Recent News


Niswonger Foundation Rural LIFE Coach Application Now Available

As part of the i3 Rural LIFE Grant, nine literacy coaches will be selected to work with lead teachers and school districts to improve literacy in grades 6-8 in 19 Upper East Tennessee school districts.

The complete Rural LIFE Coach job description can be downloaded (here)

To apply, please complete the online application by clicking (here)

A background check is also required.  If you have not had a background check please contact

Permission to apply must be obtained from your Superintendent and a Superintendent Signature form must be printed, signed and returned to the Selection Committee at

Please download the signature from (here)

Also, a set of Follow-up questions must be submitted after completing the application.  The Follow-up questions will be used as part of the selection process.  Richard Bales will email follow-up questions to your preferred email address included on your application.

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Save the Date!

Thirteenth Annual Niswonger Foundation

School Success Symposium

Tuesday, June 19, 2018   ~   8:30 a.m. - 3:30 p.m.

Niswonger Performing Arts Center And
Greeneville High School

Featured Speakers

Liz Murray

Inspirational Speaker and Best Selling Author

Breaking Night: A Memoir of Forgiveness

Survival and My Journey from Homeless to Harvard


Cicely Woodard

2018 Tennessee Teacher of the Year

Registration will begin on April 1.

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The NISWONGER FOUNDATION, founded by Greeneville, Tennessee businessman and philanthropist Scott M. Niswonger, has selected five high school seniors to join the Niswonger Scholars program.  Currently, there are 19 Niswonger Scholars, with the newly selected students for 2018 bringing the total to 24.  The Foundation also has 67 Alumni of the program.

Niswonger Scholars are selected through a nomination process that seeks to identify the region’s best and brightest future leaders.  They are given the opportunity to attend the college or university that will best prepare them for success in their field of study, while participating in a four-year leadership program. Through an emphasis on leadership, educational excellence, business management, community service and ethical decision making, the Scholars are provided travel, training, internships, and personalized support to become model leaders and citizens. 

Unique to other scholarships, the goal of the Niswonger Scholars program is to identify and develop leaders for Northeast Tennessee. These students commit to returning to Northeast Tennessee to work in their chosen career path, one year for each year they receive our scholarship.  The plan is that by enabling these students to pursue their academic passion and by cultivating their leadership abilities, they will be committed to returning to the region as catalysts for the growth and improvement in their home communities.

The five new Northeast Tennessee Scholars are Sarah Douthat, West Greene High School; Alexis Harvey, Unicoi County High School; Jasmine Martin, Morristown East High School; Aubrie Strange, Cocke County High School; Rithvik Vutukuri, Dobyns-Bennett High School.

Sarah Elizabeth Douthat attends West Greene High School. She serves as senior class vice president, was junior class president, and is the student representative for the Greene County School Board. She is vice president of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, vice president of First Priority, and chairman of the Parliamentary Procedure team. She has served as secretary, vice president and president of the Future Farmers of America. She was voted “Best All Round” by the senior class.  She is a member of National Honor Society, National English Honor Society and National Society for High School Seniors.  In service to her community she volunteers with Special Olympics, Samaritan’s Purse-Operation Christmas Child Processing Plant, School Clean up Days, and the McDonald Outreach Center. She is a Vacation Bible School teacher. Sarah is the daughter of Beth Douthat and the late Mark Douthat.

Alexis Renee Harvey is a senior at Unicoi County High School. She is president and section leader of the marching band, senior class secretary and homeroom representative for Student Council. She is a member of National Honor Society, Beta Club, Book Club, Spanish Club and Student’s Against Destructive Decisions (SADD). She served as secretary for the Christian Student Union. She served as the Chick-Fil-A Leader Academy secretary. She is a Track and Field athlete.  Her awards include, Chemistry II Award and the Marching Band’s Most Excellent Junior Award.  Alexis is the daughter of Crystal Winston.

Jasmine Nicole Martin is a student at Morristown East High School. She is a member of Student Council, Spanish Club and Science Club.  She is a Scholars Bowl participant and has been on the honor roll every year since starting school. She was selected as the only middle school student from her school to participate in the Hamblen County High School Scholarship program. Her other awards include, AP English Award and AP Scholar Award. She serves her community by mentoring at Meadowview Middle School, and is employed with two part-time jobs.

Aubrie Claire Strange attends Cocke County High School with a 4.0 GPA.  She is an AP Scholar with Honors, and a Furman Scholar. She is Student Body President, serves as Key Club historian, Cocke County FFA chapter vice president, Spanish Club treasurer, Beta Club secretary, and National Honor Society historian. Aubrie is Yearbook editor and Debate Club assistant clerk. She was a National Qualifier in the Future Business Leaders of America Agribusiness Competition. She serves her community through work with Tennessee’s Babies with Special Needs, the Key Club, Volunteer Riders of Knoxville, and CCHS Red Regiment.  Aubrie is the daughter of John and Kim Strange.

Rithvik Vutukuri is a student at Dobyns-Bennett High School. He ranks first in his class and has a 4.0 GPA.  He is a National Merit Semifinalist. Rithvik received the AP Psychology Award, is a National AP Scholar, and an AP Scholar with Distinction. He serves as president of the Student Council, and is President of both Mu Alpha Theta and the Beta Club. He is a builder, designer and programmer in Robotics, participated in the Science Olympiad and the National Science Bowl. He plays varsity tennis.  He serves his community through Holston Valley Medical Center, H.O.T.S. (Higher Order Thinking Skills), Operation Gratitude, Middle School Math Day and Rubiks Cube Lessons. Rithvik is the son of Suresh and Sunitha Vutukuri.

Established in 2001, the Niswonger Foundation has a mission “To create opportunities for individual and community growth through education.”  In addition to the Scholarship and Leadership program, the Niswonger Foundation supports educational programs in seventeen Northeast Tennessee school systems. With the motto of “Learn-Earn-Return,” the programs of the foundation are supported by charitable donations, grant funding and personal contributions from Scott M. Niswonger.

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Scott M. Niswonger, Chairman and Founder of the Niswonger Foundation announced the award of an “Education Innovation and Research” (EIR) Grant from the U.S. Department of Education. This grant, with the required matching funds, will provide more than eight million dollars to assist schools in Northeast Tennessee.  Niswonger stated: “This is a day of tremendous pride as I reflect on the extraordinary accomplishments of the Niswonger Foundation. It is gratifying to be recognized nationally for our work in public education but more important to me is that we have another new and powerful opportunity to serve the children in this region, to ensure that they are prepared to be successful in post-secondary education and in their chosen careers.”

The United States Department of Education selected 16 grant recipients from 379 proposals based on recommendations from independent peer review panels.   The 16 successful applications represented 9 states and the District of Columbia.

The Niswonger Foundation is one of only 6 recipients in the “mid-phase” category. This grant will be used to fund a program entitled: Rural LIFE (Literacy Initiative Focused on Effectiveness).  The purpose of the grant is to validate the use of personalized learning strategies, with the goal of focusing on literacy to improve academic achievement for students in grades six through eight. Rural LIFE uses the strategy of deploying technology-enabled literacy-focused personalized learning.  Participating schools will identify specific technology needs as part of their learning model.

The grant will serve eighteen school systems in Northeast Tennessee (Bristol City, Carter County, Cocke County, Elizabethton City, Greene County, Greeneville City, Hamblen County, Hancock County, Hawkins County, Jefferson County, Johnson City, Johnson County, Kingsport City, Newport City, Rogersville City, Sullivan County, Unicoi County, and Washington County). This grant will add another important scope of work to this unique consortium of schools that has drawn national recognition.  The majority of the 73 schools in this project are designated rural and 85% are Title I school-wide. Approximately 19,700 students are served by Rural LIFE-participating schools.

Dr. Nancy Dishner, President and CEO of the Niswonger Foundation, commented on the strength of the Consortium of Northeast Tennessee school systems: “I credit receiving this second federal grant to the tireless efforts of our teachers and school leaders in this region.  We are uniquely positioned to receive national attention because of this joint commitment to teamwork, excellence, and ensuring that every child in Northeast Tennessee has the best opportunity for success.” 

This marks the second U.S. Department of Education grant received by the Niswonger Foundation and the Niswonger Consortium of school systems.  Previously, the Foundation received a twenty-one-million-dollar Investing in Innovation Grant (i3), which was the precursor to this first-round of the EIR grants. The initial Niswonger grant was recently recognized for having five statistically significant research findings. Focused on college and career readiness, the data show that students in the Niswonger Consortium were more likely to: 1) have a higher ACT score; 2) complete an Advanced Placement (AP) course; 3) score 3 or higher on AP courses; 4) enroll in post-secondary education; and 5) persist in post-secondary education.

Dr. Richard Kitzmiller, Niswonger Foundation Vice President, will serve as the Executive Director for this grant.  Kitzmiller has over 40 years of exemplary service in education, including nearly ten years as a district superintendent.  He has been employed at the Niswonger Foundation for six years, including work with the Foundation’s previous federal grant. Kitzmiller stated: “this project offers a unique opportunity.  While the middle grades are critical in the development of students, most reform efforts focus on other grades.  Most of the attention and support is directed to high schools or the earlier grades.”

The Rural LIFE grant will serve Northeast Tennessee for the next five years.

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At a media event held at Hancock County Elementary School, the Niswonger Foundation and Hancock County Schools announced the Niswonger Foundation’s receipt of two significant grants that will focus on kindergarten through second grade literacy development at Hancock County Elementary.  The goal of this effort is increasing third-grade reading proficiency.  A $450,000 grant from the Walmart Foundation and a $50,000 grant from the Annenberg Fund for Schools will provide a total of $500,000 in support of a three-year project that will be overseen by the Niswonger Foundation, in partnership with the Rural School and Community Trust.

The grant from the Annenberg Fund for Schools was used to create a “Book Room” of resources and technology for teaching literacy.  The Walmart Foundation grant will fund a three-year initiative informed by best practices and the most effective program designs, particularly focused on the needs of rural schools.  Fundamental to this effort is the belief that literacy is the single most important factor for ensuring that children have an opportunity for a successful future.

The need for this initiative is strongly supported in the 2016 Tennessee Department of Education report: “Setting the Foundation: A Report of Elementary Grades Reading in Tennessee.” This report stated that by measure of the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP), only 43 percent of Tennessee third graders and 45 percent of fourth graders perform on grade level in English language arts (ELA).  In the same year, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), known as the Nation’s Report Card stated that in 2015, only 33 percent of Tennessee students demonstrated proficiency in reading at the fourth grade level.  This means that more than half of the students in Tennessee’s schools are not comprehending what they are reading by the end of fourth grade

Statistics show that if a student is not proficient in reading at the end of the third grade, he or she is unlikely to make substantial progress towards that goal in the foreseeable future. In addition, Tennessee data indicate that many students earning proficient or advanced at the end of third grade will likely see a decline in the rating by fifth grade.

The reports indicated that only eight percent of students who are performing below grade level when they reach eighth grade will be able to meet the college-readiness benchmark on the ACT reading examination. For purposes of this initiative, literacy is being defined as a student having the ability to read, write, compute, and use technology at a level that enables him/her to reach their full potential.

The Niswonger Foundation and Hancock County Schools have agreed to support each other throughout this process by assisting the teacher, focusing on student learning, and sharing information to learn what works and what does not. Professional development, expert consultation, classroom technology, and instructional materials are being provided through the grants received by the Niswonger Foundation.

This three-year K-2 literacy initiative is designed to improve foundational skills necessary for reading mastery. The Niswonger Foundation is in the second year of a successful pilot project in Greene County. The best practices of that project will support the Hancock County efforts. The program staff and teachers are identifying the “best practices” in early literacy teaching methods.  This initiative also provides teachers with the support they need to ensure engaging and effective instruction. Through a data driven, personalized, and highly supportive process, the end goal is to dramatically improve third grade literacy scores with a program that can be adaptable to other K-2 classrooms, particularly in rural settings.  The major components of the program are:

  • Scheduling: realigning the teaching schedule to meet individualized learning needs of students through the use of Early Learning Groups (ELG’s)
  • Data: Collect, monitor and review multiple sources of data to inform teachers regarding appropriate next steps;
  • Teacher collaboration: Extended planning time for instructional team discussion of data, student needs, strengths/weaknesses, and reinforcing the responsibility for shared decision-making and responsibility;
  • Instructional Assistants: Provide training and support to build abilities and confidence to significant partners in the delivery of instruction and student progress;  
  • Parent/Community Involvement:  Focus on the importance of community engagement. Establish activities for parents/guardians, design volunteer opportunities for community partners; and 
  • Replicability: Design to be replicated in other K-2 classroom settings with a particular focus on the needs of rural education.

Addressing the media were Scott M. Niswonger, Chairman and Founder of the Niswonger Foundation; Rob Mahaffey, Executive Director, Rural School and Community Trust; Tony Seal, Director of Schools for Hancock County, Dr. Vicki Kirk, Tennessee Deputy Commissioner of Education; Sara Hurd, Niswonger/Hancock County Literacy Specialist; David Greene, Jr., Parent; Addilyn Mabe, Second Grade Student; Jackson Jones, First Grade Student; and Dr. Nancy Dishner, President and CEO, Niswonger Foundation. 

Guests on-hand for the media event included Hancock County Commissioners and School Board Members, representatives from the offices of U.S. Senator Bob Corker and U.S. Congressman Phil Roe; Niswonger Foundation Board Members and Staff; community members; and family members. 

At the close of the media event, the attendees toured the kindergarten, first and second grade classrooms; and the newly created Book Room. 

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In an interview by Niswonger Foundation Vice President, Richard Kitzmiller, we learned that Veronica Watson has spent most of her 2017 "summer break" as a volunteer in Niswonger/ETSU Code & Technology camps. 

After participating in summer camps for middle-schoolers in 2016, her interest and passion led her to volunteer to help (without pay) during the 2017 camps. This offer has resulted in Veronica’s involvement in 7 different camps.

Her volunteer time helps the camp staff (primarily ETSU undergraduate and graduate students) by being another resource to provide one-on-one support for participants.

Mathew Desjardins, the Code & Technology Camp Director, praises Veronica’s dedication and skill. He points out that her age is often an advantage; she relates well to the participants who are roughly the same age.

Veronica is a student at Elizabethton High School. She plans to pursue a career that builds on her current interest in computing.


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Registration Is Now Open

Niswonger & ETSU

2017 Code & Technology Camps


 Girls in Science & Technology 
(GIST) Camps

    -June 12 - 16 (Rising 5th Graders)
    -June 26 - 30 (Rising 6th Graders)

    Advanced Code & Tech Camps 

    (Advanced Java)
    -July 10 - 14 (Middle School)
-July 17 - 21 (High School)

(3D Printing/Drone/Imbedded Devices)

    - July 24 - 28 (Middle & High School)
 First Year Code & Tech Camps

(Middle School)

    -June 5 - 9 (Higher Ed. Ctr)

    -June 12 - 16 (Higher Ed. Ctr.)

(High School)

    -June 12 - 16 (David Crockett HS)

    - June 19 - 23 (Higher Ed. Ctr.)

    - June 26 - 30 (Higher Ed. Ctr.)


CAD Camps (Ages 13-18)

     -June 5 - 9 (Kingsport, TN)

     -June 12 - 16 (ETSU)

GIST Camps are week-long, half-day camps (8:15 am - 11:45 am) that allow rising 5th and 6th grade girls to explore STEM related activities.

First Year Code & Tech Camps are 5-day code & technology camps (9:00 am - 3:00 pm), for students who have little or no exposure to computers or technology.

Advanced Code & Tech Camps are 5-day code & technology camps (9:00 am - 3:00 pm), for students who participated in previous code and technology camps.

CAD Camps are 5-day camps (9:00 am - 3:00 pm), for students who wish to use a computer system to design different real world objects.

Dates listed are tentative and camps may be added or removed.  Register at 

ETSU contact is  Matthew Desjardins -

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ETSU Names Niswonger Village

                                             Dr. Randy Wykoff and Scott Niswonger



Story by: East Tennessee State University - University Relations

JOHNSON CITY – For years, leaders in East Tennessee State University’s College of Public Health have utilized the ETSU Eastman Valleybrook campus in rural Washington County to teach students valuable skills – everything from making a brick from scratch to constructing a filter to obtain clean drinking water.

“But at the end of the day, we realized that we have to make sure our students not just have the skills, but can apply them,” said Dr. Randy Wykoff, dean of the College of Public Health. “Our students must be able to impact health in low-resource settings – following a disaster or in rural areas both domestically and abroad.”

On Friday, leaders launched the Niswonger VILLAGE at Valleybrook, a public health simulation lab featuring real replicas of low-resource homes from various nations. The VILLAGE (Virtual International Living: Learning Across Global Environments) represents how people live in rural and isolated communities around the world and provides students with the ability to demonstrate their skills and engage in hands-on exercises.

“Our job here in the Niswonger VILLAGE is to create the kind of situations that challenge our students to use creative thinking, problem solving, teamwork and innovation to really make a difference in people’s lives,” Wykoff said. “I really want to teach the students to be able to identify problems and come up with creative solutions to address them.”

Through the Niswonger Foundation, Scott Niswonger, a local businessman and well-known philanthropist in the region as well as the chairman of the ETSU Board of Trustees, donated funds for the creation of the VILLAGE, recognizing its ability take higher education to the next level.

“The Niswonger Foundation has a long and successful history of working with ETSU overall and with the College of Public Health,” he said. “The Niswonger Scholars have received training from the College of Public Health here on the Valleybrook campus and I was privileged to be able to contribute thoughts and ideas about the VILLAGE as it was being conceived.”

Both graduate and undergraduate public health students spend educational time at the Niswonger VILLAGE, offering the opportunity to go from theory and notebooks to hands-on experience. In those experiences, students discuss health systems and health challenges, both domestic and international, then try to develop interventions and programming to improve health outcomes and change environments and policies.

“ETSU shares with Mr. Niswonger a commitment to improving this region, whether it’s improving education or health outcomes,” said ETSU President Brian Noland. “We’re trying to prepare students who can make a difference wherever they go in the world.”

For more information about the Niswonger Village, visit For a video about the work being done at the ETSU Eastman Valleybrook campus, visit

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Humanitarian of the Year: Scott Niswonger

We would like to share the International Storytelling Center's "President's Blog" that appeared in their recent e-newsletter and shared with us by the writer, Kiran Singh Sirah, President, International Storytelling Center.

I recently had the pleasure of attending the American Red Cross of Northeast Tennessee’s first annual Humanitarian of the Year award ceremony, which was in honor of Scott Niswonger. Scott has been a long-time supporter of our work here at ISC. For years, the Niswonger Foundation has helped us develop our outreach program for underserved at-risk youth in schools across the region and supported us in developing professional training sessions for teachers. They also helped us establish our livestream broadcasts from the National Storytelling Festival, which beams out to classrooms in all 50 states, and many other countries around the world. Because of these connections, I was already aware of many of his good deeds around the area, including the Niswonger Children’s Hospital, his many contributions to educational endeavors, and other deserving projects.

One of the speakers at the event was Dave Sanderson, who was a passenger on what’s now known as the Miracle on the Hudson: the 2009 flight that landed on the river between New York and New Jersey. Sanderson was the last passenger off the back of the plane, so his story was probably even more harrowing than those of his fellow passengers. But it was also an incredibly inspiring tale; everyone on that flight survived the ordeal, so it’s a feel-good kind of story. The experience changed Sanderson’s life.

The choice of speaker was fitting given Scott’s line of work. But for him, flying was never just a job; it’s a passion, and sometimes a duty. He was piloting planes solo by his 16th birthday, when most kids are learning how to drive.

In listening to Sanderson’s incredible tale, I was reminded of when I first met Scott at his office in Greeneville, Tennessee. I had only recently moved to the region from North Carolina. When he asked about my background, I told him how, just a few years before I was born, my parents were forced to flee their home in Uganda, which was under the control of a murderous dictator. I think of it as a sort of origin story that helps explain my passion for storytelling, because that’s all my parents had at the time: their stories. (The government took their house, their possessions, and everything else.) Once I was born, stories of their beloved home were what they had to share with me.

What Scott said when I finished that tale was truly remarkable: around the same time that my parents were fleeing the country, he was overhead, piloting a cargo plane that delivered supplies to 50,000-some refugees. Eventually my family boarded a flight to England, where I was born…and many years later, there I was in Scott’s office. It was a real testament to the power of storytelling that we uncovered this unlikely connection.

It was an honor to shake Scott’s hand in his office that day. It’s still a great feeling, knowing that someone who’s so supportive of our work at ISC was also there for people like my parents in their greatest time of need. (No wonder this guy is Humanitarian of the Year!) It was truly an honor to attend the event and have the chance to celebrate all of Scott’s contributions—not just to the region, but to the world.

Kiran Singh Sirah

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