Collaboration Around a Culture of Learning Propels Desert View Elementary to NIET Founder's Award Finalist, Earning $10,000 Prize

March 7, 2019

Collaboration Around a Culture of Learning Propels Desert View Elementary to NIET Founder's Award Finalist, Earning $10,000 Prize

School among five finalists nationwide in running for prestigious honor and $50,000

Santa Monica, Calif.—The hard work has paid off—literally—for Arizona's Desert View Elementary in Gadsden Elementary School District #32. The National Institute for Excellence in Teaching (NIET) today announced that the school has been selected as a finalist for the Founder's Award, and in doing so has earned a plaque and $10,000 cash prize. Created by NIET Chairman and Founder Lowell Milken, the Founder's Award is given annually to one school for exceptional implementation of NIET's principles to build educator excellence and advance student success.

The winner, to be announced during NIET's National Conference in New Orleans on March 22, 2019, will take home the grand prize of $50,000.

On the ground for two decades, NIET has partnered with schools, districts, states and universities to ensure that all students have access to talented teachers every year they are in school. It does so by helping schools create formal structures for teacher leadership; regular, job-embedded professional learning; and a system for educator support, observation and feedback tied to high expectations and real time needs of teachers and students. Today, NIET's initiatives are impacting more than 250,000 educators and 2.5 million students.

"Desert View Elementary puts the right investments in educator leadership and support to address the needs of every student," says Lowell Milken. "Teachers and students are not only reaching expectations, but are consistently growing at higher levels."

"This finalist award is well-deserved as Desert View is showing what students and teachers are capable of when they receive the support they need," says NIET CEO Dr. Candice McQueen. "We are proud to see the successes they have accomplished so far and look forward to watching them continue to build on this progress."

Inside Desert View Elementary School
Recruiting teachers used to be a challenge for Desert View Elementary, a Title I school in San Luis, located along the U.S.-Mexico border. Ninety-nine percent of the students are Hispanic and 94% are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. Nearly half are English language learners and 13% are migrant. Yet since NIET became Desert View's "renewal of choice" eight years ago, teachers have been motivated to work at the school because of its attractive opportunities for leadership, support and compensation.

Principal Meredith Nelson explains that support for Desert View's new and veteran teachers alike comes in many forms, guiding them to reach high expectations—both for themselves and their students. "Support comes in the form of a principal, two master teachers, four mentor teachers and all career [classroom] teachers in the building," she says. "Support looks different for each person. In addition to 'clusters' [on-site professional learning meetings], new teachers have support through co-teaching, planning, modeling, follow-up, feedback, resources and district professional development."

Professional learning is also differentiated for special education, new teachers, and those who need help in a particular area.

While the training is personalized, common values are instilled in everyone. There is constant communication around the school's vision and goals, and each faculty member leads with a growth mindset. Nelson notes that if someone says, "I cannot do it," the group responds with, "Yet."

As a result, Desert View is a "proud A school" for four straight years, with scores increasing annually. From 2015-16 to 2017-18, Desert View increased its passing rate on the state assessment by 11% in English language arts and 13% in math, while the state average remained stagnant at 3% for both subjects.

About the NIET Founder's Award
The Founder's Award's cash prize is funded by the Lowell Milken Family Foundation and is to be used toward school improvement efforts. All five Award finalists will be recognized at a noon luncheon on Friday, March 22, 2019, during the 19th Annual National NIET Conference in New Orleans, Louisiana, before more than 1,000 educators, policymakers, researchers and other influential leaders. The winner will be announced at the end of the luncheon.

Desert View Elementary School joins fellow NIET Founder's Award finalists Alice M. Harte Charter School in InspireNOLA, Louisiana; Cross County Elementary Technology Academy in Cross County School District, Arkansas; Dodson Branch School in Jackson County Schools, Tennessee; and Wildflower School in Avondale Elementary School District #44, Arizona.

The finalists were selected based on their efforts to make instructional excellence the cornerstone of school improvement; plan for regular professional learning focused on daily needs of teachers and students; create a culture of collaboration and reflection, and create leadership teams made of teacher leaders and administrators.

NIET Founder's Award recipients are selected by NIET. The honor 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.

Photos from the NIET Founder's Award finalists' recognition luncheon on March 22 will be available for download at

For interviews with the NIET Founder's Award finalists during the conference or to attend, contact Jana Rausch at or (310) 435-9259. For more information, visit Follow conference news on Facebook at NIETteach and Twitter @NIETteach or via #NIET19.

About NIET
On the ground for two decades, NIET partners with schools, districts, states and universities to develop formal systems for building educator excellence and advancing student success. Today, NIET's initiatives impact more than 250,000 educators and 2.5 million students.