Five Schools from Arizona, Indiana, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Texas Named Finalists in Prestigious NIET Founder’s Award

March 7, 2023

Five Schools from Arizona, Indiana, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Texas Named Finalists in Prestigious NIET Founder’s Award

School finalists in the running for $50,000 grand prize award

Scottsdale, AZ (March 7, 2023) - The National Institute for Excellence in Teaching (NIET) announced today that five schools have received $10,000 as finalists for NIET’s 2023 Founder’s Award. 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. Each school will be honored during NIET’s national conference in Indianapolis on March 23, culminating in the announcement of the grand prize winner and a cash prize of $50,000 for the school. 

The finalists are Desert Thunder School (Avondale Elementary School District, Arizona);  Dr. Lonnie Green Elementary (San Felipe Del Rio CISD, Texas); Forest Acres Elementary School (School District of Pickens County, South Carolina); Slaughter Elementary School (East Feliciana Public Schools, Louisiana); and William Henry Burkhart Elementary (Perry Township Schools, Indiana). 

Founder’s Award recipients 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.

"Our 2023 NIET Founder’s Award finalists come from diverse educational settings yet share one common truth: Talented educators are the foundation for student success," said NIET Founder Lowell Milken. "Each finalist announced today – Desert Thunder, Forest Acres, Dr. Lonnie Green, William Henry Burkhart and Slaughter – has created powerful environments for teachers to lead and for students to take charge of their learning. We commend these models for embodying our mission of building educator excellence to give all students the opportunity for success."

NIET’s partner schools have shown success in improving educator, student, and school outcomes. Schools, including the 2023 award finalists, have continuously elevated their educators through the use of NIET’s tools and resources to support instructional excellence and create career pathways. 

"Leaders and educators at these five schools have exemplified what is possible when every student has an excellent educator," said "The results being achieved show that investing in teacher leadership and building the capacity of teachers and leaders improves student outcomes. These schools also show the power of educator effective strategies across communities with diverse needs and offer models for others to learn from."

What Makes the NIET Founder’s Award Finalists Unique?

Desert Thunder School, Arizona

Desert Thunder School, located outside of Phoenix, Arizona, is one of 11 schools in Avondale Elementary School District and serves more than 900 students in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade. Over 58 percent of students are Hispanic and half of the school’s students are in a dual-language program. Over the last several years, Desert Thunder School’s student population has grown in number and diversity. A commitment to the best practices and structures of NIET has allowed the school to continue meeting the needs of all students. Principal Ryan LoMonaco and his leadership team are building the capacity of teachers through dedicated time for collaboration and school-based professional learning, creating a positive learning environment for teachers and students alike. From 2021 to 2022, student performance on state assessments improved in English Language Arts and math. In 2022, 48 percent of Desert Thunder’s students passed the English Language Arts state assessment, compared to 39 percent in 2021. With these student achievement results, Desert Thunder School students have outperformed students statewide on state assessments.

Learn more about Desert Thunder School


Dr. Lonnie Green Elementary, Texas

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. 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. Between the 2018-19 and 2021-22 school years, Dr. Lonnie Green Elementary made significant improvements in its state letter grade – moving from a "Crated 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. 

Learn more about Dr. Lonnie Green Elementary.


Forest Acres Elementary School, South Carolina 

Forest Acres Elementary School, located just west of Greenville, South Carolina, is one of among the 23 schools in the School District of Pickens County. The school serves 710 students in grades PK through five, 54 percent of whom qualify as "pupils in poverty." The school has set a goal to fully prepare its students for the future, and Principal Ashley Anderson-Murray and her leadership team are taking intentional steps to achieve this goal, using NIET structures to revamp their school culture with a focus on excellence. This has created a positive learning environment for students and teachers. In the 2021-2022 school year, Forest Acres Elementary School earned the state rating of "Good," the 2nd highest rating a school can receive. From 2021 to 2022, Forest Acres Elementary students increased performance on state assessments from 54 percent to 60 percent in English Language Arts and 57 percent to 61 percent in math. With their increases in performance, Forest Acres Elementary students have consistently outperformed students statewide on state assessments in English Language Arts, math, and science since 2018. 

Learn more about Forest Acres Elementary.


Slaughter Elementary School, Louisiana 

Located north of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Slaughter Elementary School is one of seven campuses in East Feliciana Public Schools. Of Slaughter Elementary School’s 470 students in grades pre-kindergarten through 6th, 31 percent are minority and 67 percent are economically disadvantaged. Through its partnership with NIET, Slaughter Elementary School has seen increases in the effectiveness of its teachers and leaders and improvements in student achievement. Principal Jennifer Thornton and her leadership team are focused on building instructional capacity and fostering growth for teachers, all while providing student-centered learning. From 2021 to 2022, the percentage of students who scored "mastery and above" on state assessments in all subjects increased by 6 percentage points, closing the gap with the state. In addition to steady student achievement growth, Slaughter Elementary School has also seen improvements in teacher performance. Since partnering with NIET, the percentage of teachers evaluated as "effective or above" has increased from 69 percent to 96 percent. 

Learn more about Slaughter Elementary.


William Henry Burkhart Elementary, Indiana

William Henry Burkhart Elementary, located in Indianapolis, Indiana, is one of 17 schools in Perry Township Schools. Of the school’s 650 pre-kindergarten through fifth grade students, 84 percent are eligible for free/reduced price meals and 46 percent are English Language Learners. Over the past few years, William Henry Burkhart Elementary has gone from a relatively small school to one that is serving a large and diverse population. Principal Darlene Hardesty and her leadership team are implementing NIET structures to address the increasingly diverse needs on the William Henry Burkhart Elementary campus. These structures are creating a positive learning environment for students and building the capacity of teachers and school leaders to provide high-quality instruction. From 2021 to 2022, William Henry Burkhart Elementary has seen improved student performance on state assessments. Among all students, the percentage passing the math state assessment increased from 47 percent in 2021 to 53 percent in 2022. The percentage of English Language Learners who passed the math state assessment increased from 39 percent to 49 percent during the same time. These leaps in student performance place the school’s overall performance well above the performance of students statewide and earned the school a Title I Distinguished School Award for Exceptional Student Performance from the Indiana Department of Education.

Learn more about William Henry Burkhart Elementary.


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