Ascension Public Schools’ focus on educator excellence and student progress was celebrated today through a $50,000 award from the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching (NIET). 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, Texas.
“Ascension Public Schools has consistently achieved high growth by unifying under a vision for excellence driven by effective educators and leaders at every turn,” Milken said. “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.”
Ascension, which is located southeast of Baton Rouge, serves 24,000 students, 48% of whom are minority and 55% 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% in 2019 to 91.1% in 2020, far surpassing the state graduation rate of 84%.
“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.”
Inside Ascension Public Schools, Louisiana
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.”
“In every endeavor, people make the difference, and just one person has the power to make a profound difference in the lives of so many people.” - Lowell Milken