, it never even crossed my mind.  But I did think about teaching.” The seeds to a teaching career were planted by another former LFO principal Jack Sims.  “He’s the gold standard,” Nix said.  “He saw something in me, and that turned everything around.”

While working as a Catoosa County deputy, Nix took college courses, earning his degrees, most recently an Ed.S (education specialist) degree from Lincoln Memorial University.  He started his new career as a criminal justice teacher at Heritage High.  “(Principal) Ronnie Bradford took a chance on me,” Nix said.  “He said I could do it. It took a while, but I figured it out.” 

During Nix’s time at Heritage, Bradford encouraged him to apply for an administrative position.  Superintendent Denia Reese was supportive, placing him at West Side Elementary School as an assistant principal under Dr. Mike Rich.  “I learned so much from Mike,” Nix said.  “Then I moved over here (to LFO) as an assistant principal, in the same hallways where I’d been the SRO a few years earlier.  It never felt weird.  Everyone here treated me like I belonged.”

When Mrs. Vandiver announced she would be moving to the county’s Performance Learning Center next year, Nix put his name in the hat.  “They do these interviews, and they ask you about your vision for the school.  I didn’t have any problem with that part!”

Within minutes, he convinced me, just as he convinced the panel members who conducted the interview.  When he looks at LFO, he sees a very good school that can get even better.  The gym is shiny and new, but he’s ready to oversee a renovation of what he calls an “outdated” commons area outside the cafeteria.  He’s partnering with Shaw and other area companies to create a Student Success Center, designed to help students who don’t have the advantages enjoyed by others.

“Our students in the top twenty percent can help the ones on the lower end of the scale,” Nix said. “In this new center, we’ll have tutoring available when needed.  These kids can learn from other kids, they speak their language.”

He noted that while schools do a good job providing meals for lower-income students, other necessities often go unattended.  “I’ve had kids come through here wearing clothes that seriously needed a good wash,” he said.  “When you’re an SRO, they’ll tell you things they won’t say to anybody else. They would tell me there was no working washing machine at home.  So we’re installing a washer and dryer they can use here.  No student should have to worry about having clean clothes.”

Assistant principal Kristy Monteith, who has served alongside Nix at LFO, laughs when asked if parents and students should worry about a former cop moving into the principal’s chair.  She’s well aware of the stereotype that can present at face value: a hard-nosed, no nonsense tough guy who obsesses over shirt tails and belt loops. “That’s not Mr. Nix,” she said. “There will be rules, and there will be discipline.  But he has seen these kids from a perspective most of us have not. He knows where they live, the kind of homes they come from, and has studied the reasons for their behavior, both good and bad.  He knows how to bring out the best in young people.”

A walk down the hallway with LFO’s next principal reveals a leader who knows everyone by name, isn’t afraid to fist-pump, and unabashedly loves kids. That’s an important trait, because soon he’ll greet a thousand of them each day.

“Law enforcement was a great career for me, but once I got into this school, it just hit me,” he said. “I can make a positive difference in so many young lives. It’s the coolest feeling in the world. We’ve got the best superintendent in the state, and this school is a great place to be.  Every time we need to hire a new teacher, the inbox is full of applications. I can’t wait to get started.”