Announcing the 2020 Waterford Educator Prizes

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

This year, we are congratulating three faculty and staff members who have had immeasurable impact on the Waterford School community. Congratulations, Brittany Smith, Class IV Teacher; Casey O'Malley, Academic Dean; and Kristine Wilkins, Assistant to the Head of School. In addition to the honor, each recipient, as tradition holds, is gifted a holiday wreath. Below we share Andrew Menke's tributes to each recipient during the All School's Faculty Meeting, where he recognizes their wonderful accomplishments. 

Wreath Banner

Good afternoon and welcome to this special meeting where we recognize our colleagues with educator prizes. While I wish we were together in the concert hall, it is a great privilege to preside over this ceremony as we confer the 2020 educator prizes.

I want to begin by thanking you all for your thoughtful nominations that illustrated just how much respect, admiration and appreciation you have for your colleagues.  And thank you, to all of you, for the courage and perseverance to stand fully in a place of cultivating the essential core value of caring central to what we do always but critical this year!  I see it in so many places and hear it, as I did last week in Zoom call with Sarah B. (Class X) student, and her mother, who RAVED about how well supported she has felt here at Waterford. “Mr. Menke, I love my teachers...every one of them...they are amazing!” 

As I think you well know, caring has been an animating principle of the Waterford experience since our founding. Each of you lead-out and help all of our students to pursue and love learning as a path to a well-lived life—achieved through the ideals of living honorably, seeking wisdom and appreciating beauty.  As well as caring, about their learning. and about each other.

Perhaps like you, I consider teaching to be the most noble endeavor we are called upon to pursue. It is the means by which the world is shaped, and humankind inspired to progress, to evolve, and to be more human. And as our founding mission asserts it is the tool that underpins the aspirational pursuit of a well-lived life—one that is fulfilling, and we hope, in thoughtful service to others and the communities in which our alumni live and work and raise families.

We teach the ideal that “all learning bears on living and how best to live”.

What could be more important than helping our students to become life-long learners who take seriously their commitment to share their learning with others and deeply embrace the expectation that they will lift others with this gift of education. This is the true value of a Waterford experience, and this is the extraordinary contribution you make to the lives of each of your students.

You ignite, illuminate and open unlimited possibilities, and as a result the world is an imminently more civilized, kind, charitable, and BETTER place.

Despite the ups and downs, and sideways of the Pandemic landscape and delayed gratification that comes with working with children—at any age, I hope this season of giving reminds all of us that the power and promise of teaching is the responsibility and great privilege of positively shaping the world in which we live—nurturing in our students the ethic of care-taking and ultimately living a life of meaning and purpose.

So thank you once again for your commitment to this most reverential of vocations you inspire and lift up and change the world with your belief and investment in each child… one at a time.


And now our Educator Prize tributes...

So it is my pleasure to announce the first educator prize winner...

Brittany Smith, Class IV Teacher

Brittany Smith Brittany has been part of Waterford for 10 years, although she has been teaching for 22. That’s dedication. And that’s Brittany. She absolutely loves to teach. Those who know her well know that she could do anything, and she chooses education because she absolutely loves it. The oldest of many siblings, Brittany brings her ultra-responsible and can-do spirit into the classroom. Always willing to take time for her students, she is committed to finding the best ways to meet their needs. Whether a one-on-one conversation, lunch with a small group of students who need support with friendships, or an early morning tutoring session, Brittany demonstrates her dedication to her students in a myriad of kind and intuitive ways.  

And her kindness does not stop there. Like a river that has always been there, Brittany’s care for her colleagues runs deep and quiet. You might not remember it until you find a thoughtful card and little bag filled with homemade chocolate chip cookies right outside your door when she knows that you have had a particularly hard week. If her colleagues ever need a listening ear, Brittany’s the one. A Capricorn to the core, she has mastered what many of us haven’t yet, and that is the art of listening... fully and wholeheartedly. Brittany is honest with her feedback, and practical in her suggestions.  She is wise beyond her years, and generously gives sage advice with a dollop of humor.    

Brittany is known for her knowing. She knows what it means to be a fourth grader. In fact, you might have seen her dressed up for Halloween… as a fourth grade Waterford student. She knows each of her students through and through. She knows what they do when they are outside of school and what they enjoy reading. She knows what makes them happy, what confuses them, and what makes them stressed. She knows and can decode the Byzantine dynamics of fourth grade. Brittany subtly collects these shards of information and creates a beautiful mosaic of understanding of each student in her classroom.

Brittany will tell you that efficiency is her superpower, and her colleagues would agree. She is organized, hardworking, and has the ability to accomplish a tremendous number of tasks in a brief amount of time. She is fiercely dedicated to her family, including her many nieces and nephews. Brittany comes from a line of talented artists, and keeps the thread going by playing the piano. A fluent Spanish-speaker, she loves to travel and experience the world around her.  I have no doubt that she brings those experiences back into the classroom in ways that help her further connect to her students.  

Brittany... you are one of the first to express gratitude whenever there is an opportunity. You say it often, you write it often and you mean it. Well, it is our turn to say thank you to you. We are so fortunate that you are here at Waterford. Over the years, you have touched countless students lives who leave your classroom feeling known and valued. There really is no higher purpose. So today, we thank you for quietly and humbly sharing your many gifts with us.

Congratulations, Brittany.


It is now my good fortune to share the second educator prize winner for 2020...

Casey O’Malley, Academic Dean

Casey O'Malley Casey came to Waterford in the fall of 2010, after graduating from Columbia University with a double major in Russian Language and Culture and English Literature. She worked initially as a part-time lab assistant in the science department and as a utility employee across campus. But she soon demonstrated such broad and deep competence, in so many areas, that different departments were practically bidding against each other to bring her into the full-time faculty. English won out, and almost immediately Casey established herself as an essential contributor, starting her rapid rise to positions of increasing responsibility year over year—all for the extraordinary benefit of the Waterford community. 

As a Class VI Homeroom teacher, she embraced the challenge of redesigning the Class VI English and history courses as a tightly integrated humanities curriculum. At the same time, she also led-out in developing a Writing Center on the Waterford campus to serve students across the disciplines. Within a few years, she took on the leadership of the English department, where as Chair she continued her trademark approach to program development and administration. Starting with careful research, she identifies best practices from around the country, and then designs practical implementations of new program elements that fit effectively within the Waterford context. Throughout her time as Chair, Casey was also continuing her own education in Vanderbilt’s Master of Education program in independent school leadership, and serving on multiple committees within Waterford’s own strategic planning effort... including the authoring committee that produced the refined Mission, Vision, and Values statements that guide our collective work into the future. 

Casey finished her graduate degree in 2018, and in 2019 began her current Waterford assignment as Academic Dean, a role in which she has flourished, helping the school tremendously with innovative thinking around faculty communication, student onboarding and tracking, curriculum review, pedagogy, and more. Just two-thirds of the way through her first year as Academic Dean, the Covid-19 pandemic hit, presenting all of us with enormous challenges, including a steep and rapid  learning curve related to online and hybrid learning. Through it all, Casey has maintained an air of calm professionalism, using the same techniques she has always championed of research, design, and careful implementation to help the faculty adapt to new realities. She modeled a can-do attitude, which she supplemented with a growing library of curated resources to help teachers take the practical steps necessary to get up to speed in this new environment. 

Through all of this, Casey has also found time to lead out in DEI work, serving as co-chair of the faculty and staff DEI task force. The work is deeply important to her, and one more reminder of the power of Casey’s example. She models for all of us the power of commitment. As we watch her excel, we find ourselves believing anew that the highest aspirations of the Waterford mission are indeed possible.

Congratulations, Casey!


And now, it is my pleasure to share the final educator prize award winner for 2020...

Kristine Wilkins, Executive Assistant, Office of the Head of School

I must confess that I have hemmed and hawed and thought about this tribute for weeks… You are at once incredibly easy to write about and celebrate. The superlatives come quickly, and yet, it is incredibly challenging for me to fully capture or believe that I will do appropriate justice to how immense your impact has been on me and on Waterford for these last 17 years.  

I can remember my first week at Waterford. I moved a few boxes into my new office and then sat down, at the round table near the door to begin to get to know this person who sits 15 feet away.

Kristine, I don’t know if you remember this…?

My intent was to get to know Kristine. The outcome... she got to know me. For in a heartbeat, the conversation became about me, and not about Kristine. And I think this is part of what we all love about you Kristine. You—Kristine—so fully and authentically care about others, and I mean all people—me, Brandon, (Aaron Stockman) and the many who come through—(and you know who you are) searching for candy or a diet coke or dr pepper, a kind word, reassurance, a smile—Beth, board members, parents, students, the copy repair person... EVERYONE!

She has an uncanny ability to discern people's needs and seems to know just how to help all of us. 

Kristine is goodness personified, and I think, the epitome of all things good at Waterford. Kristine may be the nicest person I know. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever heard Kristine say something negative about another human being. She is infectiously (pun intended!) positive and so full of virtue and sees the best is others and displays humble grace—kindness, patience, honor, and courteousness—each day.

Kristine, one of your colleagues commented, “One of the qualities I admire most about Kristine is her graciousness. She is always kind, soft spoken and understanding in all situations (even when she is under tremendous pressure).”  

“She is slow to anger and quick to forgive. She puts in long hours, and I appreciate the friendship she extends to me and to those around her. She is a listening ear for many, both in the professional and personal sense.  She carries herself with poise. Kristine is willing to stand up for the things she believes in, and she does it in a kind, thoughtful way….”  Thank you, Nancy Durrant. 

Kristine is a woman of high ideals—integrity and profound wisdom.

And...Kristine is very kind and always effusively happy and so totally present with all who come into her orbit. Her smile brightens the 800 building and radiates warmth and love all over this campus. She loves to laugh and has a wonderful sense of humor.

Kristine, I was remembering some good belly laughs over framed photos in my office...

Without fanfare and drama, she fields phone calls, manages calendars (with a capital S...multiple calendars), sends out Admin Team notes, she is the ultimate juggler of time and meetings, she sends flowers, cards and cakes and thoughtful emails, handles various mailings and processes, so many different documents within the school, helps with Graduation, Class Day, catering and events, does Costco runs and anything else that needs an extra set of hands. Her bandwidth is impressive.

She is a patient, kind and empathetic listening ear, eager to help to solve any problem large or small.

Kristine, I continue to lean on you, and while it seems a lifetime ago, you almost single-handedly kept me propped up (Brandon - shout out to you as well!) and going in my first two years with kindness and patience, knowledge and wisdom.

Kristine embodies and exhibits both knowledge and wisdom, and I borrow here from an author that I like - Kent Nerburn - “Knowledge is multiple, wisdom is singular.  Knowledge is words, wisdom is silent. Knowledge is standing “outside” and understanding what is seen, wisdom... is standing at the center...and knowing what is not seen…” 

Kristine, you are dedicated and loyal, and you brighten each of our days with your can-do attitude. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard Kristine—in the midst of doing five things—be asked to do another and say “sure, I can do that…” AND she does!

Kristine I checked in with some of your favorite people—Beth Hamideh and THANKS ASHTON—and learned that you have a clog-shoe addiction, and that your nickname since childhood is Teen!? That you love dogs (I knew that one), and you are the favorite aunt...no surprise!

Kristine understands what it means to love your neighbor both figuratively and literally. As a neighbor she brings meals to those in need, drives people to doctor appointments and wholeheartedly gives of her time. Faith and family anchor her life and led her to travel to Israel to study, and serve a mission in Finland. As a parent, her boys are her world. Everything she does has them at the forefront of her mind. She has taught them how to be studious, industrious and endure through challenge.

Beth Hamideh remembered an instance when Kristine was teaching a group lesson where she quoted from a speech made at a local University. "We all have moments of suffering... but we can either be broken by those moments or we can be broken open... by them. A person may feel happy alone through accomplishments... but joy is something more. Happiness is the expansion of self but joy is the merger of self. It's the kind of thing that happens when you forget where you end... and something else begins."

She has experienced this firsthand and continues to share her wisdom and experience with her boys and her family, and fortunately, with all of us here at Waterford..

Kristine...thank you for all that you so selflessly do for all of us. Congratulations!


Congratulations once again to Brittany, Casey and Kristine. A holiday wreath is waiting for each of you at home. I wish we could now all gather in the Concert Hall foyer to enjoy good food and each other's company. Know how grateful I remain for all that you do to support our students and pursue our mission.

I hope you have a wonderful next two weeks and a happy and healthy holiday season.