Avery, CA — Vallecito Union School District (VUSD) is proud to announce that Avery Middle School (AMS) principal Scott Nicotero is the 2023 Region 7 Middle School Administrator of the Year. The prestigious award is presented annually by the Association of California School Administrators (ACSA), which honors outstanding educational leaders across the state who strive to create and support equitable opportunities for students.
Jared Hungerford, who was the principal at AMS when Nicotero took over in 2017, nominated him for the award. Hungerford’s wife currently works as a library media specialist at AMS, and two of their children have attended the school during Nicotero’s tenure.
“As a former principal, the husband of an employee, and a proud dad of two students, I’ve had a first-hand look at how much Scott has done for Avery Middle School,” Hungerford said. “I felt that it was finally time he was recognized—not just for his work this year, but for his many years of outstanding service.”
In nominating Nicotero, Hungerford cited a long list of accomplishments, including Nicotero’s strong leadership, his boundless empathy, and the way he forges close relationships with students, families, and colleagues while balancing the operational duties and responsibilities of being a principal.
Leaders are often tested during hard times, and Nicotero is no exception. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Nicotero had to navigate one challenge after another. He led with grace and tact, always prioritizing students’ interests. When it was time to bring students back to school, Nicotero found creative ways to normalize academic and social opportunities as quickly as possible while keeping students and staff safe.
“Scott was a steadfast and classy leader throughout COVID who treated every single person with the utmost respect—even during moments of intense debate.” Hungerford said.
Tom Hoskins, VUSD’s superintendent, agreed and recounted one of his favorite stories about Nicotero.
“Soon after I started in 2021, Scott expressed to me how tough it was watching kids miss out on so many valuable experiences due to all the COVID restrictions,” Hoskins said. “But rather than being deterred, he approached the new year school year with incredible enthusiasm. He saw an opportunity to help kids bounce back—and that’s exactly what he did.”
Both Hoskins and Hungerford also pointed out that Nicotero’s playful but firm personality is an ideal match for middle school, which can be a difficult time for students as they transition from childhood into adolescence. Middle schoolers need to be around adults they can relate to, but who can also set boundaries. Nicotero has a knack for understanding kids across a wide range of maturity levels, and he is able to connect with students regardless of the emotional challenges they may be facing at any given moment.
“It is not uncommon to see groups of students seeking Scott out to chat about last night’s basketball game, or what they did over the weekend,” Hoskins said. “Scott is in the classroom almost daily. That presence, along with his straight talk and genuineness, has helped him develop trusting relationships with students.”
Nicotero also has a great capacity for building strong relationships with families. He lets people know he hears them, he values their ideas and engagement, and he wants to create solutions that work for everyone.
“As you can imagine, not every conversation with the parents of a middle school student is easy,” Hoskins said. “Scott’s compassionate approach allows for conversations that sometimes end in tears, hugs, or laughter—but always with respect from all parties.”
Another one of Nicotero’s strengths is his unwavering commitment to standing up for the rights and opportunities of marginalized youth. Hoskins said that Nicotero purposefully considers the needs of students who receive special education services, students who identify as LGBTQ+, and students who live in poverty.
“Middle school is a challenging time for adolescent youth and can be especially difficult for our LGBTQ+ students,” Hoskins said. “Scott stands firmly behind our policies of equity and inclusion, and has built strong relationships with families of our LGBTQ+ youth to ensure they have positive experiences at school.”
It is no surprise that AMS employees appreciate and admire Nicotero, too. Hoskins said that Nicotero excels as an instructional leader who promotes a culture of high achievement, while Hungerford noted that Nicotero fit in well with the team at AMS from the day he started, nearly six years ago.
“AMS has a demanding staff, but in a good way. They expect high quality leadership and great experiences for their students,” Hungerford said. “Scott connects effortlessly with teachers and staff at AMS because he’s approachable and personable. He has fun without jeopardizing his ability to provide support and make decisions. He’s able to be part of the crew, even though he’s the captain.”
Hoskins reinforced that Nicotero’s success is a reflection of his ability to listen to people and take their ideas and opinions to heart.
“Scott is an empathetic, caring, and compassionate leader who students, staff, and family can count on,” Hoskins said. “Scott’s positive attitude and kindness exemplify why he deserves to be the ACSA Region 7 Middle School Administrator of the Year.”