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2015 News Archive


Rachel Witt, Niswonger Alumni Scholar, Shares Her Passion For Science

Rachel shares the journey that led to her passion for the biological and cultural history of humanity.  From her curiosity in high school to her travels in Peru, Bolivia and Columbia she passionately describes her love of, and desire to share, science.


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Our Niswonger Alumni Scholars continue to represent the mission of the Foundation in wonderful ways.  Rachel Witt, a Niswonger Alumna, attends Tulane University in their doctoral program, and recently had the opportunity to share her knowledge of anthropology with a group of middle-school girls.  Please click on the link below to see full story.

Fostering the education of girls interested in science

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The Knoxville Symphony Orchestra Sponsored by the Niswonger Foundation Entertains more than 2000 Northeast Tennessee Students

More than 2000 students from Northeast Tennessee elementary schools attended two performances of the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra’s “Young People’s Concert” at the Niswonger Performing Arts Center, in Greeneville, on Tuesday, November 3.  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 theme for the 2015 program was “Picture This!” Designed for students in grades 3-5, this year’s performances explored the connection between music and visual arts using Ravel’s orchestration of Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” as the anchor piece.  The program related music to the art movements of impressionism, cubism and the progression of classical art to “moving pictures.”   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.

Special guest appearances at this year’s concerts included vocal solos by two local teachers - Carla Renner, fourth grade teacher at Tusculum View Elementary and Jody Carter, music teacher at Doak Elementary.  Charlie Daniel, a professional cartoonist from Knoxville, visually illustrated an orchestral piece for the students. Artwork designed by local students was showcased during the performances.

The Knoxville Symphony Orchestra was under the direction of Maestro James Fellenbaum, Resident Conductor. 

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Watch the National Storytelling Festival Livestream!

Can't make it to this year's National Storytelling Festival? We've got you covered. On Friday, October 2nd, we're streaming video live from our Family Tent so you can join us in Jonesborough from wherever you happen to be.

The live broadcast of family-friendly storytelling will run all day, 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Whether you want to throw a viewing party, check in on your phone during lunch, or binge watch the whole thing from the comfort of your couch, our master storytellers are here for you (and your friends and your family and your colleagues and your students and...well, you get the idea).

It's easy, it's entertaining, and it's free! Just visit Livestream Link any time during the livestream on Friday, October 2nd. You can also use the hashtag #storyfest on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to connect with our audience in Jonesborough and other people tuning in from around the globe.

The National Storytelling Festival livestream has been made possible thanks to the generosity of the Niswonger Foundation. The Family Tent is sponsored by Dollywood's DreamMore Resort.

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Congratulations to our Region’s SCORE Prize Finalists!

The Niswonger Foundation is proud to acknowledge the accomplishments of Grassy Fork Elementary School, recognized as a finalist in the middle school category, and Johnson City School System, recognized as a finalist in the district category, for the distinguished SCORE Prize.

 For the past five years, the State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE), founded by former Senate Majority Leader, Dr. Bill Frist, has recognized Tennessee’s highest performing schools and school districts.  The Niswonger Foundation is a founding member of SCORE and is honored to recognize Grassy Fork Elementary and Johnson City Schools for academic excellence. 

The winners for each category of the SCORE Prize will be announced at a gala event at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center, in Nashville, on October 26. 

The news release from SCORE is available on the following link.  

SCORE Prize Finalists Announced

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Free Teacher Workshop

International Storytelling Center Offers Free Teacher Workshop

The International Storytelling Center (ISC) is excited to offer a teacher workshop, “Traditional Stories in the 21st Classroom,” on Saturday, September 26, from 9:30 to 11:30 am. Provided free to teachers through the support of the Niswonger Foundation, the workshop will be led by Tom Lee, a professional storyteller with 25 years’ experience telling stories in K-12 classrooms. The workshop is offered as a part of ISC’s renowned teller-in-residence series, Storytelling Live!,  which runs from May through October. To reserve your spot, call (800) 952-8392 ext. 222 or (423) 913-1276.

More about the workshop

Folklore in the classroom can take many forms and is appropriate for every age, and crosses all curricula.  Tom Lee will present an overview of the many genres of traditional narratives.  How teachers can use folktale to enrich student’s learning experiences, and align the study of traditional stories with the demands of the modern classroom.

Join Tom for an in depth exploration based on his twenty-five years’ experience telling stories in K-12 classrooms.

More about Tom Lee

Tom Lee is a professional storyteller with 20 years’ experience performing traditional stories, folktales for adults and children.  His repertoire is a rich trove of stories from cultures around the world, some that originated thousands of years ago. Lee is the artistic director of artsVOYAGE, a unique arts-in-education program that uses arts to enhance learning across the K-12 curriculum.  Lee, who has shared his work internationally, is a frequent guest artist at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and a performing arts partner with the Yale Center for British Art.

“Every so often you encounter a performer who changes your thinking about familiar art forms.  You step back, reconsider and say ‘wow.’  Tom Lee is such a performer.”  – Time Out London

For reservations or more information call (800) 952-8392 or (423) 913-1276

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The Niswonger Foundation would like to congratulate Sullivan North High School for their success of increasing ACT scores (see story below).  Principal Brent Palmer and all of the teachers at Sullivan North are using all of the resources available to them to see that every student has the opportunity to attend college. As is evidenced by the scores, the SN students have a true desire for college and a career, and they are working hard to get there.


Story by:  RICK WAGNER

Kingsport Times News

August 31st, 2015

KINGSPORT — Sullivan North High School was the only Sullivan County high school to increase its ACT composite scores for the class of 2015, and it was among two of four county high schools that scored above the Tennessee average.

"We enjoy surprising people," North Principal Brent Palmer said Monday morning at his desk at North, less than a week after the scores were released Aug. 26. He was referring to North's football, volleyball, ACT and end of course test results, among other things.

The ACT result of 20.8 is good, he said, but he also cited the 2015 results as the third consecutive year of increases in the percentage of students who made college-ready scores in all four subject areas. The 20.8 is up 1.5 points from the 2014 score of 19.3. He predicted at least one more year of marked increases before the scores level off to slight variations from year to year.

North exceeded the state average ACT composites of 19.4 for public schools and 19.8 for public and private combined. The only other county school to beat the state averages was Sullivan South, but it fell from 22.7 to 21.4. Sullivan East was 18.7, down from 19.4, and Sullivan Central was 19.3, down from 19.7.

Kingsport's Dobyns-Bennett High School had a composite score of 22.5, and city school officials credited Advanced Placement offerings and an increasing number of students taking advantage of them as one reason for the increase in ACT scores.

Palmer said the reasons for North's success, in his mind, are not secrets. In addition to offering Advanced Placement, dual enrollment with four-year colleges and the Jumpstart program with Northeast State Community College, he credited the teachers, coaches and students with the ACT other successes.

"Those things do make a difference," he said. "Different things work for different people. I think schools are the same way."

He also cited a decision to put the school's best teachers in RTI or Response to Intervention, doing tutoring programs for students and teachers working to building good relationships with students. In addition, he said the Niswonger Foundation helped by providing free ACT practice tests and teachers worked to personalize the education of juniors and seniors at North with that practice tests and other tools.

Palmer said area principals, together at meetings at least a couple of times a year, share best practices among schools and school systems.

"I really want all the Sullivan County schools to do well," Palmer said. And like D-B Principal Chris Hampton said the week the results were released, Palmer said high school is about a lot more than just test results.

"Every kid needs to have something they are involved in at school," said Palmer, a former Sullivan South band director who said athletics, band and clubs help students learn to work at teams, something the Niswonger Foundation and area industries have said is essential in today's workforce.

"We've worked really, really hard to improve everything across the board, not just ACT scores," Palmer said. "We're blessed to have wonderful teachers and fantastic students."

The class of 2015 at North was more than 100 students among about 530 at the school. Although Tennessee "requires" students take the ACT, among 13 states to do that, there are no penalties for not taking it. He said a few North college-bound students chose to take the SAT instead of the ACT, and that some not bound for college choose not to take either test.

"Not every child is going to college," Palmer said. He said the school strongly encourages students to take the ACT but that it is a hard test and not all students do or feel the need to do so. There is no penalty for not taking the test. At South, Director of Schools Evelyn Rafalowski Friday said the 196 who took the test was pretty much the senior class.

However, Palmer said North is seeing an increase in graduates going to two-year colleges, thanks to the Tennessee Promise scholarships that basically cover the cost of a two-year degree for any Tennessee high school graduate.

"I think it's unfortunate that it is such a competition, the ACT," Palmer said. "It really is about kids' futures and what is right for kids."

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We are pleased to announce that it is time to begin accepting nominations from schools and organizations for the Niswonger Scholarship Program for the 2016-17 academic year.

Schools or organizations may nominate one or two students. We are looking for well-rounded students who demonstrate strength of character as well as academic skills.  It is important to note the major criteria for this scholarship: demonstrated leadership ability, good character, intelligence, family financial need, and commitment to return to work and serve in Northeast Tennessee.

Although, we encourage students to attend the best schools in the nation, our goal is to equip future leaders for our region.  As a result, students must sign a contract pledging to return to this region in the future to pursue whatever career path they have chosen.  Please be sure your nominee understands this unusual aspect of our scholarship program in order to ensure that students selected for the scholarship wish to return to Northeast Tennessee.  Our Scholars may choose to pursue any area of study.  We currently have Scholars studying many subjects including agriculture, business, medicine, engineering, education and the arts. 

 Please note that we only accept nominations from August 15 to September 30 of the year prior to the planned year of study.  

Please see the materials below, which include instructions for nomination and student nomination form.


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NiswongerCare Announced

NiswongerCare to bring peer advisers to area high schools

July 14th, 2015 10:29 pm by NATHAN BAKER

Johnson City Press

Near-peer advisors and program leaders pose Monday at an announcement for funding for the Niswonger Foundation's college and career advisor program. (Nathan Baker/Johnson City Press)

An expiring federal grant could have meant the end of a college and career readiness program serving 13 school districts in the county, but the Niswonger Foundation, local colleges and another education-driven nonprofit pooled their resources to keep the program alive.

“This is going to be different than the previous program, but it will be a phenomenal opportunity,” Niswonger Foundation CEO Nancy Dishner said Tuesday in the auditorium of East Tennessee State University’s Culp Center. “We’re helping students to see their bigger dreams in life, their futures.”

Five years ago, the Niswonger Foundation received a $21 million i3 grant from the U.S. Department of Education and other foundations. It used the funds to create a consortium of 15 school districts in Northeast Tennessee with 30 high schools and institute college and career readiness programs at each school to help guide students into their post-primary school lives.

With the grant’s term expiring this September, Dishner said she new some creative thinking was needed to keep the program alive.

The foundation has substantial resources, but “we don’t have the capacity to match a $21 million grant,” she said.

Preserving three of the most beneficial programs, online courses for high school students, advanced placement class opportunities and staff advisers in every school, was of utmost importance to Dishner.

All of the consortium’s school districts agreed to maintain the online courses, and Scott Niswonger, one of the philanthropists who donated to the matching requirements on the i3 grant, donated $1 million to help continue the AP courses, but to keep the advisers, Dishner proposed a new program to three local colleges with counseling degree programs.

Under the program, made possible in-part from a $1.3 million grant from Care Foundation of America, a health and education nonprofit, ETSU, Milligan and Carson Newman will nominate graduating counseling students to serve as advisers to local high school students for a two-year period.

The freshly minted counselors will gain experience in their fields and the community will reap the benefits as students go on to college or to start their careers.

”I went to college in the 70s, and things have changed since back then,” Dishner said. “The new advisers are more familiar with the current college experience and can help the students understand what to expect.”

At Tuesday’s announcement, Dishner introduced 14 full and part-time advisers that will make up the inaugural class of counselors.

“It’s an adventure,” ETSU graduate Caroline Baird said. “There’s so much evidence showing that the near-peer model of advising works well.”

Modeled on a program called the Carolina College Advising Corps, the Niswonger program, called NiswongerCare, works on the theory that students will better relate to younger professionals with similar backgrounds.

After describing the new program to Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, who has instituted a number of education reform initiatives in his administration, Dishner said she believed there is interest to spread the model statewide.

“It’s our goal to spread this program across the state,” she said. “But it’s going to take all of us to do this work.”

Follow Nathan Baker on Twitter @JCPressBaker. Like him on Facebook:

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Matthew Widener, one of Niswonger Foundation's newest Scholars, and three of his classmates, Chase Partin, Joshua Christian and Payton Garland are some of this year's top graduates at David Crockett High School, 

With sky high dreams and lots of determination, they are sure to reach their goals.

Follow the link below to the Johnson City Press and read the complete story and see a short video of the students.

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ASCD on Poverty and Education

On May 6, ASCD convened the third ASCD Whole Child Symposium in Washington, D.C. The symposium focused on the issue of poverty as it relates to school reform and education improvement efforts.

Brittany Maness, a fourth year science teacher at Clinch School in Sneedville, Tennessee spoke as a panelist at the symposium.  You may visit the ASCD website at to read more about the symposium or click on the video link below to view the symposium.

ASCD Whole Child Symposium Video

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The five newest Niswonger Scholars and their families were honored at the Annual Welcome Dinner hosted by Scott and Nikki Niswonger on April 23rd at the General Morgan Inn in Greeneville. These Scholars represent the fourteenth year of the Scholarship and Leadership program.

The Niswonger Foundation’s guiding philosophy of “Learn, Earn and Return” is firmly embedded in the Niswonger Scholars program. The program takes the brightest young leaders in Northeast Tennessee, provides them the opportunity to attend the college or university that will best prepare them for their chosen career, and supplements that education with four years of leadership development activities. The plan is to see Niswonger Scholars come back to the region with not only strong earning potential, but an entrepreneurial spirit and overwhelming desire to return their talents and energy to this region. Currently, there are 20 Niswonger Scholars, with the newly selected students for 2015 bringing the total to 25. The Foundation also has 52 alumni of the program. The most distinct feature of this Scholars program is that the Niswonger Foundation is refining the next generation of leaders committed to returning to Northeast Tennessee.

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July 9, 2015


We are pleased to announce the Niswonger Foundation 2015 School Success Symposium hosted by Niswonger Foundation and Eastman Chemical. Featuring Michael Horn, Executive Director at Clayton Christensen Institute and author of Disrupting Class. 

 Registration will be from April 6 through June 1. You must register to attend this event. No on-site registrations accepted. Your registration confirmation will be your ticket for the event. Please alert your colleagues to this event and direct them to our website to register.

A program of sessions will be available by May 1 on the Niswonger Foundation website.

We will start the day in the Greeneville High School Cafe at 7:30 am for check-in and breakfast, then move to Niswonger Performing Arts Center for the welcome, introductions and featured speakers.

Personalized Learning Hands-on days for 9-12 teachers will be held on July 14 and 15. We will provide more information regarding the hands-on days on our website at a later date.




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The Niswonger Foundation and Tennessee Code Academy have partnered to provide week-long day camps for 2015/2016 high school students and 2015 graduates in the Northeast Tennessee region.

Code Camps are part of a progressive programming, education initiative that immerses students in an engaging, real-world environment in which they are challenged to create with code.

Students may choose from seven different week-long camps in June 2015. The camps will be held on the campuses of ETSU in Johnson City, Tusculum College near Greeneville, and Walters State Community College in Morristown.

For more information about coding, watch the following short video.


To learn more about the Tennessee Code Academy, click on the following link.


These camps are provided without charge to students.

The following link will take you to the application.


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2015 Niswonger i3/Eastman Scholar Mathletes

The application process for the 2015 Niswonger i3/Eastman Scholar Mathletes program is now open.  Area high school mathematics teachers interested in participating can see more information and/or apply at the following link.


The Niswonger i3/Eastman Scholar Mathletes program is a high school extension of the acclaimed Eastman Scholar Mathletes program, a professional development initiative previously for elementary and middle school teachers only.  The two-week program will focus on the teachers knowledge of mathematics and classroom practices; follow-up support and resources will be provided.

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Niswonger Foundation and Battelle for Kids are Hosting A Rural Summit

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

9:00 am to 3:00 pm

Greeneville High School

210 Tusculum Boulevard, Greeneville, Tennessee

Keynote Address by Dr. James W. Mahoney

Executive Director, Battelle for Kids

Hear Rural Success Stories

Distinguished Panelists Share Views and Respond to Questions

Lunch Will be Provided


BARBARA BATES - [email protected]


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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 20 Niswonger Scholars, with the newly selected students for 2015 bringing the total to 25.  The Foundation also has 52 alumni of the program. The most distinct feature of this Scholars program is that the Niswonger Foundation is refining the next generation of leaders committed to returning to Northeast Tennessee.

The Niswonger Foundation’s guiding philosophy of “Learn, Earn and Return” is firmly embedded in the Niswonger Scholars program.  The program takes the brightest young leaders in Northeast Tennessee, provides them the opportunity to attend the college or university that will best prepare them for their chosen career, and supplements that education with four years of leadership development activities. The plan is to see Niswonger Scholars come back to the region with not only strong earning potential, but an entrepreneurial spirit and overwhelming desire to return their talents and energy to this region. The goal is that at the end of their experience as Niswonger Scholars, they will embody the values most important to the mission of the Foundation:  exceptional leadership ability, exemplary personal character, and a strong commitment to building community.

The five new Northeast Tennessee Scholars are Courtney Johnson, Gatlinburg Pittman High School; Morgan Thomas, Science Hill High School; Zachary Ward, Volunteer High School; Matthew Widener, David Crockett High School and Trenton Yount, Hancock County High School.

Courtney Sherry Johnson is a student at Gatlinburg-Pittman High School.  She represented Gatlinburg-Pittman at Volunteer Girls State. She was selected to serve on the Board of Education. She has served as assistant director of the GPHS Drama Club. Courtney achieved the Sevier County’s Most Distinguished Young Woman award, Tennessee’s Most Distinguished Young Woman Overall Scholastics award, Magna Cum Laude on the National Latin Exam and Little Miss Sunshine award for the GPHS dance team. She enjoys volunteering with a variety of organizations in the Sevierville area and spending time with local nursing home residents. Her plans are to study pre-med and attend medical school. Courtney is the daughter of Michelle Johnson of Gatlinburg.

Morgan Alexandra Thomas is a student at Science Hill High School.  She has maintained a 4.0 grade point average.  She serves as junior varsity women’s soccer assistant, SHHS Youth Ambassador, Student Government representative and is a member of Mu Alpha Theta. She enjoys volunteering with Rotary Wheel, Girls on the Run, Munsey Memorial United Methodist Church and Second Harvest Food Bank. Her desire is to become a pharmacist. She is the daughter of Robert and Beth Thomas of Johnson City.

Zachary Tyler Ward attends Volunteer High School.  He is ranked first in his class and maintains a 4.0 grade point average.  He serves as Student Government president and is a member of Beta Club, Mu Alpha Theta and participated in ETSU Talent Search. Zachary has volunteered with Holston Valley Medical Center, Surgoinsville Middle School’s Eagle 8k and Beta Club Parents Night Out. He plans to major in chemistry with the goal of becoming an anesthesiologist.  He is the son of Tonia Clark of Church Hill.

Matthew Hunter Widener is a student at David Crockett High School. He has served as vice president and president of the Creative Writing Club, sentinel of HOSA Chapter, sergeant-at-arms and treasurer of the Drama Club as well as being a member of the Beta Club, French Club, National Society of High School Scholars, and NJROTC. Matthew has volunteered with Antioch Baptist Church, Key Club, Ronald McDonald House and Johnson City Community Theatre. He plans to study pre-med with the goal of becoming a general surgeon. He is the son of Randal and Deena Widener of Johnson City.

Trenton Blake Yount attends Hancock County High School and maintains a 4.0 grade point average.  He is an active Honor Club 4H member where he serves as scout.  He is a certified lifeguard. He is a member of Student Council, Future Business Leaders of America, Spanish Club, Art Club, Family, Career and Community Leaders of America and the community based group Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD).  Trenton enjoys volunteering with his 4H community and Cedar Grove Baptist Church.  He plans to study environmental engineering.  He is the son of Nathan and Jennifer Yount of Sneedville.

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