“We want our kids to be arguers.”

—Gayla Morphew, literacy coordinator

  • De Queen, Arkansas (Sevier County)
  • De Queen School District
  • Grades 3-5
  • Rural
  • DTM awarded in 2012

School Overview

Recognized as a Dispelling the Myth school in 2012, De Queen Elementary is a leader in Arkansas.

In 1993, Terriann Phillips had one Latino student in her second-grade classroom at De Queen Elementary School. Since then, hundreds of families from Mexico and Central and South America, lured by work in Pilgrim’s and Tyson poultry plants, have settled in the small houses and trailers in the town of De Queen and surrounding area of southwestern Arkansas. Today, Phillips is principal and more than three-fifths of her students are Latino. Eighty percent meet the qualifications for free and reduced-price meals.

In this remote area 140 miles from Little Rock, Phillips and the other educators in De Queen Elementary have, matter-of-factly and without fanfare, taken on the challenge of ensuring that the children of parents who spend their days and nights killing, cleaning, and plucking chickens learn to read, write, compute, and, in their words, “think deeply.”

They seem to be succeeding. About 90 percent of the almost 600 students in third, fourth, and fifth grades meet or exceed state reading and math standards, putting De Queen in the top tier of schools in the state.

A few years ago, when the state began testing students in science and only 47 percent of the students passed the test, the teachers were unhappily surprised.”It’s a pride issue,” Phillips said, adding that the teachers said, “I’m better than that.” The teachers attended workshops to increase their knowledge and improve their teaching methods. The music teacher had the students do a musical about force and gravity. Science kits were created to assist teachers with hands-on activities. In 2012, 85 percent of fifth-grade students were proficient or advanced on the science portion of the Benchmark Exam, compared with 60 percent in the state.

In other words, when their students didn’t do well, teachers throughout the school took responsibility and intensified their commitment to science education.

Not that the teachers and administrators are in any way satisfied. They know that meeting current state standards is not sufficient to be ready for the world that is waiting for their students. That is why they are enthusiastically embracing the new Common Core State Standards that have been adopted by 43 states, including Arkansas.

Common Core standards are “clear and concise and good for kids,” says Gayla Morphew, the school’s literacy coordinator. She is particularly enthusiastic about the opportunity they provide to help students make connections between facts and ideas. “The most powerful question is, ‘what do you think of this?’” she said. “And the next most powerful question is, ‘Why?’ We want our kids to be arguers.”

Updated 2013