Sign Up for Our Newsletter

Facebook Twitter

Recent News




Back to Top


See What's Happening at Niswonger Online!







Back to Top



It is with regret that we again feel the need to cancel the Niswonger Foundation School Success Symposium. 


This was another tough decision, but one we felt was in the best interest of everyone's health and safety.  Although some things are beginning to return to somewhat normal, we are not comfortable bringing nearly one thousand people together in one place.  Therefore, we are cancelling the symposium for June 22, 2021.

Please feel free to contact us with any questions you might have regarding this event.


Back to Top


TDOE Announces Niswonger Foundation Selected to Manage AP Access for All Program

Program to Boost College Credit Attainment and Teacher Development


Today, the Tennessee Department of Education announced Tennessee-based Niswonger Foundation has been selected to develop and support the new Advanced Placement (AP) Access for All program designed to help more students earn college credit while in high school.


The AP Access for All program will provide students across the state access to AP courses virtually, ultimately eliminating financial barriers and supporting student enrollment in AP coursework not currently offered at their home high school.


"Putting all students on a path to success means thinking creatively, breaking down barriers, and putting the best interest of the student at the center of all we do.  Students who want to earn college credit through AP coursework shouldn't be limited by the availability of coursework at the school he or she attends," said Commissioner Penny Schwinn.  "AP Access for All creates more opportunities for our kids to be ready and successful in their lives after high school and invests in our teachers by giving them content knowledge to prepare their students for postsecondary success."


Niswonger will recruit teachers and students into the program, provide professional development and training for teachers, support the development of the course curriculum, offer platforms and resources for virtual students, and manage the AP test administration process so students can get college credit.


"The Niswnger Foundation has an extensive history of providing access to Advanced Placement courses to ensure rigorous academic opportunities, and preparedness for post-secondary success and career attainment," said Scott M. Niswonger, Chair and Founder, Niswonger Foundation.  "We have already witnessed the power of what can happen when this opportunity is provided.  We are honored to join the Tennessee Department of Education as partners in this visionary effort to prepare the next generation of leaders for Tennessee."


The Niswonger Foundation's interest in the program was sparked by the desire of the state to ensure access across all students in the state.


"We were first attracted to this project by one word - All," said Dr. Nancy Dishner, President and CEO of the Niswonger Foundation.  "We embrace the challenge that we can create a pathway so that all high school students in Tennessee will have an opportunity for this exceptional preparation for their future.  The goals of this program are strategically aligned with the mission of the Niswonger Foundation - 'to create opportunities for individual and community growth through education.' We welcome the opportunity to lead AP Access for All."


Funded through the federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund and Governor's Emergency Education Relief Fund, the Niswonger Foundation was selected through the competitive request for application (RFA) process.


For additional information about Tennessee's advanced placement courses, click here.


Back to Top


"Let's CHAT"

Youth Leadership Alums Spur Ambitious History Project


The Standard Banner - Jefferson County 

By: Mark Brown - Staff Writer


Patrick Darby (center) and Trey Dodson listen as
Glenmore Chair, Phil Kindred discusses the Branner 
and Jarnigan families (in photos) and the years each 
family lived in the home.


A new model for collecting and sharing local history is coming together in Jefferson County, thanks to the efforts of three JCHS and Youth Leadership alumni.  Their interest and willingness to give back to the community that empowered them is charming local leaders with whom they are working.


Called "Let's Chat," the project is developing into a multifaceted operation that will meld oral histories, online research and what are being called "landmark videos" into digital presentations focused on the places and people that embody Jefferson County's history.  The undertaking is ambitious, with a goal of between 45 and 50 digital videos that reveal facts, anecdotes and narratives embedded in buildings and places.


It began simply enough, with a Thanksgiving 2019 visit Trey made to his grandmother, Edna Glenn, in Jefferson City's Life Care Center.  What he thought might just be a few minutes of "hellos" and "love yous" became a magnificent couple of hours during which she reminisced about being a child and young woman in Jefferson City.  Her stories noted the fact that family members had been servants at Glenmore Mansion, where she said the matriarch Mary Jarnigan had been benevolent.


Shortly thereafter, while on a beach trip with the Bobby Jenkins family, Nancy Fox regaled Dodson with similar stories about the Douglas Lake area.  She told him she had taught children whose family members had "worked for the Swann family."


He said he couldn't help but compare and contrast the stories he learned from both sides of the county that he thought he knew so well.  The back to back experiences set the hook.


"I was like, I have learned more from these two conversations than I learned from a (local) historical standpoint at the high school."


Beyond his own enlightenment, Dodson said he realized in the moment what getting to share stories meant to the teller.


"There was a whole new energy and light," he said of his grandmother.  "She lit up in a way I hadn't seen in years."


That was the very beginning of a prototype that has evolved and that he is working with fellow JCHS graduates Patrick Darby and John Turner, both of whom are likewise Youth Leadership veterans.  Each makes a point to return and work on the project together when they can adjust their schedules to make it so.


Dodson, a 2012 alumnus and Niswonger Scholar, works in Dallas, Texas, as a human capital senior consultant with Deloitte.  Darby, of the 2013 class, is data analyst in process improvement for PepsiCo and based in St. Petersburg, Florida.  Another Niswonger Scholar, 2019 JCHS graduate John Turner is a sophomore economics major at the University of Tennessee and a Knoxville resident.


A visit home


The trio came home three weeks ago for a few days of collaboration and one dedicated to shooting footage and interviews at the Jefferson County Courthouse and at Glenmore.  They have been pooling their resources to cover expenses while working on budgets and getting to the stages when money is coming in from other sources.


The team members say they are pleased to work with County Historian Bob Jarnagin, JCHS teachers Brandy Arnold and Lani O'Connor and students who will collect personal narratives and become content providers.


"I want anyone, anywhere to be able to log on to the website and get lost for maybe an hour or two and learn about (our history)," Dodson explained.  "I've told Patrick and John, it was just an idea I had, 'Oh, let me record my grandmother, let's record some of these stories."  And I'm just so thankful I thought to do that...I've gone back to that video three or four times, just since she passed (January 30)."


Meaning of "CHAT"


As well as meaning informal conversation, "CHAT" is also an acronym that explains four missions encompassed in the project.  They are: community engagement, historical preservation, academic development and technology adoption.


Along with preserving personal and community history narratives, the endeavor will match high schoolers with senior citizens, in part to grant them creative outlets while fighting the loneliness made worse by a year's worth of isolation.  The Edna Glenn Scholarship will foster educational growth and incentivize excellent works and, finally, the campaign will help make electronic tablets available to older folks in hopes of fostering connection and continued storytelling.


Darby says he has been surprised by two things.  "The sheer support and excitement that people in the community, organizationally and personally, are having about this project.


"And, two, how much I have learned in just a short amount of time about Jefferson County.  I mean, I think when you're a high school student and you're going through the motions and you're in classes and you think about field trips and those things that you take.  But, I didn't really appreciate as much of the history of where I'm from as much as I do looking back now that I don't live here.  I'm looking back and thinking "Oh my God, this is so interesting."


A bonus to the enterprise is the fact that the three feel like they are reaping firsthand the benefit of para-educators like Jarnagin, Glenmore's Phil Kindred and others in the course of capturing interviews.


"Even today with the history and fun facts that Phil was giving us (a few minutes before) I was blown away with just the amount of history and how interesting I find it is now," said Darby.


Their operating procedure during the shoots has been to engage the experts in conversation beforehand, and then leave them alone to work strictly with videographers from Lion's Creative.  Dodson says the twofold benefit is that allows the presenter to focus on the material while he, Darby and Turner learn the history firsthand when they watch the recordings in the post-production stages.


An ambitious goal


"Our town through 10,000 stories," noted the backs of shirts each member of the triad wore the day of the shoot.


They know it's ambitious.


"You know what?" said Dodson.  "That's when we reach our first milestone - 10,000 stories."


That means they are interested in Jefferson Countians who have stories and who would love to tell them to high school students and frontline screeners.  The pandemic and vaccinations and reduced COVID rates all factor into the process, but a main takeaway is that collectors are going to be interested in talking to those who can help paint a collective portrait of this place.


Supporters needed


A key to the success of Let's Chat is businesses and corporate backers who will ante up the cost of videos like those in the works for the Courthouse and Glenmore.  Along with partnering for the project's success, underwriters can receive exclusive sponsorship rights and what the team says are promotion benefits each time a viewer watches a particular production.  (Those interested in learning more in general, making financial contributions or inquiring about underwriting opportunities may do so at


Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Derrick Collins says the new program developed by the three Youth Leadership alums is yet another demonstration of the success of investing in JCHS juniors.


"All of these guys were in different classes in different years," he said.  "And for them to come back to this community to foster a program of this magnitude for this county, it's exciting for us.  It gives us a chance to see that this program that we work on so diligently pays off in new ways.  We've always known it was successful but now people and Chamber partners will see that for themselves."


Turner hopes he gets to back home for his livelihood at some point in the not too distant future.  During a break from shooting, Collins and Turner laughed about the day they had a conversation about the future.


The then economic development leader asked the student about his dreams.


"Well, I'm not trying to be disrespectful, but I'm actually coming after your job," Collins recalled.


"Wait," Turner interjected Collins' retelling, to, affirm "but now you're in a different position, so that's okay."


The community entrepreneurs say they would not be where they are without Chamber support, including money the body made available for the initial shoots.


"The lion's share of the credit for how much progress has been made we need to give to Derrick and (his colleagues) Crystal (Morgan) and Donna (Yates)," complimented Dodson.  "They are managing economic development during a pandemic and are therefore super busy and they say 'Yeah' when we ask if they have an hour to talk about this or that."


County historian Jarnagin said his young friends' interest and enthusiasm has blown him away.


"I am absolutely thrilled these guys want to do this.  Let me tell you, for years there have been people in Dandridge that I have wanted to do this sort of thing with.  I wanted to interview them, or record them to get their stories down, but you wait a little while and pretty soon they're gone.


"I've always said, while doing walking tours and other things, I enjoy the school kids because I want this, our history, to carry on.  Each generation needs to carry on the history of the county so that it does not die."


Continuing, he said, "Look at our boards, look at the historical society and the genealogical society.  Look at the ages of people who were doing this sort of thing.  We don't have many young people interested in doing this sort of thing and we need them desperately."

Back to Top


Niswonger Foundation Alumni, Ben Fox, Named Head Coach at Maryville College

Ben Fox, a native of Gray, Tennessee and a Niswonger Foundation Alumni, Class of 2009,  was recently named the Head Coach at Maryville College.  Ben is a graduate and former quarterback of Daniel Boone High School. He earned a degree in Business Administration from Washington University and an MBA from Bryant University.  He was receivers coach and then offensive coordinator at Huntingdon College from 2012-2016.  He was offensive coordinator at Centre College from 2017 to 2019.  Ben stated, he is excited and humbled for this opportunity and happy to be closer to home and family.

Back to Top


Niswonger Online Turns 10 Years Old!

Back to Top




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 that will focus on educational opportunities in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). This five-year grant, with the required matching funds, will provide $8.8 million dollars to serve schools in 21 school districts, grades 6-12, in Northeast Tennessee.  Niswonger stated: "It is gratifying to see the Niswonger Foundation, again, recognized on the "national stage" for our efforts in support of rural education and providing the best quality instruction for students in our region."


The United States Department of Education selected 28 grant recipients based on recommendations from independent peer review panelist.  The successful applications represented 17 states and the District of Columbia.  The Niswonger Foundation was the only grant recipient in the state of Tennessee.


The Niswonger Foundation has enlisted a stellar lineup of organizations to support this work.  Partners will include the BioBuilder Foundation, located at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), a program that will introduce students to synthetic biology; cybersecurity experiential opportunities from the University of Alabama at Huntsville; expertise in curriculum design in engineering technology from Purdue University; East Tennessee State University's math, epidemiology, graphics design and computer science programs; the ETSU Research Corporation; and STEM project-based programs including STREAMWORKS, the Marine Advanced Technology in Education for Inspiration and Innovation; and "If I Had a Hammer." Niswonger commented: "The list of experts who will be onboard for this work creates an unprecedented opportunity for students in this region.  This can be a game-changer for our future."


This grant will be used to fund a program entitled: Rural Tennessee STEM LD.  The Foundation's staff was influenced by the concept of Learning Design (the "LD" in "STEM.LD"), defined as "the creative and deliberate act of devising new practices, plans of activity, resources and tools aimed at achieving particular educational results in a given context."  The Niswonger Foundation believes that designing student-centered learning ecosystems and pathways can lead to positive student outcomes, from K-12 student achievement to meaningful employment in the workforce post-high school.


The major components of this grant include: 1) strengthening the teaching/learning classroom experiences with engaging materials for students and professional development of teachers; 2) experiential out-of-school time opportunities to explore STEM content; and 3) expanding participation in rigorous STEM and dual enrollment courses.  This work will include conducting formative and summative evaluations of the project in order to continuously improve.  AnLar, LLC will serve as the external evaluator of this work.


The majority of the 126 schools in this project are designated rural (63%).  Approximately 57,000 students will benefit from this program; and at least 48% of these students are considered high-risk/low income.  Dr. Nancy Dishner, Niswonger Foundation President and CEO commented on the strength of the Consortium of Northeast Tennessee school systems: "We are uniquely positioned to receive national attention because of our strong consortium of school systems and system leadership.  We provide convincing evidence of what you can accomplish when you work in partnership."  The team of Dr. Richard Kitzmiller, Niswonger Foundation Vice President, Law Loving, the Foundation's Director of Workforce Readiness, Bryce Warden, State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE), and Dishner prepared and submitted this grant.


This marks the third U.S. Department of Education grant received by the Niswonger Foundation.  Previously, the Foundation received a $21 million dollar Investing in Innovation Grant (i3), which was the precursor to this first-round of the EIR grants.  The initial Niswonger grant was recognized for having five statistically significant research findings.  Focused on college and career readiness, these 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.  The second Federal grant, Rural LIFE (Literacy Initiative Focused on Effectiveness) is currently serving 66 middle schools in the region.  The Foundation is also partnering with the New Teacher Center in another U.S. DOE EIR grant focused on professional development.  This grant is serving 89 schools in Northeast Tennessee.


Announcement from the Department of Education


Back to Top


Niswonger Foundation Partners With REL AP


 Research-Based Practices for Effective Remote Learning


Teachers are facing many challenges with student instruction during the Coronavirus pandemic, including bouncing between in-person classes, virtual learning, and hybrid instruction.  They are also called on to address students’ nonacademic needs during this unprecedented health crisis.  Educators across the country and around the world are working to discover the most effective methods for delivering online instruction to students in grades K-12.

Researchers from the Regional Educational Laboratory Appalachia (REL AP) have partnered with the Niswonger Foundation and education leaders in Northeast Tennessee to address these challenges.  This partnership has developed a train-the-trainer workshop series, which will focus on identified learning needs.

Participants in these free workshops will learn the most effective and productive methods of teaching/learning as they move forward in their schools and districts.  Following each workshop, participants will be able to apply what they have learned to their own instruction and be able to support their colleagues in providing high-quality remote instruction.  The workshops will focus on:

  • Supporting student engagement in a virtual environment;
  • Monitoring academic progress and providing feedback to students; and
  • Designing instruction for a hybrid model.

Trainers will receive:

  • A curated review of research on each of the topics listed above;
  • Examples of how to implement research-based interventions;
  • Opportunities to discuss strategies and challenges with other educators in Tennessee;
  • Materials designed to share the training in small segments with colleagues in the trainer’s home district; and
  • Small-group coaching support with researchers following each session.

The first workshop was held on December 8, with others scheduled for January and March.  More than 60 trainers have signed up; they, in turn, will work with hundreds of teachers in their home districts.  Early indications are that the partnership is working well; participants are enthusiastic about the training sessions and the materials.

Back to Top



The National College Attainment Network (NCAN) is thrilled to announce a class of NCAN Member Advocacy Fellows — 33 college attainment practitioners, who, over the next year, will engage in national higher education policy discussions. Among those selected was, Denise Arnold, Director of NiswongerCARE.

Each of the fellows have recruited two current college students to join them in this advocacy work. These 66 students collectively represent powerful voices to inform lawmakers of the great impact policy decisions can have on college access, affordability, and attainment. Niswonger Scholars, Jasmine Martin and Gustavo Castillo were chosen as the student fellows who will work alongside Ms. Arnold.  

Both the staff and student fellows recently engaged in NCAN’s 2020 #Thankful4Pell #DoublePell Advocacy Week Campaign (Nov. 16-20). This campaign centered on expressing to Congress how important the Pell Grant is to student success, and how doubling the maximum award would help restore the purchasing power of this crucial federal aid.

Through this new fellowship, our team, representing the Niswonger Foundation, will support NCAN’s efforts to advocate, in the shared mission to close equity gaps in postsecondary attainment for all students.

NCAN thanks the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for its generous support of our federal policy advocacy program.