DU Alumni / Magazine Feature / People

Alum recognized for educational innovation

Kristin Waters (PhD ’06), who honed her vision for secondary education at the University of Denver, was recognized Thursday for her “transformational leadership” and effectiveness.

Waters — the top innovative schools officer in Denver Public Schools — received the “Be More Award” in recognition of “outstanding innovative management and direction in education, health, public affairs, news or the arts.”

The award is presented annually by Rocky Mountain PBS to individuals whose vision and leadership bring “positive outcomes benefiting the entire community.”

In Waters’ case, the benefit was helping rescue Bruce Randolph School from failing by pushing for a school autonomy agreement to help turn the school around. The agreement became the model for rescuing failing Denver Public Schools and inspired the Innovation Schools Act of 2008.

“We pushed and didn’t back down,” Waters explained to the several hundred people attending the 2010 NewsMakers Luncheon and award ceremony. “We wanted control over our people, our time and our money — it was that simple.”

Fighting back tears, Waters told how stories of struggling Bruce Randolph students helped galvanize efforts to reform poorly performing schools. She did it by insisting the district grant her school greater control over the calendar and hiring teachers. It was a blueprint drawn from experience as a principal, then fine-tuned at DU’s Morgridge School of Education, where Waters’ doctoral dissertation focused on strategies for redesigning Randolph.

“We also needed flexibility in how our school budget was funded and that these budget decisions were made by our school community and not by others downtown,” Waters explained, then laughed. “I’m part of downtown now, though. It’s not so bad.”

Waters’ efforts brought improvement at Randolph and a promotion to the position of special assistant on school innovation and reform for DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg, where she guides other district schools seeking increased autonomy.

“Our students deserve our best,” Waters said. “They’re counting on us adults to do whatever is necessary to ensure they achieve.”

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