John Thomas West III’s abrupt departure as the first male president of Nardin Academy after just seven months at the helm wasn’t due to a breach of ethics, substance abuse or financial mischief.
It was just a bad fit from the get-go and things never improved.
“We didn’t have a difference of philosophy or vision,” said Charles W. Chiampou, Nardin’s board chairman. “The only issue I had, and the board had, was that the job had certain demands and expectations and he had different expectations, so it wasn’t a good fit.”
Nardin issued a brief statement Feb. 3 announcing West’s departure, but said little other than that both parties had mutually agreed to the change, which took effect immediately.
West came to Nardin after being headmaster for the past 10 years at the Mirman School, a private school for gifted children in Los Angeles. He was also founder and artistic director of the Valyermo Dancers, a Los Angeles dance company dedicated to sacred and liturgical dance.
West was selected by Nardin’s board of trustees after an exhaustive national process; meetings with the Nardin community, alumni, faculty and students; and a poll in which he was favored among three finalists. The board felt its choice was someone who would think “out of the box” and have a positive impact on the larger Nardin community and Buffalo.
But sources say it didn’t work out that way.
“We thought we had a superstar,” one source said, “Then he got here, and he kind of fizzled.”
Things got off to a poor start when West, unexpectedly, started his new job six weeks later than his contract called for.
Soon, concerns began to mount that the new president wasn’t fulfilling the scope and responsibilities of the job. And West’s continued ties to the Valyermo Dancers saw him flying to California more frequently than expected, taking time away from Nardin.
“Maybe he took it to be more of a figurehead position than being out there six days a week, pounding the sidewalk for Nardin, raising money and doing what you can to build up the strategic goals of the institution,” the source said. “He just didn’t execute the job.”
Eventually an executive coach was brought in to work with West, but the coach was “very pessimistic” that the outcome would be any better, the source said.
The board ultimately decided to cut its losses and move on rather than waiting to at least the one-year mark before making a move. West earned around $200,000 as president and lived rent-free in the Nardin House on the West Ferry Street campus with his wife, according to sources. A severance agreement was reached, the sources said.
Nardin, whose main campus is on Cleveland Avenue, where it operates an all-girls college preparatory high school, is conducting a search for West’s replacement. Marsha Joy Sullivan, West’s predecessor, is serving as interim president until a new president is hired.