Santa Monica, Calif.—Honoring a rural school's innovations to recruit and keep great teachers, the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching (NIET) today announced that Cross County Elementary Technology Academy (CCETA) in the Cross County School District, Arkansas, is among five finalists chosen from across the nation for the 2019 NIET Founder's Award. 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 receives 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.
"I commend CCETA for its commitment to attracting and retaining talented educators, and growing leaders from within to improve student outcomes," says Lowell Milken. "You have every reason to be proud of your achievements as a top high-growth school in Arkansas."
"This finalist award is well-deserved as CCETA 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."
For a rural school like CCETA—35 miles from the nearest big city, Jonesboro—it can be challenging to create a nurturing environment in which all students are set up for success. Yet, through NIET's partnership, teachers and students alike are thriving.
Since working with NIET, the school—which serves a 73% low-income student population—has undergone a full culture shift. Previously operating in silos, the teachers now are collectively focused on improving instructional practice and student achievement. Through weekly "cluster" professional learning meetings, pre- and post-conferencing and strategy development sessions, teacher leaders work with classroom teachers to identify specific areas where they can refine instruction for individual students and the teachers themselves.
As a result, Principal Jessica Stacy says that novice teachers are performing at a higher level in a shorter amount of time than before the partnership with NIET.
After her first year teaching at CCETA, Megan Griffin says that NIET's support structure gave her a roadmap to become an effective teacher, provided confidence in her teaching abilities, and helped strengthen her impact on student learning.
Principal Stacy herself says that the "instructional strategies that were implemented during cluster cycles transformed the way I saw math and forever impacted my view on how students learn."
These supports, complemented by opportunities for increased leadership and additional compensation, help the school compete in efforts to hire and retain high-quality educators.
CCETA works to recruit and develop effective local teachers as well, through partnerships with two nearby colleges, creating a pipeline of effective educators in the hopes that they will choose to stay with the district and be better prepared when they have a classroom of their own. Students at these colleges complete internships at CCETA while being observed on the NIET rubric and attending weekly cluster meetings.
The investment in educator effectiveness has had a significant impact on student achievement growth. CCETA's state school rating improved from a "B" in 2016-17 to an "A" in 2017-18. Further, in the 2016-17 and 2017-18 school years, CCETA's Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) school index scores were higher than the state averages for all students as well as for low-income ones. Moreover, while CCETA's scores increased, statewide scores declined.
ESSA School Index Score in Cross County Elementary Technology Academy and Statewide
CCETA students also outperformed students statewide on the ACT Aspire assessment in Literacy, Math, and Science in the 2016-17 and 2017-18 school years. Additionally, CCETA's performance in Literacy and Science increased over time, while the state experienced decreases over time.
Student Performance on ACT Aspire in Cross County Elementary Technology Academy and Statewide
In the 2017-18 school year, CCETA achieved in the top 5% for student growth in Arkansas, top 10% for student achievement, and was ranked 6th for overall growth in the "Beating the Odds" (High-Poverty Schools) category.
"The focus on data-driven instructional decisions molds the culture of our school into one where teachers and their students strive for greatness," notes Stacy. "The attitude of continued, constant growth of teachers and students is foundational to the NIET system. It is so ingrained in our personalities as educators that it is second nature to us and simply the way we teach kids."
About the NIET Founder's Award
The NIET Founder's Award comes with a $50,000 prize, funded by the Lowell Milken Family Foundation, to be used toward efforts to improve instruction and achievement. The 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.
CCETA joins fellow NIET Founder's Award finalists Alice M. Harte Charter School in InspireNOLA, Louisiana; Desert View Elementary in Gadsden Elementary School District #32, Arizona; Dodson Branch School in Jackson County Schools, Tennessee; 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 create 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.