Person of the Year

Christine Waters: Making waves in equity and inclusion in East Meadow and beyond


A dedicated educator for decades in East Meadow and a tireless promoter of diversity, equity and inclusion in schools, Christine Waters has left an often indelible impression on students and colleagues alike in the East Meadow Union Free School District, and beyond.

The vice president of Equity 4 LI Youth, an East Meadow-based organization that tackles issues across Long Island, and the education chair of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored people in New York state, Waters has proven that she is an effective leader who does everything in her power to make sure all students have opportunities to learn.

For her efforts in advocating for students and ensuring a brighter, more equitable future for all, the Herald is proud to name her its 2023 Person of the Year.

Waters was born and raised in Brooklyn, and attended the all-girls Bishop McDonnel Memorial High School, which closed in 1973. Because Waters was a junior at the time, she graduated from high school a year early, at age 16, and continued her studies at Brooklyn College. She earned a degree in elementary education in 1978, and later received a master’s from Stony Brook University, writing her dissertation on the significance of Rosa Parks in the civil rights movement.

Waters began teaching elementary school in Brooklyn, and moved to Long Island with her husband, Alfred. They raised two children, Steven and Michele, in Freeport. Steven is now a music educator, and Michele has a career in biomedical engineering.

Commuting to Brooklyn was a challenge with two young children, Waters said, so she began searching for jobs closer to home. She recalled the day she got a call asking her if she wanted to apply for a position in East Meadow. She had broken a finger while teaching and was home recovering, feeling burned out in her job in the city.

“I said a prayer,” she recounted. “I said, ‘Heavenly Father, I think you’re trying to tell me that I shouldn’t be doing all of this commuting and that you’re sending me someplace else. I don’t know where it is, but I’m ready. And I literally put my head on the pillow, and the phone rang. Someone, one of my friends, said, ‘Would like you to interview in East Meadow?’ And I said, ‘Where’s that?’”

Waters would soon get to know East Meadow. She was hired as a kindergarten teacher at Barnum Woods School in 1993 — one of just three teachers of color in the district at the time — and later taught first grade for the rest of her career before she retired in 2017.

In her local branch of the NAACP, Waters served as the education chair beginning in 2008, she said. Tackling issues in education that she believed were important, like vision screenings for students at an earlier age, she became involved in the state’s NAACP conference. At the state level, she has held the title of education chair since 2019.

As a teacher, her dedication to children was always of utmost importance.

“I had really great people on my team that worked with me,” Waters said. “Of course, over the years there were microaggressions that happened. But I pretty much focused on making learning fun for the kids and working with the parents, to have the children become successful.”

And in her retirement, her approach to education has not changed. Waters got involved with Equity 4 LI Youth in the summer of 2020. The organization, led by its president, founding member Dr. Patrick Pizzo, the assistant superintendent for business and finance in East Meadow schools, is committed to empowering underserved youth.

Dr. Jacqueline Harris, an Equity 4 LI Youth board member who retired from the South Huntington School District five years ago, said she considers Waters a good friend.

“I found out through Equity and working with her on the NAACP Education Committee how brilliant she is, how committed she is, the phenomenal network she has,” Harris said, “and how much she loves East Meadow, with the work that she was able to do with the kids from that community.” 

Harris said that Waters’ involvement with the state’s NAACP has been tremendously helpful for those committed to furthering educational opportunities on Long Island.

“She always has a finger on the pulse of the next thing that’s happening — not just locally or regionally, but nationally,” Harris said.

“She shares the information in such a meaningful and effective way. It just encourages everyone to get involved where they can, to get up to speed with whatever is happening in our field. She’s always, always sharing high-quality information.”

Dafny Irizarry, an English as a New Language teacher, the president of the Long Island Latino Teachers Association and the youth committee chair of Equity 4 LI Youth, said that even though Waters is retired, she remains fully committed to education.

“I was really impressed by her level of commitment to continue advancing issues in the field,” Irizarry said. “And her work, to me, is very inspirational, because that’s what I look forward to doing.

“You can see her genuine passion for helping students and helping families and seeking justice,” Irizarry added. “It’s inspiring to see that she advocates for all children — and that’s the way it should be. They’re all our children, regardless of where they come from. At the end of the day, they are our children, and we should be looking out for them.”

Pizzo said that Waters humbly credits her endeavors to the people around her. “There’s been times with Christine that I say to her, you’re a role model, you know,” he said. “And she goes, no, no, it’s not about me. And I’m like, some people need to have leaders —people need to have people who inspire them. And that’s what (she’s) doing.”

April Francis, the director of diversity, equity and inclusion at Eastern Suffolk BOCES, said that Waters has a way of mobilizing people and encouraging courageous conversations.

“When she speaks, she owns the room,” Francis said. “She makes you want to act by the words that she shares. She knows the issues and she’s passionate about the work. She shows you that she’s not going to stop until there’s change.”

Francis compared Waters to Rosa Parks — who inspired Waters early in her own career.

“We know Rosa Parks for that one event,” Francis said, referring to Parks’ refusal to give up her seat to a white bus rider in Montgomery, Alabama, on Dec. 1, 1955. “But people don’t know her from the many other events that she did in her life. She was a very quiet leader who elevated others. For me, that’s why when I think of Christine, I think of Rosa Parks.”