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2018 News Archive




News Release

Office of University Relations

Contact: Amanda Mowell

November 15, 2018

JOHNSON CITY – Building on strong histories of providing quality educational opportunities, East Tennessee State University and the Niswonger Foundation are partnering to provide online dual enrollment opportunities for high school students in East Tennessee and beyond. Through Niswonger Online, students can earn both high school and college credit at ETSU with application and qualifying course fees waived as part of memorandum of understanding between the two entities.

With this new partnership, which is aimed to support the state of Tennessee’s “Drive to ‘55” initiative, ETSU, through Niswonger Online, will provide an extensive inventory of college courses and career pathways. Participating students will not be required to pay an application fee to ETSU and those who meet eligibility requirements will be admitted as first-time freshmen.

“We at ETSU believe this partnership is a unique opportunity to address college affordability, access for many students who have not previously had dual enrollment course opportunities, and an aggressive strategy for supporting the state’s Drive to ‘55 initiative,’” said Dr. Bert Bach, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs at ETSU. 

Dual enrollment students may also choose to participate in Buc Start, a predetermined set of course pathways that allow students to obtain up to 24 hours, or two semesters worth of college credit prior to entering college as a full-time student. There are over 12 pathway-focused course plans available to choose from such as digital media, health sciences and computing.

“Buc Start provides students with a pathway to get ahead, explore fields of study and start working toward their careers early,” said Dawn Bridwell, assistant director of Admissions.

Scholarship and grant opportunities make ETSU one of the most affordable dual enrollment institutions in the region. High school students dually-enrolled at ETSU through the Niswonger Foundation will not pay qualifying course fees. The Dual Enrollment Grant and the Tennessee HOPE Scholarship funded by the Tennessee Lottery are available to cover a portion of tuition costs, and high-achieving students will be eligible for ETSU scholarships to assist with additional courses.

“The Niswonger Foundation is focused on ensuring that all students have the opportunity to see post-secondary education and a fulfilling career as a goal for their lives,” said Dr. Nancy Dishner, Niswonger Foundation president and CEO. “While students across Tennessee can be served by this partnership, I am particularly proud that it can greatly benefit rural high schools and economically disadvantaged students and families.”

To learn more about dual enrollment opportunities at ETSU, visit or email [email protected]. For more information about the ETSU and Niswonger Foundation partnership, contact Dawn Bridwell at [email protected] or 423-439-6873.

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What started as a Niswonger Foundation program to expand course offerings for high school students in Northeast Tennessee, is now spreading across the State, increasing academic opportunities and providing flexibility in course scheduling for hundreds of students. 

Niswonger Online began with funding from a U.S. Department of Education Investing in Innovation (i3) grant in 2011. The focus of this effort was to serve students in high-need, rural Northeast Tennessee high schools. “Developing and providing quality online curricular offerings ‘levels the playing field’ for our students,” states Dr. Nancy Dishner, President and CEO of the Niswonger Foundation. “Our goal is to ensure that the size or geographical location of our schools does not determine the ability for a student to have access to a robust curriculum that can best prepare him or her for postsecondary education and a successful career.”  

Over 15,000 course credits have been earned since Niswonger Online was established. This fall term, alone, the program is serving 624 students in 30 high schools across the State. “As a rural high school, the Niswonger Online courses have not only strengthened our course offerings but opened doors for our students,” said Dr. Catherine Edwards, assistant principal of Unicoi County High School. “Courses that we cannot possibly offer to our students in our brick and mortar building are now available.” 

Initially, this effort was designed to provide support for an enriched curriculum in the school systems served by the Niswonger Foundation in Northeast Tennessee.  Fundamental to the mission of the Niswonger Foundation is supporting educational opportunities in rural schools. A dedication to this mission, and a strong desire to position Tennessee as a national model for quality rural education, led to the Foundation reaching out to rural school systems across the State, allowing an opportunity for access for their students. Currently, students in Hardeman, Claibourne, Lauderdale, Haywood, Grainger and McMinn Counties are participating. A grant from the Care Foundation of America is assisting with support for this initiative. Additional partnerships are currently being planned.  A total of twenty-eight school systems are currently participating in Niswonger Online.

The program allows students to take classes during regular school hours or at the convenience of the students. Students can choose from 40 online course options, including Advanced Placement (AP), career/technical education (CTE), language arts, social studies, science, fine arts, math, physical education and world languages (French, Spanish and Latin). The program is supported by the Niswonger Foundation, the Consortium of Northeast Tennessee school systems, and the systems from across the State that have joined the effort.

The Niswonger Foundation has recently partnered with East Tennessee State University to offer online dual enrollment courses. Beginning in Spring 2019, students will be able to use Niswonger Online to take an array of courses from ETSU, earning both high school and college credit.  As many as 200 ETSU courses will be available by Summer 2019.  These dual enrollment opportunities are supportive of the State of Tennessee’s “Drive to 55” goal of seeing that every student has Early Post-Secondary Opportunities (EPSO’s).  

“The Niswonger Foundation has allowed me to take a class that has never been offered at my high school,” said an 11th grade student in the program. “I know this will help me when I start college, and I’m so thankful for that.”  A David Crockett High School student (Jonesborough) had a perfect score on the ACT exam.  He credited his success to having completed four Niswonger Online courses, including Latin I and II. 

Niswonger Online can serve any student, especially those who perform better in online settings, need to retake classes to graduate or want to take advanced classes to prepare them for careers or higher education.  “Not only is [my daughter] improving her GPA by retaking the course, she raised her ACT Math score by several points,” said one parent of a student taking geometry online. “Seeing her ACT score raise is proof to me that she is learning this skill.”  A school counselor credited the online program as positive intervention for a struggling student: “I believe that the alternative environment of online classes provided her with opportunity to be successful that didn’t exist before, and it certainly has positively impacted her life in ways far beyond academics.”

In addition to gaining course credit, Niswonger Online helps students learn time management skills, online course structure and college readiness. Instructors understand that their students are young, and they can help guide them through new experiences like learning proper email etiquette and uploading assignments online. Instructors are selected because they are noted as being among Tennessee’s best educators. They are provided guidance and support in moving their successful classroom skills to an online format.

The courses can also help students gain better study skills as they work independently through the online structure. Success with online course-taking is an excellent “life skill.” Online courses are becoming more popular in post-secondary education, so Niswonger Online gives students the advantage of knowing how to succeed in a virtual environment.

One student from Cherokee High School (Rogersville) was admitted to Princeton University because of her excellent transcript that had six online courses through Niswonger Online, including three different world languages. “She came out of this small high school, but she had a transcript that could go up against any student from across the nation,” said Gina Pavlovich, Director of Learning Resources. I love hearing our students’ success stories. A lot of these kids just needed a push to help them see that they are good enough, they can do this. We take great pleasure in knowing that they did this online with us.”

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Students in grades six through eight, across 14 Northeast Tennessee school systems, are beginning to experience the benefits of the Niswonger Foundation’s Rural LIFE program after a year of strategic planning and implementation.

Rural LIFE (Literacy Initiative Focused on Effectiveness) is designed to improve literacy for middle school students in eighteen Northeast Tennessee school systems. The grant serves approximately 19,700 students and is funded through an $8 million-dollar Education Innovation and Research federal grant awarded to the Niswonger Foundation by the U.S. Department of Education.

“That literacy component is so empowering in all the subjects that children are involved in,” said Rural LIFE Coach Sarah Kitzmiller. “Improvement of students’ quality of life is the ultimate goal for all of us here.”

The program aims to implement technology-enabled and literacy-focused personalized learning for students to help improve their academic performance in all subjects. This includes: strengthening literacy development across the content areas; literacy intervention for struggling readers and writers; implementing school policies, structures and culture for supporting literacy; building leadership capacity and helping teachers to improve instruction.

A primary focus of the program is personalized learning. Each school has developed a plan specific to the student needs, and the funding provides additional resources to accomplish those goals.

“If you’re going to maximize literacy instruction, you need to personalize it a little bit,” stated Dr. Richard Kitzmiller, Niswonger Foundation vice president and the grant’s executive director.

Part of personalized learning is restructuring regular, whole-classroom teaching to incorporate small group settings, more technology-based learning and afterschool supplementation. Personalized learning settings cater to students’ individual needs and learning styles.

To date, schools have used Rural LIFE funding to purchase educational subscriptions, classroom libraries and online resources, as well as, technology like Google Chromebooks and NOOK tablets for digital reading.

Rural LIFE’s nine Coaches support school-created literacy plans and work with principals and teachers toward specific goals. These Coaches visit the schools one day a week to assess progress and help with implementation. Each school selected at least one lead teacher who acts as a contact with a Rural LIFE Coach.

“Obviously, we want to see greater outcomes for students,” Rural LIFE Coach Ben Willings said. “One thing that has been really personal for me is thinking about not just teaching students to read but really teaching students to want to read. We want to cultivate that love for reading as a way for building knowledge, as a way for interacting with the world.”

The grant will be used over the course of five years. The first year saw planning and implementation in 36 of the 72 schools benefitting from the program. Now, in the second year, schools will evaluate what works best for students to improve literacy. In the fourth and fifth years, the remaining 36 schools will join in the implementation of the program. The majority of the 73 schools in this project are designated rural, and 85% are Title I school-wide.

Ongoing research and data collection through test score analysis, observations, surveys and interviews by research partner ANLAR will evaluate the success of Rural LIFE as well as areas for improvement. Additionally, the Friday Institute, at North Carolina State University, is assisting with coaches’ training and providing additional resources.

The federal grant was awarded to only 16 organizations out of 379 proposals for funding from across the country. Commenting on the receipt of this grant, Niswonger Foundation president and CEO, Dr. Nancy Dishner stated, “We are uniquely positioned to receive national attention because our region’s educators have an extraordinary commitment to teamwork, excellence, and ensuring that every child in Northeast Tennessee has the best opportunity for success.” 

Schools benefitting from the grant in Northeast Tennessee include: Carter County: Central Elementary, Cloudland, Keenburg; Elizabethon City’s, T.A. Dugger Junior High as well as Sullivan County: Holston Middle, Sullivan North; Bristol City’s, Vance Middle School; Kingsport City’s, John Sevier Middle and Ross N. Robinson Middle. Johnson City’s Liberty Bell Middle School along with Washington County’s Boones Creek Middle School, Fall Branch Elementary and Sulphur Springs Elementary are participating. Additionally, Greeneville City Middle School and Greene County’s: Camp Creek Elementary, Nolachuckey Elementary and West Pines Elementary are included. Hawkins County schools working with the Rural LIFE grant are: Bulls Gap, Church Hill Middle School, Clinch School, East Ridge Middle School; Surgoinsville Middle and Rogersville Middle School. Jefferson County has two schools involved: Maury Middle School and Rush Strong Elementary, while Cocke County schools include: Bridgeport Elementary, Centerview Elementary, Cosby Elementary, Edgemont Elementary, Grassy Fork Elementary, Northwest Elementary and Smokey Mountain Elementary. Participating in Sevierville are Sevierville Middle School and Pittman-Center Elementary, with Hancock County High School and Unicoi County Middle School representing these respective counties.

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Scott M. Niswonger speaks about his "footprints" at his alma mater, Purdue University.

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Greeneville Native Appointed to State Board of Education

Article as it appeared in The Greeneville Sun's Education Section on Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Nicholas Darnell, a native of Greeneville, has been appointed to the Tennessee State Board of Education.

Darnell, an eighth grade American history and government teacher in Hamblen County, will represent the First Congressional District on the board, according to a news release from the State Board of Education.

He joined the board in May and will serve through 2023.

A teacher for 12 years, Darnell was chosen as the East Ridge Middle School, Hamblen County and First Tennessee Core Region middle school teacher of the year in 2015.  In the same year, he was selected by Gov. Bill Haslam to serve on the first Governor's Teacher Cabinet.  He has advised the governor and Education Commissioner for the past three years.

Darnell also serves as a learning leader for Hamblen County by facilitating Professional Learning Communities, leading professional development and mentoring fellow teachers, according to the release.

He is a 2002 graduate of South Greene High School, was a Niswonger Scholar and earned a bachelor's degree in elementary education from Tusculum College in 2006.  Darnell earned his master's degree in educational leadership and his specialist degree in school system leadership with an administrative endorsement from East Tennessee State University.

"I am very excited to have Nick join the State Board as our new teacher member and feel confident he will bring valuable insight and perspective to the board's policy discussions and decisions," said Dr. Sara Morrison, executive director of the State Board of Education.

The Tennessee State Board of Education is a 11-member, governor appointed and legislatively confirmed board on policy review and development across all areas of K-12 education in the state, according to the release.

The State Board of Education is the governing and policy making body for Tennessee's pre-kindergarten through 12th-grade public education system.  Its work touches all facets of education from accountability and evaluation to standards and teacher education.

Members are chosen from each congressional district in the state and also include a student and the executive director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, who serves as a non-voting, ex officio member.

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First Year Code & Tech Camps

9:00 am – 3:00 pm

First Year Code & Tech Camps are 5-day code & technology camps for students who have little or no exposure to computers or technology.

(High School, Rising 9-12 grade)

     -June 18th – 22nd (ETSU)

     -June 11th – 15th (Kingsport Higher Ed Center)

     -July 9th – 13th (Hancock County High School)

     -July 16th – 20th (ETSU @ Sevierville)

(Middle School, Rising 6-8 Grade)

     -June 4th – 8th (ETSU)

     -June 11th – 15th (Kingsport Higher Ed Center)

     -July 16th – 20th (Northeast State CC (Girls Only)

AP Computer Science Prep Week

9:00 am – 3:00 pm

AP Computer Science Prep Week are 5-day camps to help prepare students to complete the AP Computer Science Exam.

     -July 23 – 27th (ETSU)

Girls in Science & Technology (GIST) Camps

8:15 am – 11:45 am

GIST Camps are week-long, half-day camps that allow rising fifth and sixth grade girls to explore STEM related activities.

(Rising 5th Graders)

     -June 4th – 8th (ETSU)

(Rising 6th Graders)

      -June 18th – 22nd (ETSU)

Advanced Code & Tech Camps

9:00 am – 3:00 pm

Advanced Code & Tech Camps are 5-day camps for students who participated in previous code and technology camps.

Java Game Development

 -July 23 – July 27  (ETSU)

Raspberry Pi Tablet Maker’s Camp

      -June 25th – June 29th (ETSU)

CAD Camps

9:00 am to 3:00 pm

CAD Camps are 5-day camps for students who wish to use a computer system to design different real world objects.



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

For more information contact, Matthew Desjardins at [email protected]

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During Honors Convocation at Carson Newman University on Thursday, April 5, Niswonger Scholar, Hope Adkins, was honored with the highest student award offered at the University, the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award.


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Niswonger Foundation 2018 School Success Symposium

2018 School Success Symposium 

Sponsored by



Tuesday, June 19, 2018

7:30 to 3:30
Greeneville High School and Niswonger Performing Arts Center
Greeneville, Tennessee

We hope you will join us for 
the 2018 School Success Symposium

We are excited to welcome our featured speakers:


Liz Murray

Inspirational S
peaker and Best Selling Author,
Breaking Night: A Memoir of Forgiveness, 
Survival and My Journey from Homless to Harvard

Liz Murray's story is exhilarating and inspirational. Her delivery is innocently honest, as she takes audiences on a very personal journey where she achieves the improbable. 

Her memoir, Breaking Night, landed on the New York Times best seller list within a week of its release and quickly became an international bestseller published in twelve countries, in eight languages.


Cicely Woodard

2017-2018 Tennessee Teacher of the Year

Cicely Woodard is a 13 year veteran of the Metro Nashville Public Schools and teaches Math at West End Middle School.  Inside and outside of the classroom, Woodard has made a lasting impact as a teacher leader within her school, the district and the entire state.  She was also named a S.C.O.R.E. Fellow in 2013.



Registration will begin at 7:30 
in the Greeneville High School Cafe

Lunch is provided

(Please Let Us Know Via Email If You Have A Special Dietary Need)
([email protected] or
[email protected]

There will be no cost to attend this event.

We look forward to seeing you there!


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Niswonger Foundation Rural LIFE Coach Application Now Available

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

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

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

A background check is also required.  If you have not had a background check please contact [email protected]

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

Please download the signature from (here)

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

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Save the Date!

Thirteenth Annual Niswonger Foundation

School Success Symposium

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

Niswonger Performing Arts Center And
Greeneville High School

Featured Speakers

Liz Murray

Inspirational Speaker and Best Selling Author

Breaking Night: A Memoir of Forgiveness

Survival and My Journey from Homeless to Harvard


Cicely Woodard

2018 Tennessee Teacher of the Year

Registration will begin on April 1.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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