School one of just five in nation in the running for $50,000 grand prize award
San Felipe Del Rio, TX (March 7, 2023) - The National Institute for Excellence in Teaching (NIET) announced today that Dr. Lonnie Green Elementary in San Felipe Del Rio CISD, Texas, won $10,000 for its selection as an NIET Founder’s Award finalist. The prestigious Founder’s Award was created by Lowell Milken in 2008 to honor one school in the United States each year for exceptional implementation of NIET’s principles to build educator excellence and advance student success. Dr. Lonnie Green Elementary School is among five schools across the country under consideration for the $50,000 grand prize, which will be announced at the NIET’s national conference on March 23.
"At a time of tremendous challenges brought on by the pandemic, Dr. Lonnie Green Elementary School is a shining example of teacher leadership and educational excellence," said NIET Founder Lowell Milken. "The school’s significant achievement growth is a direct result of implementing the right structures to advance teaching and learning. We applaud Principal Cheryl Pond and her staff – as well as the leadership under San Felipe Del Rio CISD Superintendent Dr. Carlos Rios – for distinguishing themselves as a model for the region, state, and now national recognition."
Founder’s Award recipients like Dr. Lonnie Green Elementary School are selected by NIET based on several factors, including their efforts to make instructional excellence the cornerstone of school improvement, plans for regular professional learning focused on real-time needs of teachers and students, creating a culture of collaboration and reflection, and leveraging teacher leaders to drive student growth.
NIET’s partner schools have shown success in improving educator, student and school outcomes. Dr. Lonnie Green Elementary, among other schools, has continuously elevated its educators through the use of NIET’s tools and resources to support instructional excellence and create career pathways.
"Focusing on a commitment to ensure best practices were not happening in isolation but were being implemented in every classroom for every lesson to every student, Dr. Lonnie Green Elementary illustrates a commitment to leadership team collaboration," said NIET Chief Executive Officer Dr. Joshua Barnett. "The result of this commitment is seen in the results, from 2019 to 2022, the school moved from a C rating to an A rating, exemplifying how to accelerate learning and close achievement gaps."
What Makes Dr. Lonnie Green Elementary Unique?
Dr. Lonnie Green Elementary, located in a bilingual community only three traffic lights from Texas’ border with Mexico, is among San Felipe Del Rio CISD’s 15 schools and serves 750 students. Of these students, 74 percent are economically disadvantaged and 32 percent are English Learners. Only 3 years into their partnership with NIET, Dr. Lonnie Green Elementary is already seeing success using NIET’s planning and support protocols. Principal Cheryl Pond and her leadership team are revamping their school culture by using NIET structures to build capacity and foster growth for teachers through dedicated collaboration time, increased instructional support and expanded use of student data and student work.
Dr. Lonnie Green Elementary’s partnership with NIET began in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic through a Texas Education Agency initiative called the Resilient Schools Support Program (RSSP). While the initial goal of the partnership was to plan how to minimize the learning loss that was predicted to occur as a result of the pandemic, it quickly became clear that the resources and support provided were making an immediate impact on the quality of instruction.
"Before NIET, I think we focused on what the teachers were doing,” said Pond. "Now, we focus on what the kids are doing and showing us. We ask ourselves, 'Did the students learn what we wanted and did they demonstrate what we thought?'"
Between the 2018-19 and 2021-22 school years, Dr. Lonnie Green Elementary made significant improvements in its state letter grade – moving from a "C" rated school to an "A" rated school. Despite the pandemic’s impact on education, the percentage of students who were designated “Approaches Grade Level or Above” on state assessments increased from 55 percent in 2021 to 71 percent in 2022. Dr. Lonnie Green Elementary’s work to accelerate learning through the pandemic earned them a 2022 Distinction Designation for being in the top 25 percent in the state for comparative academic growth. In recent years, Dr. Lonnie Green Elementary has prioritized student growth by planning for and discussing student success criteria, focusing on individual student needs rather than a uniform learning timeline for all students.
Dr. Lonnie Green Elementary has worked with NIET to restructure academic planning time and strengthen the instructional coaching skills of school leaders. The school now has bi-weekly meetings that often focus on how teacher actions correlate with student actions. The data uncovered during the planning time is then used to establish classroom priorities, strengthen teacher coaching and refine long-range plans for teachers. Now that coaching and support is grounded in data and student work, teacher leaders are more confident that their work is targeted to teacher and student needs. This restructure of planning time has also improved the instructional skills of school leaders.
"I thought I had the skills to lead my teachers until I saw what was possible with NIET," said Pond. "NIET showed me that I needed new tools to help lead my school and my staff, and I’m a fundamentally different principal now. It’s amazing!"
Together, the teachers and leaders have turned Dr. Lonnie Green Elementary into a model for other schools.
"We saw a change in what was happening in our classrooms," said Pond. “Teachers went from 'Can we do this?' to 'Our kids are doing this!'" Staff from the Region 15 Texas Education Service Center, the state-provided organization responsible for helping south Texas districts improve, have visited Dr. Lonnie Green Elementary to observe the school’s protocols and planning time. The strategies used by Dr. Lonnie Green Elementary are now being shared with other campuses and districts in the region, and Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath visited the school to see its practices and successes first hand.
Dr. Lonnie Green Elementary joins fellow finalists Desert Thunder school (Avondale Elementary School District, Arizona); William Henry Burkhart Elementary (Perry Township Schools, Indiana); Slaughter Elementary School (East Feliciana Public Schools, Louisiana); and Forest Acres Elementary School (School District of Pickens County, South Carolina) in contention for the $50,000 Founder’s Award grand prize.