Niswonger Foundation Receives Eight Million Dollar Federal Grant To Improve Literacy
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. This grant, with the required matching funds, will provide more than eight million dollars to assist schools in Northeast Tennessee. Niswonger stated: “This is a day of tremendous pride as I reflect on the extraordinary accomplishments of the Niswonger Foundation. It is gratifying to be recognized nationally for our work in public education but more important to me is that we have another new and powerful opportunity to serve the children in this region, to ensure that they are prepared to be successful in post-secondary education and in their chosen careers.”
The United States Department of Education selected 16 grant recipients from 379 proposals based on recommendations from independent peer review panels. The 16 successful applications represented 9 states and the District of Columbia.
The Niswonger Foundation is one of only 6 recipients in the “mid-phase” category. This grant will be used to fund a program entitled: Rural LIFE (Literacy Initiative Focused on Effectiveness). The purpose of the grant is to validate the use of personalized learning strategies, with the goal of focusing on literacy to improve academic achievement for students in grades six through eight. Rural LIFE uses the strategy of deploying technology-enabled literacy-focused personalized learning. Participating schools will identify specific technology needs as part of their learning model.
The grant will serve eighteen school systems in Northeast Tennessee (Bristol City, Carter County, Cocke County, Elizabethton City, Greene County, Greeneville City, Hamblen County, Hancock County, Hawkins County, Jefferson County, Johnson City, Johnson County, Kingsport City, Newport City, Rogersville City, Sullivan County, Unicoi County, and Washington County). This grant will add another important scope of work to this unique consortium of schools that has drawn national recognition. The majority of the 73 schools in this project are designated rural and 85% are Title I school-wide. Approximately 19,700 students are served by Rural LIFE-participating schools.
Dr. Nancy Dishner, President and CEO of the Niswonger Foundation, commented on the strength of the Consortium of Northeast Tennessee school systems: “I credit receiving this second federal grant to the tireless efforts of our teachers and school leaders in this region. We are uniquely positioned to receive national attention because of this joint commitment to teamwork, excellence, and ensuring that every child in Northeast Tennessee has the best opportunity for success.”
This marks the second U.S. Department of Education grant received by the Niswonger Foundation and the Niswonger Consortium of school systems. Previously, the Foundation received a twenty-one-million-dollar Investing in Innovation Grant (i3), which was the precursor to this first-round of the EIR grants. The initial Niswonger grant was recently recognized for having five statistically significant research findings. Focused on college and career readiness, the 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.
Dr. Richard Kitzmiller, Niswonger Foundation Vice President, will serve as the Executive Director for this grant. Kitzmiller has over 40 years of exemplary service in education, including nearly ten years as a district superintendent. He has been employed at the Niswonger Foundation for six years, including work with the Foundation’s previous federal grant. Kitzmiller stated: “this project offers a unique opportunity. While the middle grades are critical in the development of students, most reform efforts focus on other grades. Most of the attention and support is directed to high schools or the earlier grades.”
The Rural LIFE grant will serve Northeast Tennessee for the next five years.