Ascension Parish Schools awarded $50,000 from NIET for excellence, effectiveness

Staff Report
Ascension Parish Public Schools earned a $50,000 NIET District Award of Excellence for Educator Effectiveness in Dallas.

Ascension Parish Public Schools announced the district received a $50,000 award from the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching.

NIET Founder and Chairman Lowell Milken, Co-President and Chief Operating Officer Dr. Joshua Barnett, and Co-President Laura Encalade surprised Ascension Superintendent David Alexander with the NIET District Award of Excellence for Educator Effectiveness during the 2022 NIET National Conference in Dallas.

“Ascension Public Schools has consistently achieved high growth by unifying under a vision for excellence driven by effective educators and leaders at every turn. The leadership, focus, and commitment to fidelity that Superintendent Alexander and his team demonstrate daily serve as a model for NIET partners, the state, and nation," Milken said. "The district stands as a model for the nation of what can be achieved for students when leaders have the vision to put in place the elements that will attract, develop, retain, and motivate the best talent to the teaching profession."

“This award represents a districtwide commitment to best practices for developing teachers and teacher leaders. So many have led us in this direction using NIET best practices, and this is the culmination of the incredible work of our instructional staff who pursue excellence on a daily basis in the craft of teaching and learning. This also is a credit to our non-instructional staff who allow our educators to focus on instructional excellence by effectively protecting the critical touchpoints that take place in classrooms every day," said Superintendent Alexander. "This award is an affirmation of our commitment to teamwork in all areas of the organization; service to students, stakeholders, and each other; leadership dispositions at all positions in the organization; and ongoing learning so that we are better today than yesterday. The ultimate beneficiaries of this collective work are our students and the Ascension Parish community. We are blessed to be recognized and honored for pursuing our mission, which is made possible when a community supports and embraces its public school system."

Located southeast of Baton Rouge, the district serves 24,000 students, 48 percent of whom are minority and 55 percent are categorized as economically disadvantaged.

Ascension 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 they are considered an anchor district for NIET’s practices.

In 2021, students in Ascension scored among the best in state assessment tests, with the highest percentage of students scoring at the levels of mastery and advanced in all grades and subjects.

The district also consistently outperformed the state in grades 3-8 ELA, math, and social studies in 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2021. Due to the impact of COVID-19, the state assessment was not administered for the 2019–20 school year.

Additionally, the graduation rate for Ascension grew from 88.7 percnet in 2019 to 91.1 percent in 2020, far surpassing the state graduation rate of 84 percent.

“Ascension Public Schools should be considered a national model for its continued commitment to putting educator excellence first,” said Dr. Barnett. “Their success is a testament to the importance of establishing strong foundational practices and continuing to build upon them. Ascension’s dedication to strengthening educator effectiveness has been sustained and deepened over time, and we are honored to be a longtime partner in helping them improve educator outcomes and student achievement.”

“Superintendent Alexander has created systems of collaboration, support, and reflection to strengthen his team of educators, and in turn, advance student outcomes,” said Encalade. “NIET and Ascension have partnered together to build a strong cadre of teacher and school leaders that demonstrate excellence. We are proud to celebrate Ascension’s story and inspire other districts across the country.”

“This award signals that educational best practices, especially investing in supporting teachers, works well for students," said Louisiana Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley. "It’s a privilege to work alongside the entire Ascension Parish school community.”

Ascension Parish began its partnership with NIET in 2008 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 grounded in research, recognizing that teacher effectiveness is the single biggest in-school factor for determining student performance.

TAP creates a structure for instructional leadership teams, comprised 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.

Ascension Public Schools initially partnered with NIET to start a turnaround zone with two schools. These schools fully implemented the TAP System, and because of the significant gains in student growth, the district expanded their partnership with NIET to all 31 schools in the district.

Ascension has intentionally integrated NIET structures that accelerate educator impact, and scaled those systems across the district to elevate every school to ensure every child is taught by a highly effective teacher.

In addition to continued student growth, Ascension has also grown more than 35 of their educators to become assistant principals and principals by implementing a career teacher pipeline through the TAP System.

By implementing TAP structures and processes, Superintendent Alexander says Ascension has created a supportive environment where educators want to work.

“Teachers want to come to Ascension Public Schools because they believe they can grow as teachers,” said Alexander. “They know that they're going to be in a collaborative environment and that they're going to get the support they need. They're going to be challenged as teachers to continue to be innovative and continue to press for continuous improvement in their craft so that more and more children are able to benefit from what we do every day in classrooms.”

This recognition is only the fourth time NIET has given this award. NIET previously awarded the District Award of Excellence for Educator Effectiveness to Perry Township Schools in Indiana in 2018, DeSoto Parish Schools in Louisiana in 2019, and Somerset Independent School District in Texas in 2020.

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 Louisiana 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 in Louisiana, including providing all Louisiana educators with access to training tied to the state’s Accelerate initiative, leading school improvement through the Louisiana Best Practices, implementing a federal Teacher Incentive Fund grant called LA BOLD (Building On Leadership Development), and supporting the Louisiana Mentor Teacher Initiative.

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 300,000 educators and three million students across the U.S.