Five Schools from Arkansas, Indiana, Louisiana, and Texas Earn $10,000 as NIET Founder's Award Finalists

February 15, 2022

Five Schools from Arkansas, Indiana, Louisiana, and Texas Earn $10,000 as NIET Founder's Award Finalists

The National Institute for Excellence in Teaching (NIET) announced today that five schools have received $10,000 as finalists for NIET's 2022 Founder's Award. Each school will be honored during NIET’s National Conference in Dallas, Texas, on Thursday, March 10, 2022, at 12 p.m. CT, which will culminate with the announcement of the grand prize winner of $50,000.

The finalists are Brown County High School (Brown County Schools, Indiana); Cross County High School (Cross County School District, Arkansas); Logansport High School (Desoto Parish School Board, Louisiana); Somerset Elementary School (Somerset Independent School District, Texas); and Southport 6th Grade Academy (Perry Township Schools, Indiana). The schools received the recognition for their efforts to make excellent teaching the cornerstone of student learning.

"Our work across the country confirms that regardless of geographic region or educational need, educator effectiveness is the most important in-school factor driving student learning," said NIET Chairman and Founder Lowell Milken. "Our 2022 NIET Founder’s Award finalists are proof of this fact, and I applaud each of them – Brown County High, Cross County High, Logansport High, Somerset Elementary, and Southport 6th Grade Academy – for putting in place the right structures for educators and students to excel."

For more than 20 years, NIET has partnered with schools, districts, states, and universities to ensure all students have effective educators. Its work to develop teacher leaders, support successful instructional strategies, and build educator capacity to address student needs have served more than 9,000 schools and have impacted more than 275,000 teachers and 2.75 million students.

"By establishing strong structures and systems, the five finalists have built a foundation of educator excellence that will set them up for success for years to come," said NIET Co-President and Chief Operating Officer Dr. Josh Barnett. "We look forward to watching them build on their progress as they continue to strengthen their practice, collaborate, and do what is best for students."

NIET's partner schools have shown success by both outperforming similar schools and having greater teacher retention. Schools including the 2022 award finalists have continued to advance during the pandemic through the use of NIET's tools and resources to support instructional excellence and learning acceleration, provide coaching from expert leaders and trainers, and engage a large network of educators united around shared learning. The Founder's Award was created by Lowell Milken to honor one school annually for exceptional implementation of NIET's principles to build educator excellence and advance student success.

"We are proud to work alongside the leaders and educators at these five schools, who prove what is possible when every student has access to an excellent educator," said NIET Co-President Laura Encalade. "These schools’ results speak for themselves – investing in educator development improves student outcomes, and these schools should be considered national models for others to learn from."

Founder's Award recipients are selected by NIET based on their efforts to make instructional excellence the cornerstone of school improvement; plan for regular professional learning focused on the real-time needs of teachers and students; create a culture of collaboration and reflection; and leverage teacher leaders and administrators to drive student growth. These principles are the cornerstones of NIET's TAP System for Teacher and Student Advancement.

What Sets the NIET Founder's Award Finalists Apart

Brown County High School, Indiana

Brown County High, located south of Indianapolis, is among Brown County's six schools and serves 549 students, 40% of whom are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. Only three years into their partnership with NIET, Brown County High is already seeing success using the TAP System to increase the effectiveness of their teachers and improve student achievement. Principal Trent Austin and his 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 professional learning opportunities. From 2018 to 2021, Brown County High made significant gains in its ELA scores, increasing from 49% to 71% in only three years. The school also earned a state letter grade of B, which evaluates the school’s performance, improvement, graduation rate, and college and career readiness. Learn more about Brown County High School.

Cross County High School, Arkansas

Cross County High, located in Cherry Valley, serves 300 students, all of whom receive free or reduced-price lunch benefits. The school is one of only two schools in the Cross County School District, a small, rural community located about an hour south of Jonesboro. Principal Stephen Prince and his leadership team have delved deeply into NIET's TAP System to develop a collaboration structure that builds teachers' skill sets and addresses the educational inequities and challenges of serving a rural community. Despite the challenges the pandemic has presented for schools over the last few years, Cross County Schools is one of only a few districts in Arkansas to increase student performance from 2019 to 2021. In 2021, Cross County High students outperformed students statewide in all subjects. The district is also part of the Arkansas Rural Educator Network (AREN), a program that provides customized professional learning to 25 rural school districts across Arkansas. In 2021, Cross County High also achieved a 95% graduation rate. Learn more about Cross County High School.

Logansport High School, Louisiana

Logansport High School, located in DeSoto Parish, serves 590 students from preschool through 12th grade. Of the enrolled students, 68% receive free or reduced-price lunch benefits. Through the TAP System, Principal Diana Curtis and her team have been able to use common language and consistent structures to create a unified vision and set of goals for all of Logansport’s teachers and students. While many schools have declined academically during the pandemic, Logansport increased its School Performance Score, which is based on student achievement data, by five points from 2019 to 2021. Logansport also maintained its percentage of students scoring at mastery and above across all subjects in 2019 and 2021, and increased its percentage scoring mastery and above in math by 3 percentage points from 2018 to 2021. Learn more about Logansport High School.

Somerset Elementary School, Texas

Somerset Elementary, located southwest of San Antonio, serves 590 students representing a majority-minority population, with Hispanic students making up 93% of the student population. Of the total percentage of enrolled students, 86% are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. Serving all students is at the cornerstone of Somerset’s work, and Principal Nieves Carrales and her team have utilized the TAP System’s distributed leadership model to ensure every student has access to an excellent educator. Despite the challenges presented by the pandemic in recent years, Somerset Elementary has continued to sustain academic progress, outperforming the state score in all subjects (ELA/reading, math, and writing) in 2019 and 2021. Somerset also increased performance over the state average in all categories from 2019 to 2021. In 2021, the school increased the percentage of students who are considered approaching grade level or above in ELA/reading to 82% and maintained the percentage of students approaching grade level or above in math at 87%. In 2022, Somerset Elementary was nominated by the Texas Education Agency as a National Blue Ribbon School. Learn more about Somerset Elementary School.

Southport 6th Grade Academy, Indiana

Southport 6th Grade Academy, located in Indianapolis, serves 660 students, with Asian students making up more than a quarter of the student population. Of the total percentage of enrolled students, 77% are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. Principal Jason Wiesmann and his team have fostered an environment where students are engaged and educators are accessible by dividing the school's students into six academic teams. This team structure provides a smaller learning community for students and the foundation for strong family relationships through frequent and meaningful communication and planning. From 2017 to 2020, Southport Academy maintained a state letter grade of A, which evaluates school performance and improvement, growth, and participation. Learn more about Southport 6th Grade Academy.

For images of all finalist schools and more information about NIET, visit the NIET newsroom. For interviews and requests to attend the Founder's Award announcement, please contact Jenny Sawyer at or (256) 652-1376. Learn more about the conference at Follow conference news – including the Founder's Award – on Facebook and Twitter @NIETteach or via #NIET2022.