Prairie View Elementary School fourth-grade teacher Calla Wimmer, left, assists Sophia Chavoyo Lopez, 10, with an assignment Thursday afternoon at Prairie View Elementary in Goshen.

GOSHEN — The National Institute for Excellence in Teaching announced Wednesday that Prairie View Elementary School, part of Goshen Community Schools, has earned $10,000 for its selection as an NIET Founder’s Award finalist.

The school is among four across the country under consideration for the $50,000 grand prize, which will be announced virtually at the NIET National Conference at 10 a.m. March 4.

“Most successful people can think of a talented teacher who inspired and motivated them to move forward. At Prairie View, teachers have those mentors, too,” NIET Chairman and Founder Lowell Milken said. “Providing effective educators with the structure to coach others allows all teachers and students to maximize their potential. I commend Principal Donna Wiktorowski and her staff for making this possible every day.”

Wiktorowski was excited about the win and being in the running for $50,000.

“One of the main reasons I think we were selected was because of the coaching model that we do, like pairing teachers with leaders of the membership team and being in each other’s classrooms,” Wiktorowski said. “We started the year thinking that wasn’t something we were going to do (because of the pandemic). We were really limiting teachers being in each other’s classrooms. ... We have gone back to that now.

“I’m just so happy for the teachers at Prairie View to be affirmed that the work they are doing is great work,” she said. “NIET provides the right structures for us to have an effective teacher in every classroom, like that is what NIET is all about. ... But the thing that really makes Prairie View outstanding is the culture. Prairie View teachers, they all like embrace the opportunity to get better, to grow. They’re not afraid to make mistakes. They’re not afraid to have people in their classrooms working with them, being vulnerable with each other — all of that. ... I can’t say enough about what a great work environment it is to be at Prairie View.

“You put that kind of culture together with the NIET structure and that’s what kind of stood apart to NIET,” she said.

Being a finalist and winning $10,000 is new to Prairie View, Wiktorowski said. But she believes the school can use the $10,000 in any way they want.

“Knowing Prairie View teachers,” she said, “it will be a decision we’ll make together. That’s how we make our decisions — together.” Teachers, Wiktorowski believes, will figure out what the school needs most and will be a benefit to the students.

An announcement will be made March 4 on which of the four schools will win the top prize of $50,000. In March 2018, West Goshen Elementary School won the $50,000 prize.

For 20 years, NIET has partnered with schools, districts, states and universities to ensure all students have effective educators, according to information provided by NIET. Its work to help develop teacher leaders, collaborate on successful strategies and provide feedback and support to peers that address teacher and student needs have served more than 9,000 schools and have impacted more than 275,000 teachers and 2.75 million students.

“When you make growing teachers a way of life, students achieve, and that’s exactly what we’re seeing at Prairie View,” said NIET CEO Dr. Candice McQueen. “Everyone has a stake in improving instruction, increasing student outcomes, and taking learning to the next level.”

Founder’s Award recipients, NIET officials said, are selected by NIET based on their efforts to make instructional excellence the cornerstone of school improvement; plan for regular professional learning focused on real-time needs of teachers and students; create a culture of collaboration and reflection; and leverage teacher leaders and administrators to drive student growth.

“Prairie View has employed these principles in a comprehensive way as part of a districtwide effort to implement NIET’s TAP System for Teacher and Student Advancement starting in 2008,” according to NIET officials. “Students are meeting and exceeding proficiency targets at higher percentages than state averages because all teachers are consistently supported, valued, and committed to excellent instruction.”

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