A delegation from G.W. Carver Primary School is headed to New Orleans later this month to pick up a $10,000 prize for its teacher advancement program and discover if it won the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching's top award.

G.W. Carver is among six schools from across the country chosen as a finalist for the TAP Founder's Award, the teaching institute's highest honor.

Created by National Institute for Excellence in Teaching Chairman and TAP Founder Lowell Milken, the TAP Founder's Award is presented annually to one school for exceptional efforts to implement and represent the principles of the TAP System for Teacher and Student Advancement, a news release said.

The TAP System is a comprehensive educator effectiveness model that aligns teacher leadership, daily professional development, educator evaluation and support, and opportunities for performance-based compensation.

Introduced in 1999, the TAP System supports schools, districts, universities and states to advance educator effectiveness and student learning, the release said.

Funded by the Lowell Milken Family Foundation, the TAP Founder's Award comes with a $50,000 prize to be used toward efforts to improve instruction and academic achievement. The award finalists will be recognized March 24 during the 17th annual National TAP Conference in New Orleans.

The award winner will be announced on March 25.

Each finalist will receive a plaque and $10,000. Carver joins Alice M. Harte Charter School in New Orleans; Barrera Veterans Elementary School in Somerset Independent School District, Texas; Dodson Branch School in Jackson County Schools, Tennessee; Hmong College Preparatory Academy in St. Paul, Minnesota; and West Goshen Elementary School in Goshen Community Schools, Indiana.

Each finalist implements the TAP System by establishing leadership teams, made up of master and mentor teachers as well as administrators, who drive instruction, the release said. These teacher leaders guide weekly professional development and provide individual coaching in classrooms.

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TAP’s teacher leadership opportunities and professional development are complemented by systems of educator evaluation, feedback and support, as well as a compensation system that rewards educators for increased skill and student performance, and for taking on new leadership roles and responsibilities.

Since implementing the TAP System in 2012, Carver has been transformed into a place where teachers are motivated to lead and students are energized to maximize their potential, the release said.

Partly due to the leadership opportunities that TAP affords, Carver, which serves an 88 percent economically disadvantaged student population, has been able to attract certified teachers to fill all 30-plus positions.

According to Principal Latatia Johnson, growing and promoting talent from within has had a "huge positive cultural effect" on teacher retention; in 2015-16, the school had a 91 percent retention rate and staff anticipates that the rate will increase.

Johnson said her school's TAP leadership team embraced the "we go first" philosophy: Members guide the weekly professional development meetings, model strategies and field-test them with groups of students. They collaborate with faculty on assessing what works, what doesn't and how to improve.

"I commend Principal Johnson and the entire staff at Carver for their dedication to strengthening teaching to achieve the ultimate goal of student learning,” says Lowell Milken. "Faculty and students have every reason to be proud of their achievements and their continued persistence to reach even greater heights."

The success of their approach is reflected in their effort to raise Carver's third-grade English language arts Academic Index score. School leaders identified this need after assessing 2015-16 Louisiana Educational Assessment Program data, and got to work identifying essential standards, creating criteria for what mastery looked and sounded like for each standard, and developed rigorous assessments that met them. Mentor teachers implemented the process with masters' support, analyzing student work along the way.

Johnson said this method, coupled by teaching in new facility, contributed to achieving a goal to increase the school's index score by more than eight points, moving them from a C to a B letter grade.

"TAP is a driving force behind our continued mission to ensure every child is successful in an ever-changing world," said Johnson. "Our teachers are empowered; our students are empowered; we’re changing lives."