Press Releases

Avondale Elementary School District Surprised with Prestigious NIET District Award of Excellence for Educator Effectiveness and $50,000 Grand Prize

March 01, 2024

Dallas, Texas (March 1, 2024) - The National Institute for Excellence in Teaching (NIET) announced today that Avondale Elementary School District, Arizona, won the District Award of Excellence for Educator Effectiveness. The award celebrates Avondale’s focus on educator excellence and student success and includes a $50,000 prize. NIET Founder and Chairman Lowell Milken and Chief Executive Officer Dr. Joshua Barnett made the surprise announcement during NIET’s national conference in Dallas. 

The District Award of Excellence for Educator Effectiveness, awarded this year for only the sixth time, honors school districts that focus on supporting excellent instruction and improving student performance. Avondale was chosen because of its unwavering commitment to investing in educators’ professional growth, fostering teacher leadership, and increasing student success. 

“Educator effectiveness is at the heart of everything Avondale Elementary School District does to elevate the effectiveness of educators and prepare students for a bright future,” said NIET Founder Lowell Milken. “We applaud Superintendent Dr. Betsy Hargrove and her team for their outstanding leadership in creating a culture of high academic growth year after year and a community dedicated to providing powerful opportunities for all. Congratulations.”

Avondale Elementary School District has nine campuses and educates almost 6,000 students, 70% of whom are eligible for free or reduced lunch. Across the district, each student receives high-quality instruction from educators who benefit from continuous, personalized feedback and coaching. Avondale’s success exemplifies the impact of high-quality instructional practices and how a commitment to excellent teaching can change a district’s culture and student achievement. 

“Avondale Elementary School District has put in place a system for continuous improvement that is helping students set and reach academic achievement goals,” said NIET Chief Executive Officer Dr. Joshua Barnett. “Parents know that regardless of the classroom their child enters, they will experience high-quality instruction and that these classroom experiences are supported by a school-level culture of high expectations and support for each individual student. The high levels of student academic success in Avondale are the result of this district-wide strategy. We are excited to honor their commitment to great teaching and learning.”

What Makes Avondale Elementary School District Unique? 

Avondale Elementary School District is located west of Phoenix, Arizona, and serves students from preschool through eighth grade. In 2011, Avondale partnered with NIET to implement the TAP System for Teacher and Student Advancement, a whole-school approach to improving teaching and creating opportunities for teachers to grow as leaders. The TAP System helped Avondale schools establish a cadre of teacher leaders who, alongside school leaders, facilitate job-embedded professional learning and provide teachers with individual coaching and support. 

To create a common language across the coaching and support provided by teacher and school leaders, the district also adopted the NIET Teaching and Learning Standards Rubric. With these structures in place, Avondale implements instructional strategies that address both districtwide needs and the unique needs of particular schools and student groups.    

Avondale’s commitment to school-based professional learning and continuous improvement is reflected in their student results. Of the eight schools in the district that received ratings in 2023, half of them were rated an “A” and the other half were rated a “B.” This individual school success led Avondale to be named an overall “A” rated district by the Arizona Department of Education in 2023. Contributing to these letter ratings, the district has seen growth in student performance on state assessments in both English language arts and math. From 2021 to 2023, the percentage of students passing the state assessments increased by three percentage points in English language arts and six percentage points in math–meaning that Avondale’s growth exceeded the state’s growth. 

“I know that our children can do absolutely anything they put their minds to – and that is our mission, to make sure they have that limitless future,” said Avondale Superintendent Dr. Betsy Hargrove. “Avondale Elementary School District serves nine schools, one alternative school, and all of our schools are A or B-rated. There’s no doubt in our minds that NIET is the foundation of that success.” 

About the District Award of Excellence for Educator Effectiveness and NIET

NIET awarded the first District Award of Excellence for Educator Effectiveness to Perry Township in Indianapolis, Indiana, in 2018. 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 National Institute for Excellence in Teaching (NIET) is a national nonprofit based in Phoenix, Arizona that serves states and districts nationwide. For more than 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 300,000 educators and 3 million students across the U.S. Learn more at