DTM: Ware Elementary School
“Time is our most precious commodity, and we must use it effectively and wisely.”
—Deb Gustafson, principal
- Fort Riley, Kansas
- Geary County Schools
- Grades K-5
- DTM awarded in 2007
First recognized as a Dispelling the Myth school in 2007, Ware Elementary School continues to be a leader in Kansas.
Located on Fort Riley, home of the Army’s infantry troops, Ware Elementary School was one of the first schools in Kansas to be identified as “on improvement” under the state’s accountability plan in 2001.
It had been a year marked by low achievement, low attendance, low morale among teachers, and high numbers of discipline issues. That was the year Deb Gustafson was assigned as principal. When she walked into the building that July, the stench of urine was a strong reminder of the neglect and disorder. She spent the summer getting the building in shape and hiring teachers.
Success didn’t come overnight, but the 2007 Dispelling the Myth Award recognized that Ware was one of the highest performing schools in Kansas, a status that it has held through the years thanks in part to its careful implementation of Success for All, its cultivation of a culture and climate of respect, and its focus on making sure new teachers quickly and seamlessly integrate into the school.
Unlike most Dispelling the Myth schools, Ware has had difficulty keeping staff through the years. This is partly because of the difficulty of teaching on a secure military base through multiple deployments through the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It ordinarily hires teachers right out of college, many of whom move on after only a few years, which means it doesn’t have much time before it needs teachers to be expert. As a result, new teachers go through the equivalent of a second teacher training course once they get to Ware. “We spend an inordinate amount of time training new teachers,” Gustafson said.
“We think of it as training teachers for the world, because so many of them leave us to teach elsewhere,” added Jenny Black, Ware’s assistant principal who runs the after-school teacher training program.
With military families continually being moved and redeployed, Ware’s mobility rate is higher than most high-poverty schools, which means that Ware students have often been exposed to widely varying standards. For that reason, Gustafson and others at the school have welcomed Common Core State Standards as a way to ensure that Ware students will always have the benefit of rigorous standards, even when they leave Ware.
- The faculty of Ware Elementary made a video to welcome new students and their families to the school.
- “Leaving Nothing to Chance” in Educational Leadership talks about the respectful atmosphere at Ware Elementary School.
- Getting It Done: Leading Academic Success in Unexpected Schools features Deb Gustafson and Jennie Black, principal and assistant principal of Ware.
- How It’s Being Done: Urgent Lessons from Unexpected Schools (Harvard Education Press, 2009) profiles Ware Elementary.
- StoryCorps, a national nonprofit organization which collects oral histories, conducted interviews at George Hall Elementary. Here are a few audio clips of Principal Terri Tomlinson and teachers talking about working at George Hall
- Teacher discusses the importance of strong leadership and making the school a “kids first” place.
- Teacher discusses setting high expectations for students and helping them reach their potential.
- Teacher discusses the effectiveness of teacher collaboration.
- Teacher talks about the importance of knowing where each student is academically.
- Teacher talks about not letting any student fall through the cracks.
- Principal says kids don’t have time to wait.
- Principal describes her goal of being able to place any student in any classroom with any teacher, and feel confident in the education that child will receive.
- Principal talks about her hiring teachers who have heart and the right attitude about kids.
- School website
- District website
- Great Schools profile
- More information about academic achievement in Kansas