If you’ve never driven through Western Arkansas’s Mountain Frontier, you’ve missed a scenic feast for the eyes. The rolling mountains of the Ouachita National Forest open up to valleys offering breathtaking, bucolic panoramas. A leisurely drive down highway 71 is an excellent excursion on any day, and if you’re patient enough it will lead you to a sweet little surprise named De Queen, Arkansas.
On the surface, De Queen looks like most quaint Arkansas towns; but late in September of 2017, I was able to dig deeper into this beautiful community and its successful school system.
De Queen School District is home to 2,386 students. What’s surprising about this mid-sized Arkansas school district is that 61.48% of the student population is Hispanic/Latino. 51% of the students are English Learners. A whopping 78% of students come from low-income households. (ADE My School Info)
What’s even more surprising about De Queen– the district is ranked 45 out of 238 based on its state test scores!(Schooldigger.com)
My quest was to find out what this district does so well to meet the needs of its diverse learners.
According to superintendent Bruce Hill, the success of the district is owed to the giving personality of the community. He shared with me that even after the closing of a local plant, and the opening of a new one in a neighboring town, the migrant community chose to keep its students in the De Queen schools. In fact, the night before I met with Mr. Hill, the community had voted on a greatly need milage increase to support the construction of a new high school. What better proof could exist of the bond between school and community?
As my friend and De Queen teacher, Victor Rojas, led me through the schools, from the primary school, to the elementary, and then to the high school, another major factor of success else became clear: De Queen has truly amazing teachers.
Superintendent Hill told me he actively recruits the best of the best teachers. Truthfully, the average number of years of experience for teachers in the De Queen School District is 13. This is impressive, considering that nearly 41% of all teachers leave the profession within their first five years (Ingersoll, Merrill, and Stuckey, 2014). Mr. Hill said that he gladly pays more to make sure his students have the best teachers.
Mr. Hill’s committment to teachers is obvious while perusing the hallways of De Queen schools and observing the classrooms. De Queen teachers know what they’re doing, and what they are doing are research-based best practices.
In Ms. Lisa Carver’s fourth grade class, I observed how hands-on activities are used to help English Language Learners understand how to write more compelling narratives.
In Ms. Ginger Marshall’s fourth grade class, I learned how the same students can use color coding to locate the important structures in non-fiction writing.
Ms. Jane Moore’s high school Spanish students talked to me about how her class is a safe place for them, where they feel most at home in the school.
It is apparent that the teachers of De Queen have their students’ best futures and fullest potentials at heart, and they empower the students to take control of their future potential by working hard and expecting that their students can and will succeed. If you ever want to see what “high expectations” really means, I suggest you take a trip to the schools of beautiful De Queen, Arkansas.