Flagstaff Academy principal wins leadership award
April 15, 2020
They call her Mama G., but students and teachers at Flagstaff Academy can now refer to their middle school principal as Colorado Charter School Leader of the Year.
"I was very excited and totally humbled when I found out about all the nominations and the kind things people had to say," said Katie Gustafson, 39, who has been an administrator at the school for five years and a teacher for five years before that.
The award from the Colorado League of Charter Schools recognized Gustafson for focusing on the whole child and her leadership approach to students.
"I really think Katie got this award because she is innovative and she takes risks that are all in the benefit of students and staff," said teacher Kate Salgado. "She provides us with current research and current data and professional development that has to do with writing and adolescent brain development and the latest research on interventions for students."
A combination of science-based research and human-centered relationships makes sense for a school that emphasizes hands-on science and technology along with attention to the arts.
"She's a great communicator, and clear on processes," said Salgado.
Learning isn't just for the students of Flagstaff Academy. "I feel like I'm always growing," said Gustufson. "I know I don't know everything, but can we find the people and the answers we want to find to get us to where we want to go?"
"I don't think we're ever done growing and learning. We need to get just a little bit better each day to make a child's experience better, a teacher's classroom better, the school better, the relationships with one another better," said Gustafson.
"She is an eternal optimist," said Salgado. "She's positive and caring and she has an open door. It puts us all in a really great place to be a family. In fact, we lovingly call her Mama G."
"I couldn't do what I do without great support," said Gustafson. "It's really important to me. It takes a village. There is no way I could do this by myself. Having an amazing office staff, fabulous mentors along the way, it's all about connections and connecting with people. There are a lot of us who have worked very hard to put Flagstaff on the map."
It's difficult to not have those in-person relationships right now due to the coronavirus pandemic that has forced the school to depend on remote learning. But Gustafson said the older kids at the K-8, tech-focused school are able to manage. Still, it's hard for a school that emphasizes personal connections. They're finding ways to be together online, including remote-based office hours.
"The teachers are missing the kids terribly. The kids come to office hours and they just come to talk and show us their bedrooms," said Gustafson, who has children of her own in kindergarten and fourth grade. "I empathize with parents. I'm a working mom too. I'm just trying to balance the work and keeping them engaged with a healthy balance of computer time and not. It's hard, especially for the little ones. That's not how they usually learn in kindergarten."
Gustafson said it's important that everyone stay safe and healthy, but it will be good when things get back to normal. "I'm just so looking forward to the day we can all be back in the building together."