Flagstaff Academy in Longmont promoted a new executive principal who will direct all levels of the school system, PreK through eighth grade, unifying the vision for the charter school.
Katie Gustafson has served as middle school principal for the past three years and will continue in that role through the end of the school year. Starting Monday, she will add to her responsibilities the position of executive principal, according to Executive Director Wayne Granger.
“I promoted Katie after my second year here as the middle school principal … because I saw it in her. Some people are natural leaders and she really puts in the effort to perfect her craft and has made the middle school the amazing school that it is,” he said. “Over the past couple of years, the experience and expertise she has brought to middle school has spilled over to elementary school in terms of things we can do.”
In the past, three acting principals directed the early childhood, elementary and middle school levels of the charter school. In 2015, the schools’ board voted to change the organization to have one executive principal that would unify the structure, Granger said.
After the change, a couple of executive principals have come and gone, and the role of executive principal had not been occupied since 2017, he said.
“We needed to hit the pause button on change in the (organization) … we received feedback from parents, through the annual survey, ... and (parents) didn’t feel as unified or know who was really driving (the school),” he said. “We’re getting an executive principal who gets to set that vision for preschool through eighth grade and drive the things needed to make that happen, it's the right decision and the right time.”
Gustafson has been in Flagstaff Academy for nearly 10 years, where she started as a middle school social studies teacher, climbing her way into other roles such as assistant principal, a positive behavior interventionist and support coach and a middle school principal, according to a press release.
She also serves as the state Charter School Regional Director for the Colorado Association of Middle Level Education, or CAMLE, and was “central” to the charter’s middle school designation as a national School to Watch in 2019, according to the release.
After moving to Longmont nearly a decade ago, Gustafson discovered Flagstaff Academy and immediately fell in love with the place, she said.
“The people and the community from day one has been like having a conversation with a friend, that's how I’ve felt in this building,” she said. “Once you are part of the dragon family, you are family, and we consider that very highly.”
One of the things she most values about charter schools is the depth of knowledge students obtain throughout their time as well as the freedom and creativity teachers have as educators, she said.
“As a teacher it is so fun to teach, (charter schools) tell you what to teach but not how. In traditional schools, it's more scripted,” she said.
Flagstaff Academy is one of 261 charter schools in Colorado, where over 130,000 students receive their education every year making up 15% of the total student body statewide, according to Peter Mason, vice president of communications at the Colorado League of Charter Schools.
Charter schools are part of the public school system and one of the many options that exist for public education, he said. What makes them different from others is that they are not run by school districts.
“The majority of charter schools run as single unit schools … and are accountable the same way as district schools are, but get some autonomy on how to run the schools,” he said.
In 2020, the Colorado League of Charter Schools awarded Gustafson the Charter School Leader of the Year award recognizing her leadership and work in developing a whole child and leadership approach to help prepare students for high school and beyond, according to the website.
“We are all in it together for public education to help children succeed. I am proud of Katie for this promotion,” he said. “These are the kinds of leaders that make public schools work, with people as dedicated as she is.”
As a founding family member, Granger wants to see Flagstaff go back to being the clear number one school in the area and feels certain that Gustafson will keep pushing the school in that direction.
On her part, Gustafson is excited to have a great foundation to work with and grateful that the board and school community have put their trust in her to bring her vision and passion for excellence forth, she said.
“The culture is so strong here and the academic program is so strong here. I know that I'm fortunate to be able to come in and point the ship in the right direction,” she said. “We are on smooth waters, and it's been a nice transition with a supportive community for me to take this role.