Elkhart County school among four nationwide being considered for $50,000 grand prize
The National Institute for Excellence in Teaching (NIET) announced today that Prairie View Elementary in Goshen Community Schools, Indiana, has earned $10,000 for its selection as an NIET Founder's Award finalist. The school is among four across the country under consideration for the $50,000 grand prize, which will be announced virtually at the NIET National Conference on Thursday, March 4, 2021, at 10 a.m. ET.
"Most successful people can think of a talented teacher who inspired and motivated them to move forward. At Prairie View, teachers have those mentors, too," NIET Chairman and Founder Lowell Milken said. "Providing effective educators with the structure to coach others allows all teachers and students to maximize their potential. I commend Principal Donna Wiktorowski and her staff for making this possible every day."
For 20 years, NIET has partnered with schools, districts, states, and universities to ensure all students have effective educators. Its work to help develop teacher leaders, collaborate on successful strategies, and provide feedback and support to peers that address teacher and student needs have served more than 9,000 schools and have impacted more than 275,000 teachers and 2.75 million students.
NIET's partner schools have shown success by both outperforming similar schools and having greater teacher retention. Schools including Prairie View have continued to advance during the pandemic through the use of NIET's new tools and resources that accommodate virtual instruction, support from expert leaders and trainers, and access to a large network of educators united around shared learning. The Founder's Award was created by Lowell Milken to honor one school annually for exceptional implementation of NIET's principles to build educator excellence and advance student success.
"When you make growing teachers a way of life, students achieve, and that's exactly what we're seeing at Prairie View," said NIET CEO Dr. Candice McQueen. "Everyone has a stake in improving instruction, increasing student outcomes, and taking learning to the next level."
Founder's Award recipients are selected by NIET based on their efforts to make instructional excellence the cornerstone of school improvement; plan for regular professional learning focused on real-time needs of teachers and students; create a culture of collaboration and reflection; and leverage teacher leaders and administrators to drive student growth.
Prairie View has employed these principles in a comprehensive way as part of a districtwide effort to implement NIET's TAP System for Teacher and Student Advancement starting in 2008. Students are meeting and exceeding proficiency targets at higher percentages than state averages because all teachers are consistently supported, valued, and committed to excellent instruction.
What Sets Prairie View Elementary Apart
Prairie View, located in the heart of Elkhart County, serves 460 students representing a majority-minority population, with Hispanic students making up about half of the student population. Of the total percentage of enrolled students, 55% are economically disadvantaged and over a quarter are English learners. Serving all students is at the cornerstone of Prairie View's work, and Principal Donna Wiktorowski has delved deeply into the NIET TAP's structures to develop a coaching model that builds teachers' skillsets and addresses educational inequities and challenges.
"TAP makes it possible to include practicing teachers in setting goals, managing data, and taking the lead to implement the best practices we want to see in every classroom," said Wiktorowski. Having the structure and time for an instructional leadership team to support and build trust with teachers has had a "significant impact" on her effectiveness as a leader and the achievement of the school as a whole.
The regular support and feedback Wiktorowski receives from her own coaches within the NIET structure compelled Prairie View to pair each teacher with a member of the instructional leadership team. These mentors, carefully matched to support the strengths and needs of their mentees, serve as their "cheerleader, thinking partner, and coach."
According to an anonymous school survey, 100% of Prairie View teachers report they are consistently being supported, held to a high standard of excellence, and encouraged to try new things. All report that their professional learning has directly translated to improvement in practice.
The NIET approach also has led to strategies that have increased student achievement. For example, teachers have found that explicitly communicating expectations of assignments and providing examples of what excellence looks and sounds like have motivated their students to take ownership of their learning. Students are able to compare their work to the exemplars, identify and bridge learning gaps, and move along the continuum to mastery. This has been especially helpful for English learners' oral language and writing acquisition.
Despite historic inequities, many students are showing progress. Based on the most recent state data from the 2018-19 school year, more than half of Prairie View's students met or exceeded grade-level standards and expectations in English language arts, and 59% did so in math, compared to a state average of 48% in both subjects. Sixty-three percent of students are on target to become proficient or maintain proficiency in English language arts, compared to the state average of 53%, and 55% are on target in math, compared to the state average of 39%. Fifty-five percent of students in the bottom 25% of performance are on track to proficiency, compared to the 34% state average. And the most recent WIDA 2.0 assessment from 2019-20 shows that Prairie View's English learners are faring better than the state average in meeting growth targets, at 39% compared to 31%. Notably, Prairie View's focus on writing has led to an increase in progress toward proficiency for English learners over the past two years, from 81% to 88%.
Prairie View Elementary joins fellow finalists Douglas MacArthur Elementary School (Perry Township Schools, Indiana); Michael Anderson School (Avondale Elementary School District, Arizona); and North DeSoto High School (DeSoto Parish Schools, Louisiana) in contention for the $50,000 grand prize.
For images of Prairie View and more information about NIET, visit the NIET newsroom. For interviews and requests to attend the Founder's Award announcement, please contact Jana Rausch at firstname.lastname@example.org or (310) 435-9259. Learn more about the conference at www.niet.org. Follow conference news – including the Founder's Award – on Facebook and Twitter @NIETteach or via #NIET2021.
Photo of Prairie View Elementary courtesy of Prairie View Elementary