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

February 6, 2024

North DeSoto High 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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Stonewall, La. (February 6, 2024) - The National Institute for Excellence in Teaching (NIET) announced today that North DeSoto High School in DeSoto Parish Schools, Louisiana, 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. North DeSoto High 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.

“North DeSoto High School achieves high marks in student achievement across the board by making educator effectiveness the ‘heartbeat’ of every classroom,” said NIET Founder Lowell Milken. “Guided by a strong instructional leadership team of administrators and master and mentor teachers, every educator has clear expectations tied to student outcomes. A deep appreciation to Principal Tammie Phillips, her staff, and Superintendent Clay Corley for their longstanding commitment to developing top talent and serving as a model of excellence in education.”

Founder’s Award finalists like North DeSoto High 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. North DeSoto High School continuously elevates teaching and learning using NIET’s tools and resources to support instructional excellence and create career pathways. 

"When teachers come to North DeSoto High School, they know they will be supported to grow and improve. That support, along with opportunities for teacher leadership roles, has been the driver of their success,” said NIET Chief Executive Officer Dr. Joshua Barnett. "The leadership team collaborates and ensures that every teacher is supported to be successful with strong classroom teaching resulting in student success.”

What Makes North DeSoto High School Unique? 

Located just south of Shreveport, Louisiana, North DeSoto High School (NDHS) is a rural school that serves 809 students, nearly half of whom are economically disadvantaged. Through its partnership with NIET, the school has seen increased teacher and leader effectiveness and improvements in student achievement. With a focus on fostering growth for teachers, Principal Tammie Phillips and her leadership team build their reflective and instructional skills while also providing students with high-quality learning opportunities. 

NDHS first partnered with NIET in 2008 to implement the TAP System for Teacher and Student Advancement, allowing the school to implement foundational structures and protocols for increasing educator effectiveness, including the introduction of teacher leadership roles and a shared leadership model. 

“When it comes to being able to provide quality education for all students, we have a philosophy of ‘we’ rather than ‘me’ at North DeSoto High School,” said Phillips. “At the heart of that ‘we’ is our instructional leadership team and the impact of our shared leadership model.”

NDHS’s foundational structures have led to increased student achievement over time including a career pathway for educators, adopting NIET instructional and leadership rubrics to create a common language, and providing teachers with meaningful coaching and feedback. For the past three years, NDHS has outperformed the state of Louisiana in the percentages of tests scoring “mastery and above'' on state assessments in all subjects combined. The percentage of tests increased from 2021 to 2023 by 13 percentage points, compared to a three-point increase statewide. Additionally, NDHS has maintained an “A” rating from the state since 2015. 

Teachers receive regular feedback via learning walks when administrators, school leaders, and teacher leaders visit classrooms to observe instruction. This individual support builds relationships, offers timely feedback on teaching practices, and encourages personal reflection. The substantial level of teacher support has not only led to increased teacher retention but has also proven effective in recruitment.

“As a veteran teacher, but new to North DeSoto High School, NIET has played a pivotal role in shaping my teaching practices by offering targeted professional development and fostering collaboration with a lead teacher,” said Betsy Godwin, an NDHS  teacher. “These are practices and developmental opportunities that I was not able to obtain in my previous school.” 

The NDHS instructional leadership team provides coaching and feedback aligned with the NIET Teaching and Learning Standards Rubric, establishing a unified language across the school community. This approach enables tailored professional learning to address individual teacher and student requirements. Moreover, NDHS utilizes the NIET Principal Standards Rubric to support school leaders' reflection and growth, enhancing their ability to serve as effective instructional coaches.

“Our work with NIET is a fundamental part of our success and the foundation is the Teaching and Learning Standards Rubric and, for our administrators, the Principal Standards Rubric,” said Phillips. “These two rubrics keep our leadership team and teachers grounded in the best practices that are specific, clear, and have shown to produce measurable results for NDHS.”

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

For images of North DeSoto High 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