Cross County Elementary Technology Academy in Arkansas Named 2018 TAP Founder's Award Finalist

March 6, 2018

Cross County Elementary Technology Academy in Arkansas Named 2018 TAP Founder's Award Finalist

CCETA among five schools nationwide under consideration for $50,000 TAP Founder's Award

Santa Monica, Calif.—The National Institute for Excellence in Teaching (NIET) today announced that Cross County Elementary Technology Academy (CCETA) in the Cross County School District of Arkansas is one of five finalists for the 2018 TAP Founder's Award, NIET's top school recognition. Created by NIET Chairman and TAP Founder Lowell Milken, the TAP Founder's Award is given annually to one school for exceptional implementation of the TAP System for Teacher and Student Advancement—resulting in improvements to educator effectiveness and student achievement growth.

The TAP System is America's leading comprehensive educator effectiveness model that connects teacher leadership, daily collaborative professional learning, educator evaluation and support, and opportunities for performance-based compensation. Launched in 1999, the TAP System, as administered through NIET, has partnered with schools, districts, states and universities to ensure that all students have access to talented teachers who will help them succeed.

The TAP Founder's Award comes with a $50,000 prize, funded by the Lowell Milken Family Foundation, to be used toward school improvement efforts. All five Award finalists will be honored at a luncheon on Friday, March 23, 2018, during the 18th Annual National TAP Conference in Washington D.C., before 1,000 educators, policymakers, researchers and other influential leaders. The winner will be announced at the end of the luncheon.

Each finalist will receive a plaque and a $10,000 reward. CCETA joins Abraham Lincoln Elementary School in Perry Township Schools, Indiana; Mansfield High School in DeSoto Parish Schools, Louisiana; Slaton Junior High School in the Slaton Independent School District, Texas; and West Goshen Elementary School in Goshen Community Schools, Indiana.

The finalists have been selected because of their exceptional implementation of the TAP System in meeting the goal of enhancing instructional skill and student achievement. These schools structure school leadership teams of master and mentor teachers as well as administrators to identify educational targets and develop strategies to meet them. The teacher leaders guide weekly professional learning based on individual teacher and student needs, field-test strategies with groups of students, and coach fellow faculty.

Accompanying this support are an educator evaluation system and a compensation system that rewards educators for refining their craft and improving student performance, and for taking on new leadership roles and responsibilities.

Inside Cross County Elementary Technology Academy

Since implementing the TAP System for Teacher and Student Advancement, Cross County Elementary Technology Academy has undergone a shift towards becoming more communally focused. According to Principal Mindy Searcy, previously teachers would work separately on improving their practice, but now they are able to work together towards a common goal. "We're much more of a staff together now," says Searcy, who was herself a student at the school—and ascended through the ranks of career, mentor and master teacher, and executive master teacher at the district—before leading CCETA.

During weekly cluster meetings, pre-conference, post-conference and strategy development sessions, the school's instructors focus on fostering a collective growth mindset. Staff explore, field-test, then implement strategies from these meetings that work to move every student.

"We take time to slow down to examine student work so that our decisions on how to drive our instruction are made solely from the needs of our students," Searcy adds.

The school's implementation of these strategies has proved effective, as evidenced by its ACT Aspire growth scores. After receiving low writing scores, the school developed a "Plan and Write" strategy for grades 3-6. The next year, the students' ACT Aspire scores rose 24 percent collectively, while exceeding the state's average in all grade levels. CCETA's value-added achievement growth score has similarly increased from a 4 to a 5 on a 1-5 scale, signifying that students are progressing significantly more than similar students throughout the state.

Tucked away in rural Cherry Valley, 120 miles from Little Rock, Arkansas, Cross County Elementary has been transformed into a place where instructors are excited to teach. The opportunity for the faculty to support one another in achieving growth and academic success for their students—coupled by the options to move across a career path—motivates teachers to stay. According to Searcy, watching and tracking their own growth and the progress of their students in real time gives them a gratification that their hard work is paying off.

In addition to their success in retaining talented teachers, the school is also able to recruit and develop effective local teachers through a partnership with Arkansas Tech University. They select student interns who work at the school while being observed using the TAP rubric and attending weekly cluster meetings. They go through the same processes as the career teachers in pre- and post-conferences. Through this partnership, the school is developing a pipeline of effective instructors in hopes that they will choose to stay with the district and be better prepared when they have a classroom of their own.

"Cross County's collective focus on student growth has fostered a culture of success," says Lowell Milken. "It is no surprise that CCETA is a destination of choice for teachers and a nurturing learning community for students."


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.

Photos from the TAP Founder's Award finalists' recognition luncheon on March 23 will be available for download at

For interviews with the TAP 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 #tapcon18.

Based on the knowledge and experience gained from two decades 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, teacher leader evaluation certification modules linked to learning platforms and human capital management systems as well as tools and resources for educator preparation.