"Leading Others to Be the Best Teachers They Can Be": Dodson Branch School Named 2019 NIET Founder's Award Finalist, Receives $10,000

March 7, 2019

"Leading Others to Be the Best Teachers They Can Be": Dodson Branch School Named 2019 NIET Founder's Award Finalist, Receives $10,000

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

Santa Monica, Calif.—Dodson Branch School's collective work towards improving teacher practice and increasing student achievement gains earned its place as an NIET Founder's Award finalist, the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching (NIET) announced today. Located in Jackson County, Tennessee, Dodson Branch School (DBS) is one of five finalists selected across the U.S. 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.

Each finalist will receive a plaque and $10,000. 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.

"Dodson Branch has undergone an impressive cultural transformation," says Lowell Milken. "I applaud the faculty for working together to achieve at high levels, and equally important, for instilling values in your students critical to becoming productive citizens."

"This finalist award is well-deserved as Dodson Branch 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 Dodson Branch School
When Dodson Branch School first partnered with NIET in the 2013-14 school year, the small, rural school almost two hours away from any big city and with almost half of its student population defined as economically disadvantaged, was stagnating with a 3 rating out of a possible 5 on the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System (TVAAS). According to Principal Tammy Woolbright, the students and teachers were disengaged, and meetings to develop instructional skills lacked relevance to individual student need and follow-up supports that drive NIET's system for educator growth.

With NIET's help, Dodson Branch worked to build a stronger school culture, centralized around growing teachers in their practice and school capacity through formalized teacher leadership roles. The continuous reflection on practices through professional learning meetings worked to move every teacher forward, and in turn, every student with them. The school has now scored a perfect 5 on TVAAS for multiple years and is regularly visited by other educators to model its success. There's a pride in the school now, Woolbright explains, and teachers travel to colleges in other communities to share about DBS's progress and how its practices can be replicated.

Dodson Branch maintains all the core NIET principles, attributing the school's growth to consistent and meaningful feedback cycles through cluster meetings and evaluation work. The professional learning meetings allow their teachers to find new and creative ways to impact student achievement. Specifically, the school's "Rotation Cluster," for P.E., Computer Lab, Library and RTI Specialists among others, used data from parent and student surveys to determine a need for more social/emotional educational initiatives. In response, they drove implementation of new initiatives like The Energy Bus and Family Group structure.

"Every student in the building belongs to a family group which meets twice a month," says Woolbright. "During this meeting they discuss, create and apply positive character traits driven by the Energy Bus initiative."

Where specialty or related arts teachers are often cast to the sideline for discussions on schoolwide student achievement growth solutions, Dodson Branch's corps of specialty teachers has "become a driving force in impacting student growth," according to Woolbright, who continued on to explain how NIET helped democratize data analysis in the school. "We knew student data, but it wasn’t always communicated to all stakeholders or when communicated it was very segregated by grade level or band. Now all members of our school teams are aware of all data and how it impacts our goal."

When the school made the decision to expand the leadership team from five to nine members, classroom teachers were jumping at the chance to advance to one of those four new positions. It showed how far the school had come, from a place known as a "stepping stone," per Woolbright, for teachers to move into other schools or districts to one where educators were eager to grow into leadership roles and valued continuing development. With a nearly 100 percent retention rate over the past five years, Dodson Branch is attracting, motivating and retaining teachers at all levels.

"I am more confident, I have gained so much knowledge through this experience, and I have learned that in order to lead, you need to be willing to listen and learn from your peers," says kindergarten teacher Jessica Patterson of her involvement in the NIET partnership. "I have a desire to continue learning with peers and leading others to be the best teachers they can be."

"The NIET structure and coaching are directly connected to our success," says Woolbright. She attributes support from NIET to changing her approach to leadership. "I remember my first training and thinking 'Can I do this?' Five years later, we are there. We are better, we are now internalizing all those coaching moments and using them with each other."

About the NIET Founder's Award
The Founder's Award’s $50,000 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 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.

Dodson Branch 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; Desert View Elementary in Gadsden Elementary School District #32, Arizona; 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 establish 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 http://www.niet.org/newsroom/photos.

For interviews with the NIET Founder's Award finalists during the conference or to attend, contact Jana Rausch at jrausch@niet.org or (310) 435-9259. For more information, visit www.niet.org. 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.