How an Award-Winning Principal Uses a Focus on Equity to Propel Student Success in the Classroom

July 5, 2023

How an Award-Winning Principal Uses a Focus on Equity to Propel Student Success in the Classroom

Principal Nieves Carrales from Somerset Elementary School outside San Antonio, Texas works with her school leadership team to help teachers increase equity in the classroom and close achievement gaps using the TAP System for Teacher and Student Advancement. Somerset ES was recognized as a 2022 National Blue Ribbon School, and Principal Carrales will share her story at the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) Conference in July.  

Tangible Victories in Rural Texas

Somerset Independent School District, located southwest of San Antonio, has faced systemic challenges and at one point was labeled in need of improvement by the state. 90% of its 4,100 students are Hispanic and 82% are categorized as economically disadvantaged. Somerset initiated a partnership with NIET to improve the district's support for teachers and high-quality instruction as its key lever to improve student outcomes using the TAP System. From 2016-19, Somerset students have improved in state and district STAAR performance for all subjects, increasing proficiency by 7 percentage points in English language arts and 15 percentage points in math. In 2019, Somerset earned a B in student achievement and an A in student progress from the state. By 2021, it was also one of only nine districts out of the 1,200 in Texas to see academic growth during the pandemic.

In 2022, the Somerset Elementary School was honored as a National Blue-Ribbon School, a prestigious federal award given to just 297 schools across the country. 

"Student success is truly tied to the quality of the teacher within the classroom," said Carrales. "At Somerset, we spend a great deal of time focusing on growing teachers, building capacity, and making sure we have instructional leaders throughout our campus because we know that, in turn, student success falls in line."

Somerset’s Strategies for Success 

How can school leaders ensure that highly effective teaching is happening across all classrooms? For Carrales, the answer lies in classroom equity. She reflects on where principals and educational leaders can help teachers tap into equity by using data, and instructional practices, as the levers. Somerset adopted NIET’s Teaching and Learning Standards Rubric which provides clear descriptions of strategies that address equity and a positive learning environment. 

Identify student needs: By analyzing student work, Somerset teachers pinpoint areas of need for specific students that, when combined with analysis of student assessment data, create a detailed picture of student needs. Teachers use student data and student work to identify needs to address during classroom instruction, as well as possible areas for supplemental support. Using student work helps teachers to plan lessons that enable each student to access the learning in their classroom, and to identify and plan targeted supplemental services such as tutoring based on specific individual needs. 

Plan ahead to create opportunities for equitable access: Across multiple indicators of classroom practice, educators use the rubric to look for where equity can be advanced. They analyze student needs and anticipate where individuals or groups of students might struggle. Teachers are supported using the rubric as a coaching tool, asking questions such as: In planning a lesson, what activities and materials do you plan to use to engage different students with different needs? 

Use observation and feedback to coach teachers to build equity into their lessons: Based on what was observed between steps one and two, leaders visit classrooms to observe and provide feedback for individual teachers. Leaders consider what evidence would show them that a particular classroom lesson was providing each student with access to the learning. Leaders consider the kinds of reflective questions to ask teachers, such as: How will you plan your questioning to engage each student? Or, how will you create a lesson that offers support to students with different needs, such as those who are English Language Learners?

Identifying where and how to elevate equity is a critical step in Somerset’s system to grow effective teachers who are able to support each student to be successful. The TAP System has helped Principal Carrales to develop and retain effective teachers, create more equitable teaching and learning opportunities, and make strides in student achievement. 

While these critical questions may be asked at the NAESP Conference, many of the answers will be found in the classrooms — just as Carrales discovered within her school. Education leaders and principals will have the opportunity to learn Somerset’s strategies for success through equity and implement them in their own schools. For more conversations on student achievement and equity, visit NIET’s blog at

NIET has partnered with schools, districts, states, and universities to ensure all students have effective educators for more than 20 years. Its work to develop teacher leaders, support successful instructional strategies, and build educator capacity to address student needs have served more than 9,000 schools and have impacted more than 300,000 teachers and 3 million students.