Clinton Elementary School Selected as Finalist for National Institute for Excellence in Teaching’s Founder’s Award, $10,000 Cash Prize

February 6, 2024

Clinton Elementary School Selected as Finalist for National Institute for Excellence in Teaching’s Founder’s Award, $10,000 Cash Prize

School one of five nationwide recognized for outstanding efforts to foster educator excellence and advance student success, contending for $50,000 grand prize 

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Clinton, Tenn. (February 6, 2024) - The National Institute for Excellence in Teaching (NIET) announced today that Clinton Elementary School in Clinton City Schools, Tennessee, 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. Clinton Elementary School is among five schools across the country under consideration for the $50,000 grand prize, which will be announced at NIET’s national conference on February 29.

“To prepare students for a bright future, we must create powerful opportunities to attract, develop, motivate and retain talented educators. Clinton Elementary School fosters a dynamic culture of high expectations, deep reflection and continuous growth among educators that empowers students to develop these same qualities,” said NIET Founder Lowell Milken. “We commend Principal Jenna Sharp, her team, and Clinton City Schools Director Kelly Johnson for their commitment to maximizing the potential for all.”

Founder’s Award finalists like Clinton 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 the real-time needs of teachers and students, creating a culture of collaboration and reflection, and leveraging teacher leaders and administrators to drive student growth. 

NIET’s partner schools have improved outcomes for educators, students, and schools. Clinton Elementary School, among other schools, has continuously improved teaching and learning using NIET’s tools and resources to support instructional excellence and create career pathways. 

"One of the most impressive results at Clinton Elementary is the growth they achieved in math, reaching the highest level of growth in numeracy in 2023,” said NIET Chief Executive Officer Dr. Joshua Barnett. “This was achieved by giving teachers the support they need to effectively use a high-quality math curriculum which, in turn, gives students the level of instruction they need to be engaged and successful in learning math.”

What Makes Clinton Elementary School Unique? 

Clinton Elementary School is located in Clinton, Tennessee, about 30 minutes northwest of Knoxville. The school serves 541 students ranging from kindergarten through sixth grade. Clinton Elementary School began its partnership with NIET in 2020 while identifying strategies for accelerating student learning through the pandemic. Since then, the partnership has expanded as the school has set goals to increase teacher effectiveness and deepen student engagement in learning. Principal Jenna Sharp and her leadership team put student academic goals at the center of professional learning, provide continuous feedback and coaching for teachers, and create a positive learning environment, all to increase student achievement.

“The vision and mission of NIET aligns with and strongly supports Clinton Elementary School’s vision to hold high academic standards for every student and every teacher, and to provide research-based, best-practice supports that ensure all students have access to highly qualified educators,” said Sharp. 

Clinton Elementary School has embedded high-impact professional learning into school schedules to create a cycle of continuous improvement through detailed, relevant, and actionable feedback on instruction. By focusing on individual teacher and student needs through data- and student-centered conversations, the school’s efforts have led to increased student achievement. 

In both 2022 and 2023, Clinton Elementary School received an overall rating of 5 on a scale of 1 to 5 in the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System (TVAAS), meaning there was significant evidence that students made more growth than expected. Clinton Elementary School also earned the highest growth score of 5 in numeracy in 2023, an increase from their rating of 3 in 2022. In addition to these improvements in student achievement, the school boasts a 97% retention rate of teachers, further contributing to a strong and stable school environment.

In 2022, Clinton City Schools was awarded a Math Implementation Grant from the Tennessee Department of Education with a focus on building capacity in teacher leaders to support teachers to improve their effectiveness in teaching with a new high-quality math curriculum. 

“One of our biggest successes with our work with NIET is our structure and systems for a collaborative learning environment through our professional learning communities,” said Sharp. “Prior to NIET, our professional learning meetings were driven by one objective instead of being driven by what data showed teachers and students needed. Through working with NIET, we now have a cyclical learning process that transfers learning from leaders, to teachers and, ultimately, students.”

Clinton Elementary School has also built an environment that fosters student engagement and ownership of learning. During their collaborative professional learning time, teachers analyze how lesson plans align with content standards, and how to show students the connections between the lesson and the content standard they are expected to learn. This allows students to better understand how the lesson applies to the development of critical thinking and real-world problem-solving - making learning more relevant and engaging. 

“We don’t think that learning goals are a secret—students need to know what they are learning and why. Instructional practices and the role of the teacher versus the role of the student in learning has grown from surface level to a deeper, transferable level,” said Sharp. “Our teachers can focus on planning and preparation during professional learning meetings. They have grown their content knowledge to deepen their understanding of the rigor that progressively mastering a standard requires.” 

Clinton Elementary School joins fellow finalists Desert View Elementary School (Gadsden Elementary School District #32, Arizona); Lockett Elementary School (Orangeburg County School District, South Carolina); North DeSoto High School (DeSoto Parish Schools, Louisiana); and Winona Middle School (Winona Independent School District, Texas) in contention for the $50,000 Founder’s Award grand prize.

For images of Clinton Elementary School and more information about the NIET Founder’s Award, visit the NIET newsroom. For interviews and more on the Founder's Award announcement, please contact Laura Blank ( or Katie Elliott ( Follow conference news – including the Founder's Award – on social media using @NIETteach or #NIET2024.

About NIET

The National Institute for Excellence in Teaching (NIET) is a national nonprofit based in Phoenix, Arizona that serves states and districts nationwide. For more than two decades, NIET has partnered with schools, districts, states, and universities to build educator excellence and give all students the opportunity for success. NIET’s initiatives, including the TAP System, teacher and leader development, school improvement, rubric and observation systems, and educator preparation, have impacted more than 300,000 educators and 3 million students across the U.S. Learn more at