Barrera Veterans Elementary School in Somerset ISD, Texas, Selected as 2017 TAP Founder’s Award Finalist

March 1, 2017

Barrera Veterans Elementary School in Somerset ISD, Texas, Selected as 2017 TAP Founder’s Award Finalist

Barrera among six schools nationwide in running for NIET’s top honor, which comes with $50,000 cash prize

Santa Monica, Calif.—The National Institute for Excellence in Teaching (NIET) today announced that Barrera Veterans Elementary School in the Somerset Independent School District (SISD), Texas, is among six schools from across the country chosen as a finalist for the TAP Founder’s Award, NIET's highest honor. Created by NIET Chairman and TAP Founder Lowell Milken, the TAP Founder's Award is presented annually to one school for exceptional efforts to implement and represent the principles of the TAP System for Teacher and Student Advancement—resulting in improvements in student achievement, among other goals.

The TAP System is America's leading comprehensive educator effectiveness model that aligns teacher leadership, daily job-embedded professional development, educator evaluation and support, and opportunities for performance-based compensation. Introduced in 1999, the TAP System supports schools, districts, universities and states to advance educator effectiveness and student learning.   

Funded by the Lowell Milken Family Foundation, the TAP Founder’s Award comes with a $50,000 prize to be used toward efforts to improve instruction and academic achievement. The Award finalists will be recognized on Friday, March 24, 2017, during the 17th Annual National TAP Conference in New Orleans, Louisiana, before 1,000 educators, policymakers, researchers and other influential leaders. The Award winner will be announced on Saturday, March 25, 2017.

Each finalist will receive a plaque and $10,000. Barrera joins Alice M. Harte Charter School in New Orleans, Louisiana; Dodson Branch School in Jackson County Schools, Tennessee; Hmong College Preparatory Academy (High School) in St. Paul, Minnesota; G.W. Carver Primary School in Ascension Public Schools, Louisiana; and West Goshen Elementary School in Goshen Community Schools, Indiana.

Each finalist implements the TAP System by establishing leadership teams, made up of master and mentor teachers as well as administrators, who drive instruction. These teacher leaders guide weekly professional development and provide individual coaching in classrooms.

TAP's teacher leadership opportunities and professional development are complemented by systems of educator evaluation, feedback and support, as well as a compensation system that rewards educators for increased skill and student performance, and for taking on new leadership roles and responsibilities.

Inside Barrera Veterans Elementary School:
Closing performance gaps is a high priority at Barrera Veterans Elementary School in the small, rural town of Von Ormy, located 15 miles southwest of San Antonio. Part of SISD, Barrera and the other district schools make up a tight community where teachers meet regularly to address specific needs. The TAP System provides the structure for instructional support at the school and district levels, aligning to SISD's four areas of focus: planning, instruction, assessments/data analysis and tiered support for teachers and students. Serving 600 students of whom 83% are economically disadvantaged, Principal Geneva Salinas sees teachers as critical to meeting academic and social/emotional challenges.

"Our investment in staff, particularly through the TAP System, communicates that we value and embrace the key position in our school—the teacher," says Salinas. "The TAP journey, along with weekly principal coaching meetings, have empowered me to better support the campus leadership team, career teachers, students and the entire learning community."

Salinas emphasizes that despite the fact that many of Barrera’s students come to school hungry, are in foster care and have families that face daily financial difficulties, her faculty is persistent about "walking the talk," motivated by doing what is best for students. She notes, "It's not what they do or do not bring to school each day; it's what we do every day that will keep us a 5."

The 5 score refers to the school's value-added rating, the highest possible on a 1-5 scale, indicating that students are achieving growth targets significantly above expected averages when compared to similar schools in the state. Barrera has also received the highest state accountability rating of Met Standard.

"Barrera's compassion and commitment are making a positive impact on students' lives every day," says Lowell Milken. "This cannot happen without talented teachers and leaders, and I congratulate them on their accomplishments." 

Understanding the importance of sustained improvements, SISD is a network district under Texas Tech University's partnership with NIET to strengthen teacher preparedness. As such, SISD welcomes cohorts from Texas Tech's TechTeach program to perform yearlong residencies at the schools, who are trained on the TAP System model. SISD is also involved in Texas Tech's principal fellowship program in partnership with NIET.

Developing TAP-ready teachers and principals are helping to create a steady pipeline of effective talent within their own community and ensure that Barrera's achievements can continue "for many years to come," Salinas says. "When teachers win, students win."


TAP Founder's Award recipients are selected without their knowledge by NIET, which manages and supports the TAP System. The honor is based on distinction in the following areas: proficient implementation of TAP’s four core elements, student academic growth according to state or federal measures, and notable recognition as a center and resource of best practices. 

The TAP Founder's Award yields benefits that will strengthen the individual school and support its teachers. This is done by means of prominent public recognition and by opportunities to substantively interact on issues of educator effectiveness and student learning with leaders from government, business and academia.

For more information about the 17th TAP Conference and the 2017 TAP Founder's Award announcement on March 25, visit For interviews during the conference or to attend, contact Jana Rausch at or (310) 435-9259. 

Based on the knowledge and experience gained from over a decade of on-the-ground implementation with TAP, combined with the growing demand for proven reforms in teacher and principal effectiveness, NIET supports schools, districts, universities and states with educator evaluation training, evaluator certification modules linked to learning platforms and human capital management systems as well as tools and resources for educator preparation.