Based on its continued and districtwide success in demonstrating effectiveness in teaching and strengthened outcomes in student learning, Ascension Public Schools in Louisiana recently received NIET's 2022 District Award of Excellence for Educator Effectiveness. Ascension Parish began its partnership with NIET in 2008 to implement the TAP System for Teacher and Student Advancement, a whole-school approach to improving instruction and providing opportunities for teachers to grow as leaders, and it has since grown to become one of the top performing school districts in the state of Louisiana.
Here are a few strategies Ascension Public Schools has used to sustain its academic improvement and continue to push for student success.
Taking a Districtwide Approach to Great Instruction
Ascension, which is located southeast of Baton Rouge, serves 24,000 students across 31 schools. The district initially partnered with NIET to start a turnaround zone with two schools, and because of the significant gains in student growth, the district expanded their partnership with NIET districtwide. In addition to continued student growth, the district has also created a leadership pipeline supporting dozens of their educators to become assistant principals, principals, and district leaders. Ascension intentionally integrated NIET structures, such as instructional leadership teams and the NIET Teaching and Learning Standards rubric, that accelerate educator impact and scaled those systems across the district to ensure every child in every school is taught by a highly effective teacher.
"The framework of NIET really provides you a guide – not a checklist," said Superintendent David Alexander. "It gives you a way to start thinking about what you want to do, and that includes planning, climate, and professionalism. It is also steeped in those critical moments that occur in a classroom, and the framework allows teachers, teacher leaders, and those giving feedback to teachers to really press into what good instruction looks like."
Building a Culture Around Collaboration
Since partnering with NIET, Ascension has intentionally established a culture of collaboration and used that as its strategy for meeting students' needs. "We have developed a greater commitment to teacher collaboration and teamwork through Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) and clusters, a focus on student work as the primary indicator of successful lessons, and a great recipe for ongoing teacher development no matter how experienced you are," said Superintendent Alexander. "We’ve also established a commitment to creating, monitoring, and continuously adjusting a prescribed student growth plan for every student."
This change in culture has led to impressive results. In 2021, students in Ascension scored among the best on the state assessment, with the highest percentage of students scoring at the levels of mastery and advanced in all grades and subjects. The district also consistently outperformed the state in grades 3-8 ELA, math, and social studies in 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2021. (Due to the impact of COVID-19, the state assessment was not administered for the 2019–20 school year.) Additionally, the graduation rate for Ascension grew from 88.7% in 2019 to 91.1% in 2020, far surpassing the state graduation rate of 84%.
"Ascension Parish is the largest school district in Louisiana that has consistently received an 'A' rating, and we've been able to sustain that," said Alexander. "We believe that our sustainability around academic achievement and continuing to rank among the top districts in Louisiana is directly impacted by the things that we've learned from NIET. This collaborative culture that we've been able to embrace, the structures that go around leadership team meetings, and the feedback that we're able to give our professionals around the craft of teaching continues to drive those student outcomes that we all want to achieve."
Continuing to Push Forward
Although Ascension Public Schools is now one of the top performing districts in the state, that was not always the case. Superintendent Alexander advises struggling districts to, "Keep the work focused on students and student outcomes, celebrate, celebrate, and celebrate," said Alexander. "Be willing to admit it when things aren’t going well – the challenges are real, so accept them. Even when there are bad days, support, listen, and always encourage so that you don’t lose your shared purpose to serve students."
As the 2022 NIET District of Excellence for Educator Effectiveness, Ascension Public Schools has much to be proud of: increased educator effectiveness, sustainable leadership structures, improved student achievement. As for what makes Ascension worthy of this recognition, Superintendent Alexander said, "It's our genuine shared commitment to create great experiences for our students, our shared commitment for teamwork and being good teammates, service to each other and our community, leading regardless of our title by bringing positive energy to the work, and an understanding that we must continue to learn together."
Ascension Public Schools is a national exemplar for its continued commitment to putting educator excellence first. The district's success is a testament to the importance of establishing strong foundational practices and continuing to build upon them. Their dedication to strengthening educator effectiveness has been sustained and deepened over time, and their work will only continue to benefit future generations of teachers and students.