Waters emphasizes the importance of public education in the management of the CPS Board of Directors | K-12 Education
This is the first of four candidate profiles for the Columbia School Board, in voting order.
In a seventh-grade social studies class, Suzette Waters saw her view of student success forever changed.
When a teacher asked her to help struggling students, Waters — who was known to volunteer in her children’s classrooms — was ready to lend a hand. She has worked with students in housing difficulty and other struggling students. With a little encouragement, the students realized they had the ability to do things they never knew they could.
“Seeing this firsthand was an eye opener,” Waters recalled.
This is one of many volunteer experiences Waters has had throughout her life. As early as kindergarten, she was the first to raise her hand to help get snacks or extra books for others, she said.
Once Waters had children, she volunteered during the week at her children’s schools. Although her schedule is busy with her part-time job as a dental hygienist, she finds time to help others.
“I don’t think there’s a better way to get involved in a community than as a volunteer,” she said. “Volunteering makes the world go round.”
Waters, a longtime Columbia resident, felt the next step to expanding her impact was to serve on the Columbia school board. In December, she announced her candidacy for one of the two seats to come on April 5. Three-year terms are unpaid.
“It’s just a natural step in her legacy of service to the district,” said Shelli Thelen, former president of the Hickman Parent Teacher Student Association.
Public education as a cornerstone
Waters’ focus in his campaign is support for public schools as an institution and Columbia Public Schools in particular.
“It’s essential for our community to continue to support this,” Waters said.
One of the ways she wants to promote academic success is to increase classroom options for students who need more rigor at the college level. In high school, students can take Advanced Placement courses that challenge them academically. But in middle school, students have limited options.
“Every student that comes to us has an innate ability, and it’s our job to discover their greatness and stretch it,” Waters said.
She thinks that if students can take more challenging courses in middle school, it will prepare them for high school classes.
To really push for academic success, especially with high-achieving students, Waters said it’s important for them to take on a challenge. Sometimes that doesn’t mean perfection.
“I think it’s important for every student to reach a point where something is difficult for them,” Waters said.
“Perfection isn’t really the goal,” she said. “Progress is the goal.”
Embedded in the community
Waters, 48, considers Columbia his hometown. Although she left Dallas when she was 9, she lived here during her formative years and was a student in the district. She has seen the student population grow and grow.
“We need leaders who have some sort of long-term view of where our schools fit in the community and how important it is to provide quality education to all of our children,” Waters said.
Lisa Schenker, a former teacher, has direct experience with Waters in the classroom.
During the last year before his retirement, Schenker had Waters’ son, Nate, in his fourth grade class. Waters was the room’s parent and helped Schenker organize student parties and field trips.
What Schenker will remember most is the parting gift Waters gave him: a framed piece of artwork of his class’s fingerprints that read “Love, Your final fourth grade flock.”
“We had a really special year together,” Schenker said. “She’s extremely caring – you know, she goes out of her way.”
More stability, better listening
If elected, Waters wants to contribute to a greater sense of stability. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been turnover at all levels of the district, from teachers to superintendent. She wants to build a solid infrastructure that improves the neighborhood as a whole.
“The pieces are all there. We just have to put them together,” Waters said.
Waters noted a sense of exhaustion in everyone. The pandemic has made any communication difficult. She thinks it’s important for council members to act as liaisons between the community and the district, especially now.
She hopes to improve communication by organizing monthly office hours, once in the evening and once on weekends, to be available for face-to-face communication. PTA meetings are an important place where board members can be visible and available, she said.
“In most cases, that’s what people really want, just to know they’re being heard,” Waters said.
In addition to selecting school board members, district voters will be asked to approve an $80 million school bond issue. Waters hopes that will pass because it would mean improvements for the Columbia Area Career Center. His two children – Nate and his eldest, Anna Waters, now at university – attended classes there. Nate is on the EMT track through Hickman High School.
Although the board recently voted to reinstate school resource officers at three of the high schools, some parents in the district have raised concerns. Waters favors SROs and hopes they can be good mentors and points of contact for students. But, she said, it’s the board’s role to keep a full record of the interactions officers have with students and follow up with the superintendent as needed.
The Columbia Missouri National Education Association, the teachers’ union, officially endorsed Waters, citing his passion for service and understanding of the community.
Adopt a country life
Waters’ weeks vary depending on his personal life and, now, his campaign. She has a bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene from the University of Missouri-Kansas City and sees patients as a dental hygienist on Mondays. But since starting her campaign, she has added meetings, research and conversations with teachers and community members to her schedule.
She tries to build quiet respites. Sometimes in the morning, she spends time at home with her 22-year-old husband, Andy Waters, reading the news together. They met while living in the same apartment building and kept bumping into each other.
“Once I met him, I was like, ‘Yeah, that’s what I was looking for, that’s all,'” Waters recalled.
Beyond family time, his ultimate personal passion is collecting antiques. Waters visits antique stores and thrift stores looking for old books or dishes. She has been an avid collector for eight years and her largest collection is vintage Christmas decorations.
“Fun fact about me: I love other people’s junk,” she said.
Waters said running for the Columbia school board is the hardest thing she’s ever done, but she does it because of her strong belief in public education and its power to enrich people’s lives. .
“We need to have strong public schools. Nationally, public schooling is sort of hanging in the balance. And fuck it, if I’m not going to get in there and fight for it…” Waters trailed off. “Because it matters to me.”