William Henry Burkhart Elementary named a finalist in the prestigious NIET Founder’s Award

PERRY TOWNSHIP -The National Institute for Excellence in Teaching (NIET) announced today that William Henry Burkhart Elementary in Perry Township Schools, Indiana, won $10,000 for its selection as a NIET Founder’s Award finalist.

The prestigious Founder’s Award was created by Lowell Milken in 2008 to honor one school in the United States each year for exceptional implementation of NIET’s principles to build educator excellence and advance student success. William Henry Burkhart Elementary School is among five schools across the country under consideration for the $50,000 grand prize, which will be announced at the NIET’s national conference on March 23. 

“Burkhart’s dedication to teacher leadership, daily collaboration, and use of data to drive decisions have helped teachers and students advance even with a growing student population and increasing educational needs,” said NIET Founder Lowell Milken. “We applaud Principal Darlene Hardesty and her staff for strengthening instructional practices that increase student achievement growth. These efforts are all the more important in Burkhart’s role as a powerful center for developing classroom-ready educators. A deep appreciation to the school, and leadership under Superintendent Pat Mapes, for building a pipeline of talent to serve generations of students.”

Founder’s Award recipients like William Henry Burkhart Elementary School are selected by NIET based on several factors, including their efforts to make instructional excellence the cornerstone of school improvement, plans for regular professional learning focused on real-time needs of teachers and students, creating a culture of collaboration and reflection, and leveraging teacher leaders and administrators to drive student growth.

NIET’s partner schools have shown success in improving educator, student, and school outcomes. William Henry Burkhart Elementary, among other schools, has continuously elevated its educators through the use of NIET’s tools and resources to support instructional excellence and create career pathways. 

“Perry Township Schools has been one of the most successful districts in the country in building teacher leadership roles that support a system of high-quality professional learning and coaching. William Henry Burkhart Elementary has established teacher leaders as the focus to support current teachers as well as new teachers to provide students with great classroom teaching and learning,” said NIET Chief Executive Officer Dr. Joshua Barnett. “Being placed in the classroom of an outstanding teacher is the expectation for every student in the school.”

What Makes William Henry Burkhart Elementary Unique?

William Henry Burkhart Elementary, located in Indianapolis, Indiana, is one of 17 schools in Perry Township Schools. Of the school’s 650 pre-kindergarten through fifth-grade students, 84 percent are eligible for free/reduced-price meals and 46 percent are English Language Learners. Over the past few years, William Henry Burkhart Elementary has gone from a relatively small school to one that is serving a large and diverse population. Principal Darlene Hardesty and her leadership team are implementing NIET structures to address the increasingly diverse needs on the William Henry Burkhart Elementary campus. These structures are creating a positive learning environment for students and build the capacity of teachers and school leaders to provide high-quality instruction. 

All schools in Perry Township Schools have worked with NIET since 2012, and the NIET Teaching and Learning Standards Rubric is used district-wide. Additionally, William Henry Burkhart Elementary has established instructional teacher leadership roles and provides teachers time for weekly collaboration and professional learning (called “clusters”). 

“I believe NIET supports growth over time,” said Hardesty. “We’ve all heard that Rome wasn’t built in a day. The way cluster cycles are broken down into small chunks creates an overall win for our teachers and students. NIET has helped us to develop our winning mindset, focusing on growth and not allowing for excuses when the going gets tough.”

From 2021 to 2022, William Henry Burkhart Elementary has seen improved student performance on state assessments. Teachers credit the use of student work in planning how to address the academic needs of each student. Among all students, the percentage passing the math state assessment increased from 47 percent in 2021 to 53 percent in 2022. The percentage of English Language Learners who passed the math state assessment increased from 39 percent to 49 percent during the same time. These leaps in student performance place the school’s overall performance well above the performance of students statewide and earned the school a Title I Distinguished School Award for Exceptional Student Performance from the Indiana Department of Education.

William Henry Burkhart Elementary is intentional about how they structure and provide professional learning. Their cluster meetings are developed to be meaningful for all, a goal accomplished by using teacher leaders to provide differentiated learning relevant to the school’s teacher and student needs. This allows teachers to feel more ownership of their professional learning and creates a career path for teachers to take on leadership roles within their school. Regardless of where they are in their career path, educators at William Henry Burkhart remain focused on student growth. 

“NIET is helping us grow our teachers into leaders who are able to articulate a clear vision and utilize the support to achieve it,” said Hardesty. 

In addition to creating a career path for teachers, the school has also increased the support it provides new teachers, partnering with NIET and Marian University’s Klipsch Educators College to support teacher candidates in their transition to the classroom. William Henry Burkhart Elementary hosts pre-service teachers and includes them in the professional learning and coaching provided by teacher leaders. This helps the pre-service teachers learn best practices, understand the NIET Rubric, and become more capable educators before graduating and taking on their own classrooms. 

Once new teachers join William Burkhart Elementary, they attend the New Teacher Academy to help them become more familiar with the school’s culture. They learn from teacher leaders about NIET’s structures and how they are used on campus. The New Teacher Academy creates a smaller group setting in which new teachers can ask questions, build relationships and trust, and benefit from the knowledge and skills of the school’s teacher leaders. 

“Finding great teachers is difficult, but these teachers are joining our school community ready to learn and grow,” said Hardesty.  

William Henry Burkhart Elementary joins fellow finalists Desert Thunder School (Avondale Elementary School District, Arizona); Slaughter Elementary School (East Feliciana Public Schools, Louisiana); Forest Acres Elementary School (School District of Pickens County, South Carolina); and Dr. Lonnie Green Elementary (San Felipe Del Rio CISD, Texas) in contention for the $50,000 Founder’s Award grand prize.