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2011 News Archive

11/28/2011

NISWONGER FOUNDATION SELECTS FIVE NEW SCHOLARS


NISWONGER FOUNDATION PRESS RELEASE
Niswonger Foundation
16 Gilland Street
P.O. Box 5112
Greeneville, Tennessee 37743
Phone (423) 798.7837 Fax (423) 636.0523
www.niswongerfoundation.org 


NISWONGER FOUNDATION SELECTS FIVE NEW SCHOLARS

The NISWONGER FOUNDATION, formed by businessman and philanthropist Scott M. Niswonger, has selected five high school seniors to join the Niswonger Scholars program. Currently, there are 20 Niswonger Scholars, with the new Scholars for 2012 bringing the total to 25. The Foundation also has 39 alumni of the program.

NISWONGER SCHOLARS are chosen primarily for their leadership potential and commitment to the betterment of themselves and their home communities. Niswonger Scholars are not limited to a particular college or area of study. They are required to participate in leadership development activities and encouraged to pursue internships and study abroad. Most importantly, they commit to return to Northeast Tennessee for at least one year of service in the career of their choice for each year they receive scholarship support. The hope is that by enabling these students to pursue their academic passions and by cultivating their leadership abilities, they will return to their homes to be leaders in their professions and a catalyst for future change.

The five new Northeast Tennessee Scholars are Gage Armstrong, Chuckey-Doak High School; Richard Vradenburgh, West Greene High School; Ivory Shelton, Unicoi County High School; Nathaniel “Trey” Dodson, Jefferson County High School; and Matthew Sheppard, Sullivan South High School.

GAGE ARMSTRONG is a student at Chuckey-Doak High School where he has maintained a 4.0 GPA and ranks first in his class. He serves as co-president of the National Honors Society at Chuckey-Doak, participates in varsity baseball, the Scholar’s Bowl team and Round Robin team. He is a member of Greene County Youth Council, Greene County Youth Leadership and has served as a Student Board Member of the Greene County Board of Education. He was appointed “Aide-de-Camp” during his visit to Nashville as a delegate of The Greene County Youth Leadership Program. Gage is the son of Michael and Laurie Armstrong of Afton.

NATHANIEL “TREY” DODSON is a student at Jefferson County High School. He has maintained a 4.0 GPA and ranks first in his class. He serves as captain of the varsity football team and as a member of the varsity track and basketball teams. He is president of the Patriot Events Council and is co-president of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes Leadership Board. He is a member of various clubs and organizations including the Key Club, Beta Club, and the Student Council. He participates in the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce Youth Leadership Program. Trey is the son of Mary Dodson of Jefferson City.

IVORY SHELTON is a student at Unicoi County High School with a cumulative GPA of 4.0 and a ranking of first in her class. She serves as Student Council president, Beta Club parliamentarian and co-chairman of the UCHS Relay for Life. She was chosen by the faculty to receive the Female Underclassman Citizenship award and as Junior Marshall. Ivory was selected as a delegate to the Student Congress on Policies in Education (SCOPE), inducted into the National Honors Society, and voted by her peers as “Most Likely to Succeed.” She is co-captain of the Varsity Basketball team. Ivory is the daughter of Roger and Brenda Shelton of Erwin.

MATTHEW SHEPPARD attends Sullivan South High School where he has maintained a 4.0 GPA and ranks first in his class. He serves as president of Student Council, Key Club president, DECA Club treasurer, and track team manager. Matt was recognized by the local Kiwanis Club as the 2011 Outstanding Key Clubber. He is a member of National Honors Society and various other clubs and organizations including DECA, in which he placed first in regional competition in the area of finance. He is a Tennessee/Virginia Scholar and participated in the Student Congress on Policies in Education (SCOPE). He is involved with SHOUT, a community leadership program for selected high school students. Matt is the son of Gerald and Melanie Sheppard of Kingsport.

RICHARD VRADENBURGH attends West Greene High School where he maintains a 4.0 GPA and ranks first in his class. He serves as Student Council president, president of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and Chess Club president. Richard is captain of the Varsity Cross Country team. He is a member of various clubs and organizations including the National Honors Society and West Greene’s Round Robin team. He placed first in geometry competition at the 2010 Regional Mathematics Contest hosted by Tusculum College. He is a member of Greene County Youth Leadership and was voted “Best All-Around” by the senior class. Richard is the son of William Vradenburgh of Mohawk.

The Niswonger Foundation’s mission is “To create opportunities for individual and community growth through education and other sustainable projects.” The Foundation’s primary programs are the Scholarship and Leadership Program, and the School Partnership Program.

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4/5/2011

UPDATE ON i3 GRANT FROM EDUCATION WEEK

Education Week


April 5, 2011


'i3' Grant Winners Slowly Building Momentum


Eight months into program, recipients gain momentum


By Michele McNeil

In rural Tennessee, seven college and career counselors are working in 29 high schools to get students on track for life after graduation. In New Orleans, a nonprofit group has hand-picked three charter-management organizations that will take over three of the city’s lowest-performing schools. And in Beaverton, Ore., teachers are partnering with local artists to improve literacy in elementary grades.

The school districts and nonprofits behind those three programs—and the 46 others financed by the federal Investing in Innovation fund—are working to prove that their brand of intervention not only improves student achievement, but also can be duplicated across the country. The i3 winners are eight months into a $650 million experiment by the U.S. Department of Education to encourage partnerships between school districts and the nonprofit sector in a nationwide effort to identify and grow the most promising education ideas.

“We’re not seeing the impact yet in terms of statistical data, but what we are seeing already is the impact on attitudes and the impact of having this infusion of money coming into our system,” said Linda Irwin, the director of school partnerships for the Niswonger Foundation, in Greeneville, Tenn., which won a $17.7 million award to better prepare students in 15 districts in the rural northeastern part of the state for college and careers.


The i3 prizes are funded through some $100 billion in education aid from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act—the economic-stimulus package Congress passed in 2009. The projects, which require some matching funding from the private sector, are on a three-to five-year trajectory and are just getting started. Through the end of March, the winners had spent just $14 million collectively.

But grant monitoring by the Education Department, which is pushing Congress to fund another round of i3, has already begun, said Jefferson Pestronk, a special assistant to James H. Shelton, the assistant deputy secretary for innovation and improvement.


In November, the first annual performance reports from each grant winner will be due to the department. In addition, winners must file the same quarterly spending reports that all recipients of stimulus funding must file.

Separately, the Institute of Education Sciences, the research arm of the department, has signed a $9.5 million contract with Abt Associates Inc., based in Cambridge, Mass., to evaluate the overall i3 program, which includes providing technical and methodological expertise to the outside researchers who will be evaluating the individual programs. Each i3 hopeful also must line up an outside, independent evaluator for its program.

Evidence of effectiveness has been important to the i3 program from the outset. To win a grant, applicants had to show a track record of success, as programs with the strongest evidence of past effectiveness won the largest awards. The definitions of “strong” and “moderate” evidence embedded in the i3 rules may become a part of future Education Department grant competitions.

“It’s striking to me that this is the very first time that evidence has really mattered,” said Robert E. Slavin, the director of the Center for Research and Reform in Education at Johns Hopkins University, in Baltimore. The school improvement organization he co-founded, Success for All, won a $49 million i3 grant. “This is a moment in history in which we have funds that are dedicated to programs with strong evidence of effectiveness.”

For many i3 winners, the grant-funded programs offer specific answers to education problems that have persisted for years.

In rural northeastern Tennessee, the graduation rate is 61 percent and unemployment is 16 percent. Less than 10 percent of adults have a college degree. For the Niswonger Foundation and its 15 partner school districts, the i3 grant is funding a comprehensive plan to change the culture of the region’s students and families and to better equip them for careers and college.

Fresh Answers
To start, the foundation has spread seven college and career counselors throughout its 29 partner high schools, to work alongside traditional counselors. They’ve developed materials to help parents understand the importance of postsecondary training and navigate federal student financial-aid forms.

To address the rigor of students’ coursework, the grant is funding the addition of an upper-level statistics course and distance-learning foreign-language classes (French, Spanish, Mandarin, and Latin) this fall. The state recently toughened its standards and added foreign-language requirements, leaving rural schools struggling to catch up, Ms. Irwin said. New online Algebra 2 tutorials also are available, and this fall, 12 new online Advanced Placement classes will be available.

In New Orleans, the state-run Recovery School District is still working to turn around the city’s lowest-performing schools in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The nonprofit New Schools for New Orleans, which partnered with the school district, is using its $28 million grant to turn around the remaining nine “academically unacceptable” schools (as labeled by the state’s accountability system). New Schools for New Orleans just picked three charter-management organizations—two current operators and one new one—to take over three of those schools this fall.

Also as part of i3, New Schools will duplicate its program in Tennessee, working with a similar nonprofit organization and that state’s Achievement School District, which is Tennessee’s mechanism to turn around struggling schools.

“I don’t think opening charter schools is necessarily innovative. This is the meta-system level you’re building,” said Neerav Kingsland, the chief strategy officer for New Schools for New Orleans. “What we’re doing is coordinating a group of actors. It’s a new way of organizing urban areas to serve the at-risk kids.”

The Beaverton school district, outside Portland, Ore. is struggling to improve reading, writing, and literacy skills for about one-quarter of its 38,500 students, many of whom are designated as low-income, English-language learner, or special education. Writing is a particular problem: Nearly 40 percent of 10th graders fail to meet state standards in the subject.

The district will use a $4 million grant to implement an “Arts for Learning” program in grades 3, 4, and 5 in half its elementary schools. (The half not participating in the program are serving as the “control” schools for purposes of the research evaluation.) The program uses visiting artists and lessons focused on different fine or performing arts to drive home lessons in reading and writing.

Already this school year, one teacher in each grade level is serving as a “lead teacher” who is implementing the program, with the goal of building capacity among the remaining teachers once the project expands this fall.

Finding Partners
Still, grantees have encountered challenges.

Success for All has had trouble recruiting schools to embrace a comprehensive reform strategy—or participate in the companion research component—in an era of tight state and local budgets and possible teacher layoffs.

The group has recruited 100 schools to use its model in the fall. At the end of its five-year grant, Success for All, plans to have added 1,100 schools to its national network.

“It’s hard to get people thinking about research and school reform when they’re laying off staff and making hard choices,” Mr. Slavin said. “We’re still confident we’ll get to 1,100.”

For the Niswonger Foundation, getting the program up and running in January and February was tough since some of its partner districts missed 26 days of school because of harsh winter weather. In addition, coordinating the needs across 15 far-flung rural school systems and 29 high schools has proved challenging. “We have such a wide range of schools,” Ms. Irwin said, “we want to make sure we’re meeting everyone’s needs.”

Coverage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is supported in part by grants from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, at www.hewlett.org, and the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, at www.mott.org.

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4/5/2011

SOUTHEAST REGIONAL RURAL SUMMIT

 

Save The Date for The Southeast Regional Rural Summit


July 19-20 in Nashville, TN


Our aim is to bring together rural educators, administrators, policymakers, and other stakeholders for two days of engaging sessions to highlight best practices and influence regional and national policy.

The speaker lineup includes Former Sen. Majority Leader Bill Frist; U.S. Department of Education Deputy Assistant Secretary for Rural Outreach John White; Rural Trust Executive Director Doris Williams; Assistant Director, Policy Analysis & Advocacy for the American Association of School Administrators Noelle Ellerson and more.

Tentative session topics include using technology to improve student achievement, strategies for improving high school graduation and college completion rates, implications of federal policy for rural school districts, bolstering principal success, increasing teacher retention, and improving early childhood education.

Co-hosted by the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, Ayers Foundation, Niswonger Foundation, the Rural School and Community Trust, and the Tennessee School Boards Association.

If you are interested in attending, please email rural@tennesseescore.org.

Details will be forthcoming.


www.tnscore.org

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2/11/2011

NISWONGER FOUNDATION SELECTS FIVE NEW SCHOLARS

The NISWONGER FOUNDATION, formed by businessman and philanthropist Scott M. Niswonger, has selected five high school seniors to join the Niswonger Scholars program. Currently, there are 22 Niswonger Scholars, with the new Scholars bringing the total to 27. The Foundation also has 32 alumni of the program.

NISWONGER SCHOLARS are chosen primarily for their leadership potential and commitment to the betterment of themselves and their home communities. Niswonger Scholars are not limited to a particular college or area of study. They are required to participate in leadership development activities and encouraged to pursue internships and study abroad. Most importantly, they commit to return to Northeast Tennessee for at least one year of service in the career of their choice for each year they receive scholarship support. The hope is that by enabling these students to pursue their academic passions and by cultivating their leadership abilities, they will return to their homes to be leaders in their professions and a catalyst for future change.

The five new Northeast Tennessee Scholars are Jordan Frye, Sullivan East, Lillie Seal, Hancock, Michael “Alex” Smyth, West Greene, Christopher Steadman, Dobyns-Bennett and Francisco Vargas, University School.

JORDAN FRYE is a student at Sullivan East High School where she has maintained a 4.0 GPA and ranks first in her class. She serves as Student Council president, Art Club president, Key Club president and senior class president. She is also a member of the National Honor Society, Beta Club, Eco Club, French Club and serves as captain of the National Forensics League. Her honors include Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership Ambassador, Bristol Public Library Worldview Scholar and Tennessee/Virginia Scholar. Jordan is the daughter of Paul and Gena Frye of Piney Flats.

LILLIE SEAL attends Hancock County High School where she is a member of Student Council, dance team and softball team. She chairs the school’s social committee. Lillie served as an American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO) volunteer soccer referee. She is a 4-H Honor Roll member and received a scholarship as 4-H Dairy Products Judging Tennessee State Champion. Lillie is the daughter of Mark and Diane Seal of Sneedville.

MICHAEL “ALEX” SMYTH is a student at West Greene High School with a cumulative GPA of 4.0 and ranks 1st in his class. He serves as vice president of his senior class and was named Student Representative on the Greene County School Board. He was named Who’s Who among American High School Students and is a Tennessee Scholar. Alex participated in Student Congress on Policies in Education and National Children of the Earth (COE) Youth Leadership Congress where he was named Master of Ceremonies. Alex is the son of Mike and Michele Smyth of Mosheim.

CHRISTOPHER STEADMAN is a student at Dobyns-Bennett High School. He received the Rotary National Outstanding Student award. He lettered on the football and wrestling teams.  He is a member of the Beta Club. He is also a member of Boy Scouts of America and is pursuing Eagle Scout rank. He is a Tennessee/Virginia Scholar and a member of the National Honor Society. Christopher is the son of Steven and Mary Steadman of Blountville.

FRANCISCO VARGAS attends University School where he is a member of the Beta Club, Key Club, French Club co-president, Pep Club vice president, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Varsity Soccer team captain, and Cross Country team captain. He is fluent in three languages. Francisco is the son of Jose` Fernando Ochoa and Rosa Maria Vargas of Johnson City.

The Niswonger Foundation’s mission is “To create opportunities for individual and community growth through education.” The Foundation’s primary programs are the Scholarship and Leadership Training Program, and the School Partnership Program.

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