Nov. 10th, 2020 - Somerset Independent School District's was celebrated with 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 and its Superintendent Dr. Saul Hinojosa with the award during a virtual celebration with district and school leaders.
Somerset ISD has been a leader 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, located southwest of San Antonio, has faced systemic challenges. 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 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."
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.
“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