Katie Guilbault Decker ’89 Wins Big as Principal in Las Vegas
Katie Guilbault Decker ’89 has made learning fun again for stu-dents, teachers and parents at the Walter Bracken STEAM Academy in urban Las Vegas. As the recipient of the 2013 Magnet Schools of America Principal of the Year Award, Decker has transformed an underperforming, underprivileged school into one of the best in the state of Nevada.
But it wasn’t easy.
“It was a mess,” said Decker, who was assigned as its principal in 2001. “(Bracken) was one of the scariest schools in the district. Substitute (teachers) didn’t like to come here because SWAT used to practice here.”
Decker, who spent the previous 11 years as a teacher and an assistant principal in the Las Vegas area, saw an opportunity to improve the failing school. But not many shared her vision.
“It was definitely a challenge,” Decker said of the early resistance she encountered from teachers and parents.
“The staff that was here, their idea of instruction and my idea of instruction were very different.”
Almost immediately, Decker decided that Bracken would become a “magnet” school—one that remains a free public school but has a focused theme and aligned curriculum. Magnet schools use an approach to learning that is inquiry- or performance/project-based, and do not have entrance criteria; students are chosen from a blind lottery-based system.
Because of the shift to more of a science, technology, arts, engineering and mathematics (STEAM) curriculum, she required all of her existing teachers to re-apply for their jobs.
“Everyone interviewed for their positions,” Decker said. “I looked for teachers with science backgrounds. Those were my first picks for interviewing.”