In-depth

GW welcomes a new principal: A look into the controversial selection process and our school’s future

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Dispelling the Rumors: Waters’ history at Bruce Randolf school

    There are many things to celebrate about the arrival of a new principal: the hope for growth, the opportunity for new ideas, a fresh perspective for guidance. The departure of the majority of a teaching staff is not one of them.

    “There was a very big problem within our school,” Bruce Randolph School math teacher Taylor Boven-Betz said.

   Bruce Randolph School, then brand new, was experiencing test scores low enough that the school was at risk of being taken over by the state and changed into a charter school. In a bid to save it, Kristin Waters, then principal of Morey Middle School, took over the school.

    “Because of the school being restructured […] everyone was asked to re-interview for their jobs,” Boven-Betz said. “Some people chose to leave, other people were not re-hired.”

    Waters, who was principal during the departure of 39 teachers at Bruce Randolph School, is now GW’s transition principal, leaving community members concerned about the impact she may have on teachers and their jobs.

    “She went to a school and about 40 of the teachers that started with her were gone, so I’m not sure what happened,” Spanish teacher Yasiris Torres said. “That’s concerning. Are we going to lose our teachers here in GW as well? What’s going to happen?”

    Waters wants community members to understand that this is not the case at GW.

    “That was a school that was going through turn-around and the district was very interested in initiating the turn-around to avoid having the state come in to take over the school, which at the time was what the model would be or what would happen if the district didn’t intervene to restructure things,” Waters said.

    In an executive decision, the district chose Waters as the new leader of the school, and provided her the opportunity to select the staff working at the school.

    “To make sure that everybody was on board with the plan and wanted to participate there were re-interviews of all of the staff members,” Waters said. “Some staff members opted to move on — they were ready for a change — and other staff members interviewed. The one question that was very important to me was whether or not they believed in the success of all students, and everyone did not believe in the success of all students.”

    In addition to that question, teachers were asked about what worked well at the school and what could be improved. Waters also participated in classroom walkthroughs. Based on the information she received, Waters made her decision. Of the 45 teachers working at Bruce Randolph School, six stayed on. Waters, however, cites the question about student success as the key indicator as far as whether or not the teachers were the right fit for the program she intended to lead.

    “It is my belief that you’ve got to have a group of people that believe that students can succeed, and if somebody doesn’t believe that, changing that belief, we don’t have time for that,” Waters said.

Kristin Waters’ background

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    Waters’ dedication to her students is something she claims is at the forefront of her style of being a principal.

    “Every decision is based on what’s best for students,” Waters said. “That sometimes makes — I don’t know about easier, but it guides all decisions: ‘is this going to be in the best interest of all students?’”

    Waters also describes a dedication to frequent interactions with students and community members, supporting teachers by shouldering outside responsibilities, celebrating milestones and successes and creating a fun environment as main parts of her style of being a principal, but most of all says that to be a principal “means opportunity.”

    “[It means] making sure that students know about opportunities and have the support to reach for opportunities and also with teachers to make sure that teachers can have the resources and tools that they need to help students be successful with opportunities,” Waters said.

    They are philosophies Waters has gathered and carried with her since she began her teaching career as an English and French teacher in Los Angeles. She continued on to work at Montbello High School for half a year, before going to South High School as an assistant principal. She worked as a principal at Morey Middle School and then at Bruce Randolph School.

    Her work at Bruce Randolph School was acknowledged by President Barack Obama who summed up her work with a quote from one of the first graduating seniors from the school who said “thank you […] for showing that we are smart and we can make it.”

    After spending a year as assistant to the superintendent and another as an instructional superintendent, Waters returned to working as a principal at South High School. Then she took a few years off from teaching. She returned to work at Denver Scholarship Fund, working as the Chief Operating Officer. On Feb. 6, Waters was announced as George Washington’s transition principal, taking over for the retiring Scott Lessard.

The controversy of the decision

    The hiring process, in the wake of Lessard’s announced departure, has proved controversial.

    “I just feel like the process was rushed and hurried and that the student voice and the community members’ voice really wasn’t taken into consideration as much as I think it should have been,” English teacher Troy Gonzalez said.

    During the process, a number of candidates were brought before a school principal search advisory committee made up of teachers, parents and students. They also interviewed with focus groups from the same three groups. Each was able to ask the questions they chose, as was the Collaborative School Committee, a group composed of school faculty and other individuals from the community. Members from DPS upper administration reviewed the answers they received, along with information from the community forum held on Jan. 31 to further narrow down candidates and propose a candidate to Superintendent Tom Boasberg.

    “At the end of the day the superintendent, given all the information he has from all the different stakeholder groups, makes the decision,” Instructional Superintendent Scott Mendelsberg said.

   DPS upper administration claims that the input of the panelists “has an important impact” on the decision.

    “We look carefully at who the panel recommends. Not just the person, but what their comments are,” Boasberg said. “The comments often give an indication of issues that are good as well as issues that give you concern.”

    However, some are concerned that the voices of students and other community members were not properly heard.

    “The students’ voice, it was not heard and that really hurt the students,” Torres said. “They felt like ‘why do I have a voice here if they’re not going to listen to us?’”

    Student opinion reportedly failed to reach Boasberg in order to play a part in his decision.

    “We had a heated faculty meeting where he [Boasberg] admitted that he did not hear who the students selected as their choice for principal,” English teacher Michael Wylde said. “And so a student brought that up at the meeting and told him ‘how can you say you’re putting students first when you didn’t listen to our voice?’”

    With students at the heart of any school, some feel that the oversight to properly consider student voice is harmful to the future of the both the school and the students.

    “It is important for student voice to be heard because the students are what creates the school. If our district can’t even listen to us, how are we supposed to go into the real world thinking that our voice doesn’t matter?” Student Leadership President Kelly Trang, who participated in the student focus group, said.

    Furthermore, community members expressed concern about the speed and timing of the process.

    “It seems like maybe they weren’t intentionally doing a national search, but to search for a principal for a comprehensive high school I think at this time of year is difficult because no principal is looking to leave at that time of the year,” Gonzalez said.

    Students also noticed the speed of the process.

    “Because the process was rushed, it led to students, teachers, community members, etcetera to go against the district, and unfortunately led to a split between the district and members of GW,” Trang said.

    Even candidates felt the process went quickly.

    “It was quick,” Waters said. “It was stressful definitely from a candidate’s perspective.”

    DPS officials explained that the process was “to provide certainty” for students and teachers as they make decisions about where to be in the coming school year.

    “That was the goal: to run a strong process and respond to the community timeline and to have those decisions made by February,” Boasberg said.

    Mendelsberg offered a different explanation.

    “When do we bring someone in so they have the most experience with Scott and what’s the runway to that?” Mendelsberg said. “You know, we’re still finalizing that, but we wanted this principal to sit with Scott [Lessard] while he did budget and when he did personnel and have those conversations, so as much as possible this principal could be with Scott during those decisions to hear what his thinking was.”

    Despite concerns about the process, community members express hope about the work that Waters will do here.

    “I have no doubts in my mind that the new principal, Dr. Waters, will be good, it’s just the way the process went seems wrong,” Torres said.

Plans for the future

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Kristin Waters plans to use the momentum created by the current administration and Scott Lessard (pictured above).

    Waters is focused on continuing along the positive trajectory the school is currently traveling.

    “The work that’s been started is great work, let’s work together to continue,” Waters said. “So I feel parents and staff feel the school’s on a path right now, and to not take us off on a different path. I think the ideas and the direction are the right direction, so it’s important for people to see me working alongside them and listening and making adjustments but not completely changing.”

    Waters has highlighted One George as a direction in which she wants to continue to build, and proposes that more ways should be set up for people to come together. She has also expressed interest in better understanding the student perspective.

    “Students have [talked about]  — and it’s more the seniors than it is the underclassmen — the idea of One George and in their experience they haven’t seen a more coming together of students,” Waters said. “And it might be because of when the seniors started that things have changed and maybe it’s a little bit different for freshman and sophomores right now. […] I want to learn more about that and address that or listen to responses from freshmen and sophomores about that to see if they have the same feeling as seniors do.”

    Mendelsberg has echoed her interest, calling her presence “another shot in the arm” for One George.

    “Kristin came into those interviews really familiar with One George,” Mendelsberg said. “I think a lot of her work reflects the idea behind One George, but I know that’s really important to her.”

    As she moves forward, Waters intends to pay attention to the community perspective. She recognizes the group effort needed to keep the school growing.

    “You feel good about what you’re doing and you believe in where you’re going, but you have to bring people along, and you can’t be doing it without the buy-in,” Waters said. “You have to make sure that everybody understands — or at least the majority — and is there with you, so you can all move forward together.”

    Waters has agreed to serve as principal for five years.

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