Somerset ISD, Texas, Earns $50,000 NIET Award of Excellence for Educator Effectiveness

November 10, 2020

Somerset ISD, Texas, Earns $50,000 NIET Award of Excellence for Educator Effectiveness

District receives recognition for decadelong dedication to outstanding instruction as cornerstone of student learning

Click here to watch NIET Chairman and Founder Lowell Milken and CEO Dr. Candice McQueen surprise Somerset ISD with the 2020 District Award of Excellence for Educator Effectiveness.

Click here for photos from today's event.

Somerset Independent School District's focus on educator excellence and student progress was celebrated today in the form of a $50,000 award from the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching (NIET). NIET Chairman and Founder Lowell Milken and CEO Dr. Candice McQueen surprised Somerset ISD Superintendent Dr. Saul Hinojosa with the NIET District Award of Excellence for Educator Effectiveness during a virtual celebration with district and school leaders.

Somerset ISD has been a leader this fall in offering all students and teachers access to weekly COVID-19 testing, which has kept students and teachers safe and increased in-person attendance. Today's award acknowledges Somerset's broader, long-standing commitment to innovation, and it specifically highlights the district's efforts to help teachers stay and thrive in the classroom, effectively prepare new teachers, and make steady increases in student proficiency.

Somerset, which is located southwest of San Antonio, has faced systemic challenges, and 90% of its 4,100 students are Hispanic and 82% are categorized as economically disadvantaged. At one point, the district was labeled in need of improvement by the state. Somerset initiated a partnership with NIET to improve the district's support for teachers and high-quality instruction as its key lever to improve student outcomes – and that has been successful. From 2016-19, Somerset students have improved in state and district STAAR performance for all subjects, increasing proficiency by 7 percentage points in English language arts and 15 percentage points in math. In 2019, Somerset earned a B in student achievement and an A in student progress from the state. 

"The quality of an educational system cannot exceed the quality of its leaders, and Superintendent Hinojosa works every day to ensure that all students are guided by talented teachers to reach their fullest potential," Milken said. "Somerset ISD's commitment to putting educator excellence first serves as a model for the state and nation."

"Throughout this pandemic, Somerset has exemplified what it looks like to put the needs of students first. We have seen that leadership extend over the past decade through its work to invest in teachers and truly prioritize student achievement," said Dr. McQueen. "Dr. Hinojosa and his team identified a need, enacted a bold vision, and now are consistently improving outcomes for students. We are proud to celebrate Somerset's story and inspire districts across the country."

Inside Somerset Independent School District, Texas
Somerset began partnering with NIET in the 2010-11 school year to implement the TAP System for Teacher and Student Advancement, a whole-school approach to improving teaching and providing opportunities for teachers to grow as leaders. The TAP System is rooted in research, recognizing that teacher effectiveness is the No. 1 in-school factor for determining student performance. TAP creates a structure for instructional leadership teams, made of principals and teacher leaders, that drive instruction in a school. Educators are trained to coach and support peers through tools and strategies that address the specific needs of teachers and students in the classroom.

Somerset ISD partnered with NIET because the district had struggled for years to meet academic achievement goals, having been identified as "academically unacceptable" and "improvement required" under state accountability systems. The TAP System was attractive to Somerset as a way to address its challenge of recruiting and retaining effective teachers and principals, and make strides in student achievement. Additionally, while the TAP System has created a pipeline for leadership, Somerset ISD has also partnered with Texas Tech to establish a "grow your own" partnership for aspiring teachers and administrators.

Dr. Hinojosa has described how the teacher leadership work with NIET has led to improvements in teaching and learning. From 2016-19, Somerset has risen in state and district STAAR performance for all subjects, from 62% overall student proficiency to 70%. From 2018 – the first year Texas released district scores – to 2019, Somerset jumped from a C to a B in student achievement and a B to an A in student progress. "Just in the last few years, our campuses have met academic standards. Integrating teacher leaders works, and the proof is in the results," he said.

About NIET
This recognition is only the third time NIET has given this award. NIET previously awarded the District Award of Excellence for Educator Effectiveness to Perry Township in Indiana in 2018 and DeSoto Parish Schools in Louisiana in 2019. The award is a surprise, with NIET identifying the recipient based on its continued and districtwide success in demonstrating effectiveness in teaching and strengthened outcomes in student learning.

The TAP System has shown success in districts in Texas and across the country with supporting teacher leadership and mentoring; increasing student achievement; and attracting high-quality teachers to high-need schools. NIET's success with dozens of districts has led to state partnerships, including the implementation of the Texas Teacher Evaluation and Support System (T-TESS), the Teacher Incentive Allotment (TIA), the Texas Mentor Teacher Program (MPA), and the Texas Resilient Schools Support Program.

For 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 275,000 educators and 2.75 million students across the U.S. Learn more at