Connections: Linking Talented Educators
Connections: Linking Talented Educators

June 24, 2014

Growing with TAP

Milken Educators—lifelong learners—reach new potential through the TAP System


When the Milken Family Foundation presents its $25,000 award to outstanding teachers coast-to-coast, all eyes are on the money. Who's going to get it? What is the lucky teacher going to do with it? For the unsuspecting recipient, it's a humbling honor bestowed for educating the next generation of students. But for many Milken Educators, this is just the beginning as the Award opens doors of opportunity—and responsibility—to make an even greater impact.

Unlike a lifetime achievement award, the Milken Educator Award is given to those in their early-to-mid career for their potential to make an indelible mark on the profession. And while the Award recognizes excellence, Milken Family Foundation Chairman and Co-Founder Lowell Milken realized the need to generate highly effective educators on a vastly larger scale.

Milken Educators at 2014 TAP Conference
Milken Educators at 2014 TAP Conference. Pictured, from left: Regina Urueta (SC '06), Vicky Condalary (LA '01), Dr. Ann Shaw (SC '00), National Institute for Excellence in Teaching President and CEO Dr. Gary Stark (AR '01), Milken Educator Awards Senior Vice President Dr. Jane Foley (IN '94), Mike Sinclair (SC '13), Shasta Looper (SC '12), Dr. Danielle Ferreira (AZ '12) and Kevin Winters (TN '13).

Through conducting hundreds of focus groups with Milken Educators, observing classrooms and working with an expert research team, Lowell developed a revolutionary new approach to improving K–12 education called TAP: The System for Teacher and Student Advancement. Formally introduced in 1999, TAP is a comprehensive educator effectiveness model that aligns powerful opportunities for teachers with career advancement, professional growth, educator observation paired with meaningful feedback, and performance-based compensation.

TAP's intention was to create a solution to attract talented young people to teaching, develop existing teachers, establish roles and responsibilities to motivate teachers to teach in high-need schools, and design a fair evaluation system that leads to improved teacher practice.

These goals resonated with courageous state leaders who learned about TAP at the Milken National Education Conference, a preeminent gathering of Milken Educators, education officials, policymakers, and leaders in business, academia and communities at large across America. Some of these pioneers brought their state Milken Educators into the effort.

Among them were Milken Educators Dr. Ann Shaw (SC '00), Dr. Gary Stark (AR '01) and Vicky Condalary (LA '01), who helped pave the way for TAP in their respective states of South Carolina, Arkansas and Louisiana. Today, more than a decade later, they are leaders at the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching (NIET), a public nonprofit established by Lowell to manage and support TAP as well as the Best Practices Center. Ann, Gary and Vicky credit the Milken Educator Award and TAP for the visibility and opportunities allowing them to have a broad impact on strengthening K–12 education.

While some Milken Educators have joined the ranks of NIET, others, like Deania McMillian (LA '09) and Kevin Winters (TN '13), are using the power of the Award honor to further strengthen their practices in the classroom.

The Pivotal Moment

Dr. Ann Shaw (SC '00)

Ann Shaw with Lowell Milken

Dr. Ann Shaw, a Greenville County educator at the time of her Award, was encouraged by South Carolina State Superintendent of Education Inez Tenenbaum to attend a TAP session with her at the 2001 Milken National Education Conference. "We need this," Tenenbaum said.

Ann agreed. "Milken Educators are very reflective and constantly working to improve their craft," she said in an interview. "I think that is one of the reasons we are drawn to TAP; it challenges us to take the next step."

Ann not only helped bring TAP to South Carolina—in 2003, but she also became a TAP master teacher in one of the pilot schools. It was during this time that she met Dennis Dotterer, a TAP assistant principal at Laurens County School District 56, who would eventually become the state's TAP executive director. When he needed staff at the department, he hired Shaw as a regional master teacher. "After becoming a Milken Educator, I felt doors were opened for many opportunities," she said.

"We are building a bridge to help prepare student teachers with effective teaching behaviors impacting student achievement."

As a member of the state TAP team, Ann worked closely with NIET and was intrigued by projects that staff members were engaged in at the national level—namely training evaluators under the Best Practices Center, preparing TAP educators for the Common Core State Standards, and helping universities incorporate and support the TAP System into their teacher preparation programs. The latter effort was one of the attractions to join NIET since she was passionate about bringing elements of TAP into higher education.

"Teachers tend to cling to what they learn in higher education for at least the first five years into their careers," said Ann. "I believe when we can connect higher education with TAP schools and the TAP Rubric, we are building a bridge to help prepare student teachers with effective teaching behaviors impacting student achievement."

Teacher candidates placed in TAP schools are thriving because they have strong support through TAP and they value the ongoing professional development received in "clusters."

Ann is now NIET's director of higher education services, working with Arizona State University, Middle Tennessee State University, Tennessee Tech, Lee University (Tennessee) and Texas Tech University.

"I can't thank Lowell Milken enough," said Ann. "Receiving the Milken Educator Award truly was my pivotal moment."

From Local Educator to National Leader

Dr. Gary Stark (AR ‘01)

connections tap gary stark

Dr. Gary Stark may be the president and CEO of NIET now, but his road started with receiving a Milken Educator Award as a Springdale, Arkansas, principal in 2001. That same school year, he, too, learned about the TAP System at the Milken National Education Conference. TAP appealed to Gary’s interest in professional development and education reform. When Arkansas Commissioner Ray Simon asked him to launch TAP in the state, it was a challenge he couldn’t resist.

Gary was soon appointed as the state TAP executive director for Arkansas and went on to play an integral role in developing the initial TAP pilot sites around the country. He ascended to the role of vice president of program development, which allowed him to lead implementation for new schools and states participating in the early TAP initiative. This included technical assistance on performance-based compensation and teacher evaluation as well as the funding and budget restructuring associated with comprehensive reform.

“I have benefitted enormously from Lowell Milken’s intellect and experience as a business leader and as one of the great education reformers of our time.”

Throughout his career, Gary has met with thousands of teachers, principals and school administrators, and has provided expert testimony before school boards, legislative committees and members of Congress. His experience in education, coupled with his policy know-how, has made him a valuable asset to NIET and its work to support teachers at every step of the way. Crediting the impact of his own Milken Educator Award, Gary makes time each year to surprise several teachers with news of their own Award.

"Not only did Lowell Milken give me the gift of the Milken Educator Award, but he also gave me the opportunity of a lifetime to work with educators from all across the world,” Gary said. “As president and CEO of NIET, I have benefitted enormously from his intellect and experience as a business leader and as one of the great education reformers of our time. I look forward to advancing NIET’s exciting journey under his guidance.”

Distinguished Service

Vicky Condalary (LA '01)

Lowell Milken and Vicky Condalary.jpg

The year 2001 also marked a career milestone for Vicky Condalary, a first-grade teacher from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, who was surprised with a Milken Educator Award at Cedarcrest-Southmoor Elementary School. "On that day," she said, "I began an amazing journey that has impacted my life in a profound and powerful way." A significant event at the start of the journey was learning about the TAP System. Instantly, Vicky knew that she had to be a part of it. "After all, TAP invests in teachers while keeping the focus on student growth," she said.

In 2003, Louisiana implemented TAP in five pilot schools, including Cedarcrest-Southmoor Elementary. Vicky jumped at the chance to be a TAP master teacher. In recognition of her early success, the late State Superintendent Cecil Picard recruited her as an executive master teacher with a mission to support TAP's growth statewide.

"TAP invests in teachers while keeping the focus on student growth."

In the years that followed, Vicky took on some of the state's biggest challenges, including helping rebuild New Orleans education post-Katrina. She provided support and guidance to the Algiers Charter Schools Association located on the West Bank of the Mississippi River, whose schools—with TAP incorporated the charter—were among the first to re-open after the storm.

Vicky's sphere of influence continued to widen as Louisiana's senior executive master teacher. In 2014, NIET recognized her contributions to the growth of TAP in Louisiana by hiring her as a senior program specialist. In this role, Vicky is project director for NIET's new Supporting Effective Educator Development (SEED) grant in partnership with Texas Tech University.

At the 2014 National TAP Conference, Lowell Milken surprised Vicky once again with the TAP Award for Distinguished Service, thanking her for the impact she has made on all fronts. "You have changed the world for so many educators and young people," he said, "and for all of us who have worked with you."

Enriching Classroom Practice

Deania McMillian (LA '09)

Deania McMillian on panel at 2010 TAP conference

Although Deania McMillian received tempting job offers to work in education outside of the classroom, her commitment to her students and fellow staff at North DeSoto Middle School in Stonewall, Louisiana, was stronger. In 2008, the school started implementing the TAP System, and by 2009, they were in full swing. Winning the Milken Educator Award that same year represented a high note in North DeSoto Middle's early journey.

"The Milken Educator Award served as an inspiration and reminder to teachers and students that if you do the right thing, you are recognized and rewarded," said Deania. "The Milken Award puts teaching on the map as a profession."

"... You could see the motivation and level of professionalism rise in our school."

Before TAP, the school received its first "no growth" label. With TAP in place, Principal Keith Simmons and his faculty were poised to make some serious changes in their approach to raising student achievement. As a TAP master teacher armed with the new Milken Educator Award honor, Deania earned important credibility and was seen as a "strong voice" among her peers. Everyone worked hard to follow the TAP model to the letter, and by the end of the 2009-10 school year, they scored a "5" in student achievement growth—the highest score possible. "TAP is the structure that has allowed us to set high goals, develop, plan, and see the results come to fruition," Deania explained. In 2010, NIET recognized the staff with a TAP School of Promise Award.

Their success continued and by 2013, they had three full years of level-5 value-added growth under their belts, including having been named the most-improved district in Louisiana. That same school year, Lowell Milken surprised North DeSoto Middle School with the prestigious TAP Founder's Award—and a check for $50,000—for their significant growth as a result of using the TAP System as the cornerstone for improvement.

"Due to the honor and media interest, you could see the motivation and level of professionalism rise in our school," noted Deania, who has since welcomed the likes of Governor Bobby Jindal, Louisiana Superintendent of Education John White, and Education Week to the campus. "Our faculty knew that they were part of something great, and walked with their heads held higher."

The Milken Educator Award, coupled with the TAP Founder's Award, has given Deania a renewed confidence, too, which she uses to her advantage as a leader in state and national trainings for TAP.

Kevin Winters (TN '13)

Gary Stark notifies Kevin Winters

For Kevin Winters (TN '13), the confidence boost from the Milken Educator Award was a significant plus—even though he held the title of TAP Master Teacher. A self-described "outside-the-box" practitioner, Kevin explained that winning the Award assured him that he was heading in the right direction.

"The Milken Educator Award has given me confidence in following my true north to do what's best for kids," he said. "Every teacher must adapt to meet particular expectations that are put forth by their schools and systems. This award has reinforced my passion to continue trying new things and to not be afraid of implementing something new or unconventional when there is a clear benefit for my students."

"You meet very few people in your life like Lowell Milken who have had that large of an impact."

One revolutionary structure Kevin wholeheartedly believes in is TAP. Currently in his sixth year of teaching and continually hungry to learn, TAP couldn't have come at a better time. "I was a successful teacher before TAP, but I didn't feel that there was a path to grow," he said. The TAP professional development "clusters" changed all that.

"TAP's clusters have created a tidal wave of growth for me," Kevin said. He sees the Milken Educator Network as an extension of these "stimulating and rewarding" conversations, and credits Lowell Milken for giving him a "key" to the knowledge, skills and experiences of 2,600 high-caliber educators who proudly make up that network.

"You meet very few people in your life like Lowell Milken who have had that large of an impact," said Kevin. "I'm excited about the Milken Educator Network and the opportunity to reach out and learn what those people are doing. It will help me better serve as an instructional leader for my school and provide the best possible education for our students."

At-A-Glance Growth of TAP and NIET


TAP: The System for Teacher and Student Advancement is introduced by Lowell Milken at the Milken National Education Conference.


Early adopters including Arizona, South Carolina and Louisiana pave the way for TAP's sustainability and expansion.


The National Institute for Excellence in Teaching (NIET) is established to manage and support the TAP System and other efforts to advance educator effectiveness.


The first federal Teacher Incentive Fund grants are awarded, providing the opportunity for many TAP projects to expand and new ones to develop.


Arizona State University (ASU) partners with NIET to revamp its teacher preparation program using the TAP System, marking NIET's entrance into higher education.


The second round of federal Teacher Incentive Fund grants are awarded, which double TAP's impact on teachers and students.


NIET's Best Practices Center is launched, offering expertise and technical assistance to districts and states in the areas of teacher leadership, professional development, teacher evaluation and performance-compensation systems.


Tennessee becomes the first state to use the TAP Teaching Standards as the basis for its statewide teacher evaluation system. Reflecting a stronger teacher force, in 2013, the state's students showed the greatest growth in history on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).


Federal Supporting Effective Educator Development (SEED) grants are awarded to TAP projects at ASU and Texas Tech University.


NIET, through its work with TAP and the Best Practices Center, impacts more than 200,000 teachers and 2.5 million students.

For more information or to get your district or state involved, reach Gary Stark at (310) 570-4860 or NIET is located at

Lowell Milken     

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