The importance of getting a good education and having good educators has never been more important than now. This sentiment rings true for Dionel Waters Ph. D, executive director for IDEA Public schools – Tarrant County. Born and raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Waters left for college with the intention of entering the field of education. “I didn’t have a lot of black male educators,” he said. Waters continued, “I wanted to serve in the education field and be a role model for students who looked like me and came from similar backgrounds.” His career to date has reflected that original ambition.
With this goal in mind, Waters left home after high school and attended Morehouse College in Atlanta, GA where he received his B.A. in elementary education. He has continued his education, some while working. He has an M.A. in curriculum and teaching from Michigan State University, an MBA and M.Ed. in educational leaderful from Dallas Baptist University, a Ph.D. in K-16 educational leadership and policy studies from University of Texas at Arlington. He taught in the classroom for 5 years before serving as a principal for 10 years all of which brought him to his current position. His career has allowed him to teach in several states in the U.S. as well as a stint in Australia. Waters also has served as a principal at all three education levels (elementary, middle and high school).
These experiences have given him insight and direction in how he leads others. In his current role, he oversees more than five-hundred staff and more than four thousand students. He believes strongly in supporting his staff and giving them tools to perform their jobs at the highest levels. The employees for IDEA Schools Tarrant County are familiar with his personal conviction that there are TWO types of employees in IDEA Schools Tarrant County: 1) Those who teach and 2) Those who support those who teach. “I am adamant about providing “layered coaching” to my regional leaders,” says Waters. He coaches and mentors the regional leaders who in turn support the classroom leaders. Waters is a hands-on superintendent, making sure to visit at least 4 of the 8 campuses each week. Encouraged with their A-rated status, Waters shared that IDEA plans to add an additional two campuses in the Tarrant County area by 2030.
Proud to be part of a charter school system, Waters believes within the next five years, many more students will migrate to the charter school model. Having taught in both traditional and charter schools, he can see pros and cons for each platform. Some of the biggest challenges facing education today include closing academic learning gaps, getting students excited about coming to school (the pandemic has had a big effect on that) and continuing to improve the pipeline of highly qualified and caring educators in every school. He is working towards facing these challenges and is positioning the IDEA schools to overcome these challenges. A few benefits of working in the charter schools include the amount of autonomy available in human resource decisions, curriculum selection and discretion in conducting discipline. There are still guideline that must be followed according to state regulations, but the autonomy available gives Waters liberty to deal with issues on a case-by-case basis for the benefit of both staff and students.
Waters believes in the IDEA schools so much, his own children attend classes at one of the Tarrant County campuses. Asked why parents would choose IDEA schools over traditional public schools, Waters responded, “If families are looking for a rigorous academic experience with the focus of ‘College To & Through’, then IDEA Tarrant County is their best bet.” The waiting list to get into these schools is testament to that.
Waters is married with two children and spends his free time exercising, reading, traveling and spending time with family and friends. At a time when educators are leaving for other fields, Waters still gains satisfaction working in the field he has dedicated his career to. “Being able to see my ‘vision’ come to fruition for the benefits of students and their families is my favorite part of being in education,” says Waters. He continues, “This is a powerful piece as we are changing the trajectory of many families through education.”