Chris Waters: Accountability, leadership, excellence

Chris Waters
For Steamboat Pilot & Today


Our school board decided in August 2020 that our kids would attend class for only half the available days. My son, then in ninth grade, was assigned to cohort B and attended school Wednesdays and Thursdays and every other Friday, while the kids in cohort A went to school Mondays, Tuesdays and alternate Fridays.

With holidays and a full slate of teacher work days, my son went to school for only a handful of Fridays, and he rarely if ever had any work Mondays, because teachers were for whatever reason reticent to assign Monday work on Fridays prior to the weekend. The net effect, as I observed as a stay-at-home dad, was that he never had more than one to two hours of homework during the week and effectively did very little when he wasn’t actually at school. I assess conservatively that he experienced no more than 40% of a full freshman academic year’s worth of rigor. This says nothing of the opportunity costs in social development, maturity and extracurricular experience. I still don’t know of a plan to make up for these losses.

As a United States Military Academy graduate and 31-year Army veteran, I have been deployed in combat and contingency theaters all over the world. As a young Cavalry officer, I led helicopter troops for 18 months along the Demilitarized Zone with North Korea.

Since 9/11, as a special operations aviator, I’ve chased our nation’s most perilous enemies in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, in the Arabian Peninsula and in East, Northwest and sub-Saharan Africa. I’ve led elite organizations with less than 30 soldiers to brigade-sized organizations with over 3,000 soldiers and civilians. I commanded all Army aviation forces in the European theater for two years, and in my last assignment, I served as the acting commanding general for Army Safety. I’ve directed operational and procurement resources totaling hundreds of millions of dollars, and I understand with great experience how to establish a vision, direction, goals and objectives for dynamic organizations to achieve success — in environments with challenges characterized by complexity, ambiguity and danger.

Among many organizational lessons, one reinforced throughout my career when making tough decisions is that leaders must weigh the input of functional experts, particularly those like medics who always recommend the most conservative approach, and formulate the best decision based on all factors. If we made decisions strictly based on the most risk-averse input, we’d never get anything done in the Army.

As I’ve assessed the board’s half-year decision, I’ve learned that the board felt constrained by state and county health professionals’ strict guidance. Effectively, our elected officials beholden to the their taxpaying constituents abdicated the delegated decision authority from taxpayers to a bunch of unelected bureaucrats who are beholden to no one and responsible for nothing.

Simply put, when faced with a complex and dynamic problem, this school board settled for mediocrity rather than rising to the occasion and charting a path that maximized available learning time.

Prior to this decision, we were thrilled with all of our kids’ teachers and with our overall education experience here. This is an extraordinary community, with tremendous resources and world class and well-compensated teachers. Yet our actual academic performance falls somewhere short of this considerable potential.

This Board of Education needs a leader with diversity of thought and with experience directing large organizations with proactive guidance to challenge, measure and elevate the performance of each and every student and to hold the superintendent accountable to achieve the academic excellence our taxpayers expect and deserve.

Chris Waters is a candidate for Steamboat Springs Board of Education.

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