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Nardin names Los Angeles educator as its first male president

Nardin Academy, the oldest independent Catholic school in Buffalo, will have its first male president next summer when John West III succeeds Marsha Joy Sullivan, who is retiring.

West will become the 24th president of the academy, founded in 1857 by the Daughters of the Heart of Mary. He comes to Buffalo from the Mirman School in Los Angeles, a private school for “highly gifted” children, where he has been headmaster for 10 years. He was hired after a nationwide search that began when Sullivan announced her plans to retire and is scheduled to take over July 1.

West said by phone from California on Thursday that he had not been actively looking for a new position when he was contacted about the Nardin post.

“It was the Daughters, actually, that attracted me – their story, their charism,” said West, who is a Benedictine oblate and a member of the North American Academy of Liturgy. “I’ve never seen a group of women come out of its history so well and apply it to its present-day work.

“In this era of education when everyone is talking about the importance of creating education to fit the needs of its students, Nardin is already there.”

West earned his bachelor’s degree from Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn., and his master’s in education from Loyola Marymount University’s Graduate School of Education, according to Nardin. He specialized in inner-city education and curriculum development, and also did graduate work in folklore and mythology at UCLA.

He said he hopes his time in Minnesota has prepared him for the weather in Buffalo.

West is a native of Los Angeles and previously worked at Harvard-Westlake School in Los Angeles and served on the boards of the California Association of Independent Schools and Marymount High School. He is also a frequent speaker in the areas of diversity, equity and justice at various independent school conferences.

Outside of academics, he pursues his interest in dance as artistic director of the Valyermo Dancers, a company that he founded and that is dedicated to sacred and liturgical dance. He said that he hasn’t yet decided whether he will maintain that connection but that he looks forward to sharing the beauty of liturgical dance here.

“It’s a beautiful form of prayer – powerful and responsive to the energy of women, not to say men aren’t involved, too,” West said. “And it’s a great opportunity to build connections with all communities of color, for whom dance is an integral part of their culture.”

West and his wife have two grown children, and he said his only previous time in Western New York was during a family visit to Niagara Falls. He said he is excited about being part of a community that is on the rebound.

His arrival will continue a decision by Nardin’s board to take new directions with its leadership. Sullivan was the first lay president of Nardin when she took over in 2008; all previous heads of the school had been members of the Daughters.

Nardin, with two campuses, on Cleveland Avenue and West Ferry Street, is made up of three schools – the coeducational Montessori program and elementary school, and an all-girls high school. It has 914 students enrolled this year.

The school is independent of Catholic Diocese of Buffalo and is largely funded by tuition, which ranges from $11,525 for the high school to $3,553 for the least expensive Montessori programs.