best public school
A group of happy Hemingway Elementary School students celebrates the last day of the school year in June 2015.
Photo by Willy Cook
school is family for
Best public school wins for cooperation, consistency.
There's no singular reason Hemingway Elementary School in Ketchum was voted the best public school in the Wood River Valley. It's the people who make a house a home—and it's the staff, parents and kids who make Hemingway Elementary a school continually lauded for its excellence.
"It's hard to put your finger on just any one thing," said fifth-grade teacher Sandy Scott. "The people, the teachers, the parents, the support staff—it's like a family. It's not just good teachers, they are good human beings."
Starting from the top down, a principal can make or break a school. In this case, Principal Don Haisley "runs the school like clockwork," according to technology teacher Scott Slonim, and serves as an advocate for teachers under his employ.
Sandy Scott has been at Hemingway Elementary longer than any other staff member. She started there as a teacher in 1979—and couldn't dream of working anywhere else. Slonim said Hemingway has an unusually low attrition rate; he said Hemingway is the place teachers in the valley strive to end up, not leave. Scott agrees.
"It's well over half my life that's been spent there and I love it," Scott said. "I'm really lucky to get to work in such a great place."
"Families, you stick together even if things are rough."
Sandy Scott, Fifth-grade teacher
Slonim said kids aren't allowed to fall between the cracks at Hemingway. When one kid is having a hard time, it's discussed at staff meetings and the problem is attacked from multiple angles and perspectives. Kids are individuals, Slonim said, so it's important that education is tailored to meet their specific needs.
Whether it's a trickle-down effect from the administration and staff or something in the Ketchum water, kids at Hemingway lift each other up, Slonim said.
"This school blew me away," Slonim said. "I came here from San Diego and the kids—while there are issues—I don't see them making fun of each other. Kids wear the craziest things to school and they love wearing crazy stuff to school. Kids don't make fun of them. They do lift each other up."
Heather Crocker is the director of communications for the Blaine County School District. She said Hemingway has several unique traditions that separate it from the pack. One of them is the school's lunchtime fitness program. It teaches kids the importance of healthy habits—Hemingway kids walked some 4,000 miles in the 2014-2015 school year. Teachers, as role models, participated in the YMCA's Corporate Wellness Challenge during the year and won the event, for the second time in three years. This earned them the title of "Most Health Conscious Company of 2015."
For these special events, parent participation is vital. Slonim said Hemingway parents are a special breed who recognize the importance of involvement with their child's education.
Scott, having been at Hemingway for nearly 40 years, said the school has of course endured rough patches and struggles. It's how they work through the hard times, she said, that merits distinction. At Hemingway, colleagues are family, Scott said.
"Families, you stick together even if things are rough," she said.