October 22, 2021 by HCDE-Texas
A highly structured learning environment for adjudicated or expelled youth such as Highpoint School East requires strong educators who choose positivity daily. Highpoint Principal Courtney Waters helps her team reinforce their mindset by reminding them of their purpose—to help students envision and achieve their future.
“The kids are our ‘why.’ Every day we come to work is about the why,” said Waters. “My job is to make them understand that we’re all worthy. We can all change. We all have made mistakes. We all have fallen short. It’s how we responded to the things that have happened in our lives that is the difference.”
Waters, who brings years of experience as an adaptive behavior teacher and a district behavior specialist, sees potential in Highpoint students where some do not, consumed by the ideas of their past actions. Part of Waters’ job is changing this perception from others and students’ perceptions of themselves.
“I’m working with future doctors. I’m working with future lawyers and educators,” she said. “I have kids who someday will be standing in a classroom teaching your children or your grandchildren. That’s who I’m working with.”
Waters sets the tone for her campus. She is “a person of excellence,” as one teacher describes her. She places high importance on both instruction and social skills and outlines clear, specific expectations for staff and students. While she is firm, she leads with kindness and leaves room for growth.
Highpoint staff in various roles say that though they know precisely what their principal looks for in lesson plans, classroom objectives, and student development, they still have room for creativity. Teacher Thaddeus Olivier goes so far as to say that Waters “breathes life” into her team.
“What I like most about Ms. Waters is her honesty and the way that she packages it,” says Olivier. “She’ll tell you what you need to do in a way that makes you want to go out and give it your best. It’s all motivating. When she’s correcting you [or] when she’s giving you the information you need to be your best, she’s giving it in a way that is sort of like a parent that wants to see you be successful.”
By many accounts, Waters brings a potent presence to her role that many school leaders spend years honing. Her manner commands respect but remains one of optimism and fairness.
Transition Specialist Raphael Montgomery says Waters is rarely seen without a smile on her face and “always look[s] for and can see the good even in the midst of the worst of situations.” He admires her ability and willingness to meet students where they are and help them realize their personal agency.
“I’ve seen her connect with students that most people would deem unconnectable and get those students who never smile to smile,” said Montgomery. “[She] get[s] those students who can never see anything good happening to them to start feeling good about themselves and recognizing that regardless of where they come from or what they’ve been through, they have within them the ability to be successful.”
Waters also fuels her team in many ways. On Highpoint staff’s first day back to campus after the summer, she instructed them to grab their belongings and head to the bus because they were going on a field trip. Much to everyone’s surprise, they ended up in a bowling alley for an afternoon of “family, fun, and friendship.” Waters told staff there would be plenty of time to focus on the work, but they would focus on each other for an afternoon.
“It’s important for me to show my people how much I love and care for them,” said Waters.
It was a perfect introduction to her philosophy and the culture of family she instills, staff say. It is evident that Highpoint employees benefit from the energy Waters brings to the campus.
“I’m looking forward to seeing what the future has for her,” said LIFE Skills Teacher and Case Manager April Lawson. “I know that this campus will be better because of her leadership.”
Waters reverently reflects that she now leads the same school she served for the past three years as an assistant principal.
“Being able to sit in a leadership role and continue the work is phenomenal,” she said. “It has been so fulfilling. I cannot explain how happy I am when I get up in the morning and go to work. It’s not really a job for me. It’s a calling.”