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November 1, 2016

Rebecca Watts leads launch, implementation of Trustees Education Initiative

For Rebecca Watts, the challenge of leading a multi-year initiative charged with transforming Wyoming teacher preparation is a natural extension of experiences and interests that boil down to one critical question: What is best for K-12 students?

Watts assumed directorship of the Wyoming Teacher Education Initiative (TEI) in September.  Launched earlier this year by the UW Trustees and supported by a five-year, $5 million grant from the Daniels Fund, TEI’s charge is to elevate UW’s College of Education to national prominence in preparing K-12 teachers, counselors and administrators.

The TEI Governing Board selected Watts from among candidates identified in a national search conducted earlier this year. She brings a strong professional background focused on higher education generally, and teacher preparation specifically, including four years (2012-16) serving as associate vice chancellor for P-16 initiatives for the Ohio Department of Higher Education.

Four key responsibilities of that position parallel the work Rebecca is called on to do as TEI director:

  • Working with Ohio’s 54 teacher preparation programs and other K-16 stakeholder groups to identify ways to smooth the transition from high school to college;
  • Administering the state’s GEAR UP grant, which provides college readiness support for students from seventh grade through high school;
  • Overseeing Ohio’s Improving Teacher Quality Grant, a Title II-funded program that provides professional development for high-needs schools; and
  • Ensuring alignment between requirements expected of Ohio high school graduates with higher education curricula targeting freshmen.

In the first role, Watts facilitated conversations and processes that identified high-quality practices in teacher preparation. While the state’s teacher education programs competed for prospective students, they also understood the value of identifying and sharing parts of the process that supported future teachers, wherever they chose to undertake their preparation. Program representatives regularly and openly offered examples of effective practices in the spirit of everyone’s ultimate goal.

“We always have one point of agreement: this is about the kids,” Watts says of the bottom line for the successful collaborations with which she has worked. “All of this work is in service of the success of those kids sitting in those elementary and secondary school classrooms.”

Watts’ experiences helping multi-stakeholder collaborations reach common ground while also contributing richness to the process should prove valuable in facilitating similar efforts in TEI.

“Everyone has to bring their own lens,” she says. “Whether you’re a superintendent, a sixth grade teacher, a university faculty member, you look at it through your own lens. The key is then to get everyone recognizing, understanding, and even appreciating the different perspectives of the same issue, goal or challenge.”

Watts will draw from her full range of professional experiences as TEI executive director. Before taking the Ohio Department of Higher Education assignment, she served as chief of staff to the Ohio University president (2008-12); deputy director and chief of staff to the president of Murray State University (2004-08); and executive director for public information for Lincoln Land Community College in her hometown of Springfield, Ill. (2001-04).

“Dr. Watts brings a lifetime of leadership experience spanning both higher education and P-12 reform,” College of Education Dean Ray Reutzel says. “She will be an articulate spokesperson for the Trustees Education Initiative, having demonstrated an ability to bring a wide array of stakeholders together to achieve a common cause. I believe she will do just that with this initiative. She has my support and that of the college in moving this agenda forward in a bold way.”

Leadership of Wyoming’s TEI allows Watts “to have the opportunity to come here and to be part of that exciting work that rises above where it has been, and to look at continuous improvement – and exciting new concepts and models that support everybody.”

Rebecca holds an associate of arts (1989, communication) from Lincoln Land Community College, a bachelor of arts (1992, communication) from Sangamon State University, a master of arts (1997, communication) from the University of Illinois at Springfield, and a doctor of philosophy (2013, higher education leadership) from Ohio University.

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