Alumni Spotlight: Nichole Watson
Where others see challenges, Nichole Watson (’13, MEd ’15) sees opportunities. The newly appointed Principal of Prescott Elementary School in Northeast Portland is excited about taking the helm in the midst of a pandemic.
“COVID-19 is a gift,” Watson affirms. “The pandemic really pulled the curtain back to expose a lot of disparities. It shows our vulnerability, our racism, our bias, and that we are not upholding the values we espouse.”
For example, before 2020, many children in Portland did not have a Chromebook nor internet access.
“We’ve built systems around race and gender and class. Now we are just starting to right the wrongs,” Watson says. “I’m actively looking for the inequities, not because I want to fix them, but because I have to.”
Watson has a long history of community activism and championing racial equity in education. But she didn’t start out that way.
After working in real estate for years, Watson returned to school at the age of 28 to advance her career. During admissions, a PSU counselor asked her what she would do if she could do anything in the world. “I decided that I wanted to challenge the system in a way that it wasn’t challenged for me,” Watson recalls.
She opted to get a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary sciences and then received her Master of Education. Now, Watson is a doctoral candidate at Lewis & Clark College in Education Leadership.
In addition to her role as Principal, Watson was the previous Developer of Racial Equity & Community Partnerships for the Portland Association of Teachers in Portland Public Schools. She is enraged that so many Black and Brown lives were taken before an uprising finally happened in the wake of George Floyd’s killing.
“My Black friends and family don’t get to opt out of what’s happening to us,” she says. “I need white people to recognize that their liberation is inextricably bound up with ours and become active accomplices. For real change, white people need to see that they benefit from systemic racism and are willing to dismantle it.”
Watson is the first Black Principal at Prescott Elementary, and she knows what it means for students to have a Principal that looks like them, speaks like them, and lives in their neighborhood. Because of COVID-19, Watson seeks to turn Prescott Elementary into a hub of support. “Schools should be steeped in their communities,” she says. “I want parents to be able to come onto campus and write their resume or cook a meal. I want to engage parents, help families, and pull our community together.”
For Watson, the pandemic’s silver lining is that it offers a unique opportunity to refashion life.
“If we pick up the rubble and reassemble the same way as before, nothing will change,” Watson observes. “What if we choose to be our best selves and actually build a community that cares about each other? Right now, I’m planting those seeds.”