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2014 News Archive



Niswonger Foundation Provides Twelfth Regional Young People’s Symphony Concert at NPAC


More than 2200 students from Northeast Tennessee elementary schools attended a performance of the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra at the Niswonger Performing Arts Center, in Greeneville, on November 5.  Sponsored by the Niswonger Foundation, the primary goal of this annual program is to provide the opportunity for children to see a quality orchestral performance. Each year, the concerts are specially designed as a teaching/learning experience.  The Niswonger Foundation supports the belief that developing an appreciation for the arts is an important aspect of becoming an educated person. 


The 2014 program took students on an “Indiana Jones” style adventure with Indie’s distant cousin Tennessee Smith.  With a theme of “Are We There Yet?” the musical adventure took the students on a cultural and geographic virtual journey. The students were first introduced to England, with the music of Handel’s “Royal Fireworks,” then to France with “Sous le Ciel de Paris,” on to Russia with Tchaikovsky’s “Marche Slav.” As the students echoed “Are we there yet?, ”  the orchestra proceeded on to the Czech Republic with Smetana’s “The Moldau,” to Venezuela with Romero’s “Fugo con Pajarillo” and finally back to the United Stated with John Williams’ “Raiders of the Lost Ark” theme song. Curriculum materials, including CD’s and lesson plans, were provided to teachers in advance of the concert so students could be prepared for the concepts introduced during the live concert experience.

The special guest performers for this concert were a Drum and Dance Ensemble from Austin East High School, Knoxville, Tennessee. The Knoxville Symphony Orchestra was under the direction of Maestro James Fellenbaum.

The Niswonger Foundation was established in 2001 by Greeneville businessman and philanthropist Scott M. Niswonger. The Foundation’s mission is “To create opportunities for individual and community growth through education and other sustainable projects.” The primary programs are the Scholarship and Leadership Program, and the School Partnership Program.  Additional information regarding the work of the Foundation is available at











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Scott M. Niswonger, President and Founder of the Niswonger Foundation, and the members of the staff welcomed First District Congressman Phil Roe for an update on the Foundation’s successes with the Investing in Innovation (i3) grant from the U.S. Department of Education, partnerships and programs with school systems in Northeast Tennessee, and the Niswonger Scholars program. 

The grant update, led by Vivian Franklin, Executive Director of the i3 Grant, began with an overview on the Niswonger Online program and the infrastructure that has been put in place to make available 35 rigorous online courses to the region’s 30 high schools and 26,000 students. 

The grant report also indicated that the Niswonger Foundation has provided the opportunity for 297 of the region’s teachers to be trained as Advanced Placement (AP) instructors. There is a total of 25 different subject areas of AP classes being taught in Northeast Tennessee.  Amanda Weems, Principal at North Greene High School, and James Rosenbalm, AP history teacher at North Greene, were on hand to share their experiences with the delivery of the AP instruction and the value of the training for the region’s teachers. Due to the i3 Grant, North Greene High School has been able to add the first AP instruction in the school’s history.  Both educators shared their appreciation to the Niswonger Foundation, stating that these opportunities for their students could not have been provided otherwise. 

The Niswonger Foundation’s College and Career Counselors shared first-hand accounts of the students who have been impacted by the “college and career ready” goal of this grant.  Their efforts in the high schools include assistance with career planning, completing college applications, assisting with financial aid applications (FAFSA), planning college visits, and informing students of the availability of resources such as Niswonger Online. The counselors provided Congressman Roe with a “virtual visit” to their schools with a video produced by Counselors Shawn Stewart and Julina Pyanoe. 

Dr. Richard Kitzmiller, STEM Coordinator for the Niswonger Foundation discussed the opportunity the grant has provided to increase technology in the region’s high schools.  He shared the successes of STEM-focused summer programs for students and professional development for educators.  Dr. Kitzmiller also noted the Foundation’s work in Career Technical Education. 

Dr. Nancy Dishner, Executive Vice President of the Niswonger Foundation highlighted the Foundation’s work beyond the i3 Grant.  She shared that the Foundation’s school programs address many needs.  Dr. Dishner highlighted efforts to assist schools that are challenged to be successful because of resource or professional development needs.  The partnership efforts also extend to the region’s higher education institutions.

Dr. Dishner discussed the prestigious Niswonger Scholars program.  She described the components of leadership training and expectations of the Scholars, while highlighting that they are committed to returning to “live, work and serve” in Northeast Tennessee.  “We are building the next generation of leaders for our region,” Dishner stated. 

Law Loving, Niswonger Scholars Class of 2012 addressed the group.  He shared the importance of the training aspect of the program, while focusing on the fact that his family would have been unlikely to be able to provide the college experience he was able to receive. Mr. Loving is a graduate of Tulane University.  He is employed as a quantitative analyst with Smarty Pants marketing research company, in Jonesborough.  He is also completing an M.B.A. at East Tennessee State University. 

Scott M. Niswonger closed the presentation with remarks about his initial vision for the Niswonger Foundation and his pride in the work that has been accomplished.  He stated to the staff, “You have taken my dream and made it a much greater reality than I could have envisioned.” 

Congressman Roe expressed appreciation for the Foundation’s work.  He particularly spoke of the importance of early counseling and direction for children, referencing the book “I Got Schooled” by M. Night Shyamalan. He encouraged the Foundation to remember the importance of early intervention for the development of children. 

Congressman Roe serves on the U.S. House of Representatives Education and the Workforce Development Committee. 

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The International Storytelling Center (ISC), producer of the National Storytelling Festival, is pleased to introduce a new live video streaming feature that offers just a glimpse of what takes place at ISC's signature event of the year.  

Held during the first full weekend in October each year, this world-renowned event celebrates storytelling at its most magical.  To storytelling enthusiasts unable to make it to Jonesborough this year - wherever you are in the world - we hope you will enjoy this special showcase live from the Library Tent, just one of the five tents on the National Storytelling Festival grounds in Jonesborough, Tennessee.

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In partnership with the Niswonger Foundation a workshop was held at the Tennessee College of Applied Technology on Tuesday, July 15 for more than 50 high school counselors and career and technical education instructors from the northeast Tennessee region.

The group toured the campus gaining detailed knowledge of the school’s program offerings.

During the tour, they spoke with students and instructors about how TCAT’s programs function, the job possibilities and salary expectations after certificates are earned.

Jerry Patton, TCAT Director, stated, “In recent years, the college has evolved its curriculum to help meet the needs and demands of the local job sector and foreseeable future careers.  I have learned recently that more than 1,000 jobs are available within the Lakeway Area from within the career center and are not being filled because the available workforce doesn’t have necessary skills for the jobs.” 

These factors have prompted TCAT to increase the rigor as well as technology in the classroom.  They have incorporated rapid prototyping systems, such as a 3-D printer, into the curriculum of the drafting and CAD course, as one example.

Patton shared that TCAT will be a part of the Tennessee Promise, Governor Haslam’s initiative, offering free higher education for all graduates in the coming year and expects that enrollment will increase from that.

Carlos Hammonds, CTE Coordinator for the Niswonger Foundation, stated, “A lot of people fail to realize how much science and math is involved in the career and technical education classes.  You go into an auto shop class and you have to read measurements and make sure it’s precise, so those skills are necessary beforehand.”

Dale Schneitman, Dual Enrollment Coordinator for the Niswonger Foundation shared, “with branch campuses in Greeneville and Phipps Bend in Hawkins County, as well as in Tazewell, there are opportunities for high school students to take dual enrollment classes and be prepared quicker for a career or further education. It is not just the provision of skills, there’s some really good work going on here.”

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Deja Chapman, a 2014 Greeneville High School graduate, received an invitation to participate in a discussion with First Lady Michelle Obama at the White House on Tuesday, July 8, 2014. Deja was one of ten recent high school graduates from across the nation selected for this special opportunity. The White House called the event “Beating the Odds.”  As the name implies, the attendees were selected because they come from challenging life circumstances, have succeeded in high school, and have established clear goals for completing a college education.  By accepting the invitation, Deja was asked to share with Mrs. Obama her life experiences and how more students can be encouraged to see post-secondary education as a goal for their future. 

She was accompanied to Washington, D.C. by Angelia Rodriguez, Director of the Family Support Center for Greeneville City Schools. Ms. Rodriguez has been a mentor to Deja since her arrival in Greeneville at the age of 11.  Commenting about their experience, Ms. Rodriguez said: “Dr. James Comer states that "no significant growth occurs without a significant relationship." I believe that relationship is key to the foundation of healthy beginnings in every area of life.  This life-altering adventure has been just that for Deja and for the other amazing nine students who participated with this opportunity. I am honored to have played a small part in this life-altering experience. Thank you does not adequately express the gratitude and appreciation to the Niswonger Foundation for their role in this monumental occasion and for their dedication to our students, schools, and communities.”

Deja’s selection was the result of a contact to the Niswonger Foundation by the United States Department of Education.  Greg Darnieder, Senior Advisor to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan contacted the Foundation for assistance in identifying a student to participate in this discussion.  In addition to the time spent at the White House, the student representatives visited the U. S. Department of Education for a meeting with Commissioner Duncan.

The Niswonger Foundation has gained a national reputation for their work in the areas of rural education and college and career readiness. As examples, their work in 30 of the region’s high schools has dramatically impacted the number of available online and Advanced Placement courses; the number of high school students taking college level courses; and science, engineering, technology and mathematics (STEM) instruction.  The Niswonger Foundation’s nine College and Career Counselors have an established program of working with regional high school students in preparing for post-secondary education. 

Mrs. Obama has a focus on assisting our nation’s students in seeing post-secondary education as a goal for their lives. Her college and career focused efforts align closely with the mission and work of the Niswonger Foundation in Northeast Tennessee. Foundation President and Founder Scott M. Niswonger commented:” Deja represents what our work is about, every day, at the Niswonger Foundation. We want the students of our region to not see challenges as roadblocks, but to see them as opportunities. Deja’s clear focus on personal excellence and perseverance sets a perfect example for other students to follow.  We were proud to have her as a representative for our region”

Deja was raised in a military family. Her mother and step-father are Army veterans.  Her mother has served in the military for 15 years.  Her step-father is a 20 year veteran. Both have been deployed several times. She spent her young life moving to different army bases with her family.  In the seventh grade, she was brought to Greeneville, Tennessee to live with her grandmother, where she remains today. 

In high school, Deja was a cheerleader, member of the dance team, and a section leader of her chorus. In choir, she received honors as “All East” and “All State.”  She was also a member of the Key Club, Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the 1st Priority Club.  She has received numerous awards including National Honor Society, Tennessee Scholar, Honor Scholar, Honors Diploma, Graduate of Distinction, and Student of the Year for AHERN, Inc.  Deja serves as president of her church Youth Board, and is the first recipient of the Fannye M. Jones Scholarship, which honors exceptional African-American students in Greene County, Tennessee.

In speaking of this opportunity, Deja stated: “Meeting First Lady Michelle Obama was an experience more special than I could have imagined.  In the few moments that the other students and I shared with her, we were able to establish a sense of safety and trust which allowed us to openly share our stories.  Mrs. Obama gave us each her full attention. She expressed her dedication to helping students like us succeed.  As hard as I try, I simply cannot put into words how incredible she is as a leader and person.” 

Deja’s passion is science. She has received a scholarship to attend Pennsylvania State University. After completing her undergraduate degree, she envisions attending Duke Medical School and becoming a pediatric oncologist.

Dr. Linda Stroud, Director of Greeneville City Schools commented: “Deja Chapman embodies the character and accomplishments that Greeneville City Schools and Greeneville High School strive to instill in all of our students.  We simply could not be more proud of her and we are honored that Deja was chosen for this once in a lifetime opportunity.   I know that Deja has a bright future and will continue to beat all odds as she continues her education and career.”

In summary, Deja commented: “This experience has helped me with my transition to college.  I leave for my orientation at Penn State next week.  I will forever be grateful to the Niswonger Foundation and Dr. Linda Stroud for providing me with this opportunity and supporting me through it.” When asked what directs her in life, Deja commented:  “I realize the future is uncertain.  However, I believe one should plan like it is certain!” 

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2013 National Teacher of the Year Jeff Charbonneau

On Thursday, June 19th hundreds of educators from around the region were in Greeneville for the Niswonger Foundation's eighth annul School Success Symposium.  We were honored to have as our keynote speaker, Mr. Jeff Charbonneau, 2013 National Teacher of the Year.  This award-winning teacher, from Zillah High School, in Washington's Yakima Valley has been described as "a whirlwind on a mission."   His work at Zillah helped transform this small school into a place where nearly every student graduates with some college credit.  He is known for his innovative, enthusiastic, challenging and motivating style of instruction. 

During his keynote, Mr. Charbonneau stated, "The real impact that we have as teachers, the real thing that we do, is, we are the guardians and we are the nurturers of hope."

"We show kids what it's like to believe in themselves, to be self-sufficient, to have courage, and to know what it's like to be a productive member of society, to give them hope in themselves and in their future."

Mr. Scott Niswonger, founder and president of the Niswonger Foundation, introduced Mr. Charbonneau to the more than 800 educators in attendence.  During his introduction, Mr. Niswonger stated, "Charbonneau is the type of teacher every student deserves to have."

After the keynote, the educators had more than 80 sessions from which to choose.  Each of the learning opportunities was designed to share best practices in the region's schools.  The focus of the sessions was on continued implementation of Tennessee's Common Core State Standards.  All of the sessions were facilitated by teachers, school leaders, and other community specialists.  Mr. Charbonneau joined the sessions, and also led one on STEM.

We are thankful for the many people who worked hard to make this year's School Success Symposium a memorable event.

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2014 SUMMER PD.docx

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Greeneville - Scott M. Niswonger, President and Founder of the Niswonger Foundation, received national recognition as he was chosen by the Development District Association of Appalachia (DDAA) to receive the 2014 Donald R. Myers Humanitarian Award. Mr. Niswonger was honored by a special award ceremony in Washington, D.C., on Monday, March 24, 2014. 

This award was dedicated by the DDAA in 2009 in memory of Donald Myers, who was executive director of the Ohio Mid-Eastern Governments Association and president of the Eastern Ohio Development Alliance (EODA). Known as a dedicated public servant and champion of the people of Appalachia, Myers exemplified the humanitarian spirit the award was created to recognize and honor.

Mr. Niswonger was cited by the DDAA for his leadership and service in the cause of numerous educational, community and economic development endeavors. In particular, his commitment to the Niswonger Foundation and the Niswonger Scholars, the Niswonger Performing Arts Center, the Niswonger Children’s Hospital, the development of downtown Greeneville, and his support of the region’s higher education institutions were named as evidence of his humanitarian work. He was commended for his tireless efforts that have greatly contributed to the growth and development of Northeast Tennessee and enhanced the quality of life for many of the region’s residents.

 During the presentation, it was stated that “Mr. Niswonger’s philosophy of Learn, Earn, and Return has helped to empower the region’s young people.”  Dr. Mike Antrican, Director of Schools for Hancock County, was quoted as stating: “How do you show appreciation for someone who has provided so much for your school system and who has made it possible to do the impossible?  Scott Niswonger has been a God-send for Hancock County and the entire First District of Tennessee.  His philanthropic spirit has brought cutting edge technological advantages to our students who otherwise would have left high school without the benefit of this required knowledge.  His spotlight on education focuses on the people who will be responsible for the future of our nation.  The Humanitarian Award could not be given to anyone more deserving. ”


The DDAA is a membership organization of the 73 local development districts (LDDs) in the Appalachian Region. The DDAA works to strengthen LDDs and their member governments and to provide leadership to support the Appalachian Regional Commission's federal-state-local partnerships.

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The Niswonger Foundation has partnered with Tennessee Code Academy to provide weeklong day camps for 150 students in the Northeast Tennessee region this summer in order to address the projected million-job deficit of computer science majors by 2020.  Funding through the Niswonger Foundation i3 grant will allow students to get a jump start into a career or college degree.

The weeklong day camp will teach young people the basics of computer programming, including HTML, PHP, design fundamentals and web application.  Students will learn from expert mentors, programmers and various industry experts throughout the week.  The grant funding will cover the $300 cost for those who attend high school within the 15 school districts the Niswonger Foundation covers.




ETSU                               Tusculum                             Walters State


June 9 – 13 and             June 2 – 6 and                    June 16 – 20 and

June 23 – 27                   June 9 – 13                         June 23 – 27





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Congratulations to Cherokee High School Robotics Class! The Niswonger Foundation and our i3 team is proud to be a part of this project!



March 13, 2014

By Jeff Bobo

ROGERSVILLE - The Tennessee Department of Education will be looking at Cherokee High School's robotics class as it develops a high school robotics curriculum for use across the state.


At the same time, the Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology (TCAT) in both Morristown and Surgoinsville are looking to align their own programs with the Cherokee class so that students can make a seamless transition into the TCAT program after high school graduation.


The goal is to train students for the industrial jobs of the present and future, but it's also turning out to be quite a bit of fun for students.


In fact, the program's origins trace back to Cherokee's Robotics Club, which built robots from the ground up and entered them in competitions over the previous two school years.


Cherokee High School launched the state's first robotics class in the 2013-14 school year.


Area industries had already been supportive of the club when interest was expressed in adding the robotics class.  To create the class, several area industries contributed equipment as well as instructors to assist the class' regular teacher.


The school also received a $64,000 grant from the Niswonger Foundation to purchase four industrial "trainer" robots.


Wayland Seaton - the Hawkins County Schools CTE (career technical education) director - updated the County Commission's Education Committee on the new robotics class last week.  He said four instructors from area industries will be assisting Cherokee's robotics teacher for the next eight weeks.


Another eight engineers from Baldor, Mahle, Cooper Standard, Barrette Enterprises, Odello and TRW have been meeting weekly with Cherokee Vice Principal Bobby Edens to develop the curriculum.  Edens has shepherded the program since the club was founded two years ago.


"The state is going to look at Cherokee's curriculum and see if it's appropriate for its use," Seaton said.  "The state is going to add robotics to its curriculum next fall."


"The Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology (TCAT) is very much interested in this project," Seaton added.  "They're looking at including robotics into their programs (in Surgoinsville and Morristown), so we're going to align what we're doing at Cherokee with the technology center so the students can take the classes at Cherokee and then move on into that program (at TCAT)."


The newly completed Cherokee student robot will be entered in the FIRST Robotics Competition in Knoxville at the end of the month.  The new robot, which took about six weeks to complete, picks up and throws oversized dodge balls through a hoop.


"This is not a kit," Seaton said.  "This was built entirely at Cherokee High School from just pieces and things they put together.  The engineers were part of it, but the students did the construction."


Assistant Director of Schools Steve Starnes told the committee the students receive their robot specifications from the competition in January, and they have six weeks to build the robot to those specifications using approved materials.


"This is actually the third year that they'll be competing in Knoxville at the FIRST Robotics Competition," Starnes said.  "They placed real well the first year.  They had to shoot a basketball the first year, they had to throw Frisbees last year, and there's also a climbing component."


Committee member Danny Alvis, who retired from Baldor, said he recognized the names of several instructors teaching Cherokee's class, and he said the students are in good hands.


"The kids who go through this program will have a heads-up when they apply for a job in Baldor, TRW, Mahle - because they're all using robotics on their manufacturing lines," Alvis said.  "Someone has to program them, and soneone has to work on them, and someone has to operate them.  There's some good jobs out there."



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Niswonger Foundation Supports Eleventh Regional Young People’s Concert


More than 200 students from Northeast Tennessee elementary schools attended a performance of the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra at the Niswonger Performing Arts Center, in Greeneville, on March 4.  Sponsored by the Niswonger Foundation, the primary goal of this annual program is to provide the opportunity for children to see a quality orchestral performance.  Each year, the concerts are specially designed as a teaching/learning experience.  The Niswonger Foundation supports the belief that developing an appreciation for the arts is an important aspect of becoming an educated person.

The 2014 program explored the development of music and the different periods of music history.  Using quiz show formats like “Jeopardy” and “Who Wants to be a Millionaire,” the children were engaged in learning about composers, instruments, musical eras, and compositions from the Renaissance, Baroque, Romantic and Contemporary periods.  The children explored the development of music including Bach’s “Branderburg Concerto No. 3,” Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro,” Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker Suite,” and Bernstein’s “Rhapsody in Blue.”  Curriculum materials, including CD’s and lesson plans, were provided to teachers in advance of the concert so students could be prepared for the concepts introduced during the live concert experience.

The special guest performers for this concert were the University of Tennessee Chamber Singers.  The Knoxville Symphony Orchestra was under the direction of Maestro James Fellenbaum.

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Niswonger Foundation Contributes to Sullivan North High School

From Technology to Music, Foundation Responds to Educational Needs


The Niswonger Foundation is working to address both a curricular and extra-curricular need at Sullivan North High School, in Kingsport. 


Disaster struck the Sullivan North High School band program when water from a fire sprinkler malfunction did nearly $30,000 in damage to musical instruments, supplies and equipment last November.  Students and staff members worked in standing water to salvage as much of the program as possible. With hopes that insurance would help with the rest of the recovery, it was learned that a $50,000 deductible left the future of the band in jeopardy.  The Sullivan North band has been in the process of rebuilding. In the past two years, the program has more than doubled in size. 


Sherry Gillum, SNHS director of bands and choirs, stated “The band program is an avenue whereby students who are not involved in sports or other school-funded activities have the opportunity to experience something they are passionate about.  The opportunity to perform in an energetic environment makes an intense impression on young people.” 


Sam Brashears, Niswonger Scholar and 2013 graduate of Sullivan North High School, did the honors of presenting a check from the Niswonger Foundation to Principal Brent Palmer and Director Gillum. The $5000 check will be used to jumpstart the efforts to rebuild the music program.  Brashears is a freshman, premedical student at Wake Forest University.  Members of the SNHS band joined for the presentation as Brashears shared what it had meant to him to be part of the band program. 


During the presentation, Niswonger Foundation Executive Vice President, Dr. Nancy Dishner stated “It is our hope that our Foundation’s contribution will raise community awareness to this need, and that other organizations and businesses will join us in equipping the Sullivan North band program even better than before this disaster.” 


Dishner shared with the band members about the vision of Scott Niswonger, the Foundation’s President and Founder.  She stated: “His motto of learn, earn and return should be a reminder to all of us that we have a responsibility to serve our community.” She encouraged the band members to look for opportunities to be of service.


While visiting the school, Niswonger Foundation representatives were also able to observe their latest technology purchases for Sullivan North. Currently, over $42,000 in technology to support distance learning, including a mobile technology unit, has been provided through the Niswonger Foundation i3 grant.  Principal Brent Palmer stated “It is remarkable to see the amount of support that has been provided to our school by the Niswonger Foundation.” 

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Tennessee Is Continuing To Raise The Bar In The Classroom

Common Core State Standards

"Expect More Achieve More!"


Recognizing the need for more highly skilled graduates, Tennessee is continuing to raise the bar in the classroom. As one part of Tennessee’s efforts to improve public education, our state has adopted higher expectations—the Common Core State Standards—to better prepare students for the future. Raising the bar and expecting more is hard work, particularly for students and teachers. To support students and teachers, business, community, and education organizations need to come together for a common cause: When we expect more, our children achieve more.


Click on the following for more information:

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