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Ascension Parish Superintendent David Alexander and Duplessis Elementary Principal Jennifer Board (bottom right) celebrate as Duplessis wins $50,000 for a national school award offered by the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching, or NIET. Faculty of the Gonzales elementary school, wearing masks, rushed in behind them to join the fun.

Duplessis Primary School in Gonzales has won a $50,000 national award aimed at schools that have shown they’ve improved educator effectiveness and student learning.

The school learned of its good fortune just before noon Tuesday during a virtual award ceremony put on by the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching.

Duplessis beat out four other schools across the country. That list included Slaughter Elementary in Slaughter, as well as two schools in Arizona and one in Texas. The four other finalists, which were announced in March, are winning $10,000 each.

Duplessis Primary Principal Jennifer Board and Ascension Parish Superintendent David Alexander, who were on the conference call, shouted and threw their arms up after Duplessis' name was announced. Soon after, mask-wearing faculty from the school flooded in behind them, celebrating.

“Thank you guys so much, I’m so sorry I’m so emotional,” said Board. “The honor was just the nomination. I’m just shaking like a leaf."

“This is affirmation of the hard work they do,” said Alexander.

NIET Chief Executive Officer Dr. Candice McQueen promised that the $50,000 check would be sent soon.

“Just for clarity,” Alexander asked, “that’s not a virtual check, is it?”

“No, it’s a real check," McQueen promised, smiling.

NIET is best known for a "whole school" reform system called the Teacher Advancement Program, or TAP. Ascension Parish schools adopted TAP many years ago and have continued with the program. A key feature is the use of higher-paid master teachers to work with other teachers to improve instruction.

NIET Founder Lowell Milken announced Tuesday’s award. Milken, brother of junk bond king Michael Milken, has been an active education philanthropist for decades. The award given out Tuesday, called the Founder’s Award, is similar to $25,000 Milken Educator Award that is given as a surprise to almost 3,000 teachers across the country, including several in Louisiana.

NIET has written about what sets Duplessis Primary apart here and has produced a short video on the Gonzales school here.

Email Charles Lussier at clussier@theadvocate.com.