Slaton Junior High School in Slaton, Texas, Announced as 2018 TAP Founder's Award Finalist

March 6, 2018

Slaton Junior High School in Slaton, Texas, Announced as 2018 TAP Founder's Award Finalist

Slaton Junior High among five schools nationwide under consideration for prestigious honor and $50,000 cash prize

Santa Monica, Calif.—The National Institute for Excellence in Teaching (NIET) today announced that Slaton Junior High School in Texas' Slaton Independent School District 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 presented annually to one school for exceptional efforts to implement and represent the principles 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 aligns 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.

The TAP Founder's Award comes with a $50,000 cash 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 $10,000. Slaton Junior High joins Abraham Lincoln Elementary School in Perry Township Schools, Indiana; Cross County Elementary Technology Academy in the Cross County School District, Arkansas; Mansfield High School in DeSoto Parish Schools, Louisiana; and West Goshen Elementary School in Goshen Community Schools, Indiana.

Each finalist implements the TAP System by structuring school leadership teams of master and mentor teachers as well as administrators, to identify goals for student advancement and develop strategies to meet them. These teacher leaders guide weekly professional learning sessions based on individual teacher and student needs, field-test strategies with groups of students and coach fellow faculty.

Enhancing this support are an educator evaluation system and a compensation system that rewards educators for increased skill and student performance, and for taking on new leadership roles and responsibilities.

Inside Slaton Junior High School

Before the implementation of the TAP System, Slaton Junior High—a rural school located 12 miles outside of Lubbock—struggled with attracting and retaining high-quality teachers and addressing the needs of its student population. These challenges were reflected in its achievement measured by the state STAAR assessment.

Help came in 2014 when the Slaton Independent School District (Slaton ISD) began implementing the TAP System districtwide through the support of a U.S. Department of Education Supporting Effective Educator Development (SEED) grant, in partnership with Texas Tech University (TTU) and NIET. Through the examination of student data and field-testing methods with students, a major gap was discovered in vocabulary. What is more, there was not a systemic way of teaching it. The TAP partnership provided Slaton Junior High with the structure to put in place expert teachers (master and mentor teachers), who would then lead the faculty in developing effective strategies. All teachers were regularly coached and received timely feedback on their practice.

"The TAP evaluation process has been a radical improvement for me," says Principal Jim Andrus, discussing the school's improvements with TAP. "The TAP pre- and post-conference model turned a dreaded and meaningless compliance exercise into an analytical support for teachers that they genuinely appreciate."

An added benefit to the partnership was the training of TTU teacher candidates, which created a pipeline of teaching excellence to feed into the school and district. In addition to the implementation of the TAP System, the three-way partnership among NIET, TTU and Slaton ISD included providing all teachers at Slaton Junior High with coursework in STEM, Literacy, and Leadership delivered by TTU faculty.

The new approach produced significant results. Slaton Junior High's number of Texas Education Agency distinction designations has increased from one to five out of a possible seven. Today, the school is ranked in the top 10 percent in the state for student progress and closing the achievement gap.

For Andrus, the impact of TAP is nothing short of "astounding." "By making the commitment to sustain the TAP model," he says, "we are ensuring that research-based practices and procedures are carried forward year after year. TAP is clearly a difference-maker at Slaton Junior High."

"Slaton Junior High School is a place where people love to teach and students are eager to learn," says Lowell Milken. "I congratulate Principal Andrus on his leadership, and applaud all the educators for their dedication to refining their craft and realizing tremendous academic growth."


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 certification modules linked to learning platforms and human capital management systems as well as tools and resources for educator preparation.