by Emily Sargent
BARRE — For Brenda Waterhouse, the world opened up in first grade. Waterhouse, who began her new position as principal of Spaulding High School this past spring, remembers learning to read and “realizing there was something out there beyond my immediate community … it was amazing. And that all came through education and reading.” Waterhouse credits this early love for learning, encouraged by her first grade teacher, with leading her toward a career in education. Her own excitement made Waterhouse, in her own words, “very passionate about opening up the world to other learners.”
Today, much of Waterhouse’s world centers on the community in which she has been teaching for over 20 years. Waterhouse began teaching at Barre Town School in 1994. In 2003, she moved to a position as math teacher at Spaulding High School, and later became the chair of the math department. In her new position as principal, Waterhouse has found that her local career history helps her build trust with the community and with her fellow educators. And she noted, “A lot of the people I’ve worked with as a teacher are still here. They know that I am going to walk the walk and talk the talk.”
In 2011, Waterhouse became assistant principal at Spaulding. This past year, she served as acting principal, filling in for Principal Tom Sedore as he dealt with a life-threatening illness. When Sedore made the decision to retire at the end of this past academic year, Waterhouse stepped into the role full-time. According to Waterhouse, the transition has been fairly smooth thanks to supportive co-administrators and her own experience: “I know where we’ve been, and I know where we’re headed, and I’m very excited to continue our initiatives.”
Many of these initiatives reach into the broader community. According to Waterhouse, Spaulding has become more “student-centered” in the past years; the school as a whole works to support individual students from unique backgrounds. “We do a lot of emotional and family support beyond the academics,” she says, noting that part of her job is to keep current on what is going on in our communities, and what our students are facing. Waterhouse notes that the school is often one of the only safe constants for students from difficult or abusive homes. Waterhouse sees it as Spaulding’s responsibility to understand and address students’ emotional needs while also pushing them academically: “It’s all about the kids, and providing them the supports they need.”
Waterhouse plans to continue developing student unity, and hopes that students will take pride in Spaulding and contribute to a positive school community. She plans to work on more student-run assemblies, and says the school hopes to bring “The Friday Show” — a student-run TV show — back into production. Currently, a few staff members have begun an informal “coffee house” on Friday mornings in the cafeteria, before class hours. According to Waterhouse, “It’s just grown, so every Friday now we have staff and students performing in the cafeteria.” Waterhouse points to this “coffee house” as an organic development — a staff member approached her with the idea and she enthusiastically endorsed it.
For Waterhouse, “the fun stuff” is watching the students develop over their years at Spaulding and working together with a team of educators: “I feel like we’ve got a lot of really well-intended, hardworking people in here right now, and that’s exciting.” As she looks ahead to her term, Waterhouse said that the high school “feels like home.”