Magazine Feature / People

Principal moves school toward independence

Kristin Waters (PhD education ’06) has been called inventive, energetic and a rebel. But when it comes to changing public schools, Waters, principal of Bruce Randolph School in northeast Denver, says she see herself “looking for any option to make instruction for my students easier.” 

When Waters started at Bruce Randolph in fall 2005 it was a high needs school at risk for being taken over by the state. To prevent state control, Denver Public Schools put out a call for proposals to turn things around. Waters believed that the administrative approach she had used at Morey Middle School, a gifted and talented magnet school, would be effective at Bruce Randolph. 

Waters asked herself, “What we’re doing is great teaching and learning. What if we take it to a place where people say it can’t be done?”

Waters set out to standardize the classroom experience. Because students are faced with serious distractions such as gang violence, broken homes and poverty, making each classroom the same reduced the distractions of navigating different settings and meeting varying teacher demands. This way, she says, the students could more clearly focus on their learning. 

Morgridge College of Education Professor Emeritus Ellie Katz says highly trained administrators like Waters are able to do well in high-needs schools because they can combine effective teaching, parent involvement and work with the surrounding community. 

For the first year and a half, the program worked, Waters says. The school grew and students test scores improved. But that’s also when she began confronting district barriers — hiring decision limitations and budget restrictions. So, Waters submitted a proposal for school independence and the district approved.

Her move for school independence is now being considered at both the district and state level. Waters says she never expected the plan to gain so much attention. Her focus, more simply, had been on her own students. Now, she says she can control the professional development of her school and continue hiring faculty committed to her vision. 

As Bruce Randolph transitions from a middle school to a 6-12 school, she says all members of the class of 2010, now sophomores, are on track to graduate. That kind of success, she says, comes out of the teachers’ dedication to see each student succeed.

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