The various colors of the pages were nearly inked out with messages to Walters saying “sad you have to leave” and “we will miss you,” and while leafing through the pages of her students’ thoughts, Walters reached for the cubed tissue box before drying the corners of her eyes.
“They do trust me and it was hard to tell them,” Walters said. “I am walking down the hallway and they say ‘Why are you leaving us?’ It’s tough. And of course I will miss my staff, they are very great. I am a very emotional and passionate person and I am not afraid to cry in front of them (students) and hug them, and I am also strict with them and sort of like their parent.”
Walters will be taking over the principal duties at Sun Valley Elementary School, beginning in August after being asked by the Washoe County School District to lead one of 11 schools in the new Acceleration Zone, a program designed to give targeted support and leadership to schools receiving one or two stars on the WCSD Performance Framework. (Sparks High School (two stars) will also see Sparks Middle School Principal Kevin Carroll take over its day-to-day operation.)
Walters said Thursday the decision to leave Spanish Springs Elementary was not an easy one and, in fact, she rejected a few offers to move schools when first approached by Area Superintendent Debra Biersdorff.
“Of course, my answer was no,” Walters said. “I have been here for three years and I am not done. I kind of have the goal for five to six years here. I love this school and I love this community and it wasn’t just something I jumped at.
“She just kept at it and I think when the district thinks you are strong enough to go make a difference in a struggling school, you can only say no so much and you have to step up to the challenge. So I stepped up and said ‘ok, I will take it on and I will give you my best.’”
Walters said her new school will offer a much different environment than she has grown accustomed to at Spanish Springs. Sun Valley Elementary stems from the Hispanic population making up about 80 percent of its student demographic. She said she will have to “switch gears” for her new kids and staff, but said past experiences at similar schools have her excited for the new challenge.
“I love that kind of community. I love their sense of family so it is just going to be a different challenge,” she said. “Every school has their own challenges and this is just going to be a different challenge.
“I am the type of person that responds well to change and I am looking forward to being in a completely different setting. I love kids. I don't care where they are from. I just love kids and I love making a difference. So the biggest thing I am looking forward to is getting a new set of kids to try and win over and make a difference in their lives.”
While Sun Valley Elementary is a Title I designated school and considered struggling by the state, Walters said she was excited about the opportunity to work with the funds that come from being a struggling school. She said programs she planned to institute at Spanish Springs Elementary did not always work because of budgetary confinement, but she plans to use the ideas for those programs at her new location.
“There is always this saying we have in the district that our Title I teachers are so well trained,” Walters said. “So I am looking forward to seeing all these teachers who have all been trained so much with all the resources and money that can be put into those schools.
“The hard part is that I am trying to keep my piles separate because I am in charge of hiring over there at Sun Valley so that piece is going to be difficult for me. The good news is that all the ideas and things we couldn’t find the money for I am going to be able to take that over and maybe pull it off over there.”
Walters said her years at Spanish Springs Elementary facilitated an “aggressive, excited group” willing to do “whatever it takes to help kids.” As she reflects on the many successes she achieved, she said the pride in the school and community, meshed with the motivation of the staff and parents, remains foremost in her mind.
“This community, this staff and these kids really work so hard,” she said. “Everyone has a real sense of pride. The families and the teachers work really hard to make sure our kids are successful out here -- and we are just happy out here. We are focused on a culture of respect and anybody that walks through that door we have that expectation.
“I think one of the things that I bring with me is love and logic. It’s a philosophy on discipline and raising children. That philosophy drives us and it is a philosophy of ‘we are going to love the kids no matter what they do.’ I don’t care if you’re in trouble and in detention, you are going to be loved by me, period, but you will have some consequences. We learn from it and we are also very proactive. We spend a lot of time talking about what it means to be responsible and respectful and kind. It is about teaching kids how to be a positive person in the community.”
Walters said the transition between schools should be “pretty smooth” given that her staff at Spanish Springs has been “on board” with where the school is heading, and she added that the staff and teachers will be able to continue working toward their goals. As Walters heads into Sun Valley in a few months, she said the first thing she plans to do is praise the teachers before finding out where the school’s strengths and weaknesses lie.
“I think my attitude going in, and I did the same thing when I came here, and I think it is important, is that those teachers need to feel valued that they did a great job,” she said. “Just because they are a two-star school and not showing growth doesn’t mean they are not doing great things. There are just roadblocks and we have to figure out how to get past those roadblocks.”
Walters closed by saying she felt it was important to thank the community and the city and added confidence that “they will continue to do great things.”