North DeSoto High School, one of five finalists nationwide, selected for fostering educator excellence and successful instructional practices

The National Institute for Excellence in Teaching (NIET) announced today that North DeSoto High School in DeSoto Parish Schools, Louisiana, is the recipient of the 2024 NIET Founder's Award and its $50,000 grand prize. NIET Founder and Chairman Lowell Milken, joined by Chief Executive Officer Dr. Joshua Barnett, surprised the school during the 2024 NIET National Conference in Dallas, Texas.

Created by Lowell Milken in 2008, the Founder’s Award honors 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 was just one of five schools across the country selected as finalists for the $50,000 grand prize. Founder’s Award recipients are selected 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 to drive student growth.

“North DeSoto High School demonstrates how powerful leadership and support for teachers can lead to sustained achievement growth for students,” said NIET Founder Lowell Milken. “We commend Principal Tammie Phillips and her staff for putting in place the structure for educators and students to thrive, and Superintendent Clay Corley and his team for making educator effectiveness a key focus throughout the district. Their work to deepen these principles over time has prepared scores of students to advance successfully in their next stages of learning and life.”

North DeSoto High School received the Founder’s Award because it exemplifies NIET’s work with schools to develop teacher leaders, collaborate on successful instructional practices, and provide feedback and support to address teacher and student needs. Implementing these effective strategies – boosted by the support of DeSoto Parish Schools under Superintendent Clay Corley – has earned the school an “A” rating from the Louisiana Department of Education since 2015. For the past three years, North DeSoto High School 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 scoring “mastery and above” increased by 13 percentage points from 2021 to 2023, compared to a three-point increase statewide.

“North DeSoto High School made building the skills of its faculty the foundation of a strategy for improvement and growth,” said NIET Chief Executive Officer Dr. Joshua Barnett, “The result of their steady commitment to great classroom teaching and learning is helping more students to reach higher levels of academic success. Congratulations to the entire faculty, community and students of North DeSoto High, and  district leaders who supported this achievement.”

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 teacher growth, Principal Tammie Phillips and her leadership team build their reflective and instructional skills while providing students with high-quality learning opportunities.

“Our administrators, leadership team, and teachers have individual growth plans to encourage intentional reflection,” said Phillips. “We also consider student portfolios, projects, exams, and even their extracurricular activities. Intentional reflection has become part of our culture at North DeSoto High School.” 

NDHS benefits from the guidance of an instructional leadership team (ILT) that is committed not only to student growth but also to teacher growth. The ILT is comprised of instructionally-focused teacher and school leaders who provide the necessary resources, support, and coaching for teachers to develop and expand their knowledge and skills. As a result of the ILT’s coordination and efforts, NDHS has an environment that fosters continuous improvement and student success. 

Also contributing to NDHS’s school environment and culture of reflection is the use of the NIET Teaching and Learning Standards Rubric. By adopting the Rubric, NDHS has established a common language across grades and subject matters. This allows for more tailored professional learning that addresses teachers’ unique strengths and areas of growth. NDHS also utilizes the NIET Principal Standards Rubric to support school leaders in their ability to effectively coach teachers. 

North DeSoto High School was selected among five finalists throughout the U.S., with each receiving $10,000: 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).

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 (laura@keylightcommunications.com) or Katie Elliott (katie@keylightcommunications.com). Follow conference news – including the Founder's Award – on social media using @NIETteach or #NIET2024.