Introduction – The initial work of the Niswonger Foundation centered around selected projects that an LEA and the Foundation would determine to be a needed area of focus. From 2001 to 2011, thirty-five multi-year partnerships were completed. Projects represented all aspects of Pre-K to twelfth grade education. As examples, partnerships focused on areas such as literacy, STEM, instrumental music, technology improvement, performance audits, an International Center for English language instruction, curriculum review, credit recovery, Pre-K for at-risk students, distance learning laboratories, school leadership development, support for new parents, foreign language instruction through distance learning, a career guidance program, etc. This work centered around staff professional development.
While it is noted that the Niswonger Foundation’s original intent was to serve the school systems of Northeast Tennessee, the concept of an established Consortium of Schools emerged with the implementation of the 2010-15 Investing in Innovation (i3) grant. This college and career consortium established goals to 1) increase the number of Advanced Placement (AP) courses offered; 2) increase the number of rigorous distance learning courses offered; 3) increase the number of rigorous online courses available to all consortium secondary students; 4) increase the number of dual enrollment courses available from post-secondary institutions; 5) develop a Course Review Team to determine the courses needed in AP, online and distance learning, prioritized by science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) courses, career and technical education (CTE) courses, and upper level foreign-language courses; and 6) provide additional career and college counseling resources to every secondary student in the Consortium. The work of this Consortium has grown substantially since its inception. The Niswonger Consortium of Schools now has several activities jointly funded and utilized with the school systems. Regular monthly meetings to bring all the superintendents/ directors to one table for discussion, deliberation and planning. This Consortium is noted statewide as a model effort.
Leadership and Scholarship Program – The Niswonger Leadership and Scholarship Program gained recognition for its promising focus on providing leadership development and educational support in exchange for a contractual commitment to return to the region. As the Scholars participate in Winter and Summer Leadership Institutes, complete volunteer service, journal, pursue internships, study abroad and engage in campus leadership opportunities, they are encouraged to envision the applicability of what they are learning to the development of Northeast Tennessee. There are 100 young men and women that hold the distinction of being a Niswonger Scholar.
NiswongerCARE College and Career Advising Program – NiswongerCARE is committed to developing a stronger college-going and career ready culture, with the expectation for post-secondary plan development and attainment of a post-secondary credential. NiswongerCARE college and career advisors assist students in 26 Northeast Tennessee high schools in planning their futures, completing post-secondary application processes, and hosting the TN Path to College annual events, which include College Appreciation and Exploration Week, FAFSA Frenzy, College and Career Planning Nights, and College Signing Day.
Niswonger Online – This program was established to ensure a broader and more rigorous inventory of courses to help prepare students, even in our smallest and most rural school systems, to be successful with post-secondary education. With an inventory of 52 + courses – spanning AP, Teaching, STEM, English language arts, international languages, CTE, etc., 28 school districts are benefitting from this Consortium effort. These online courses can also be used as enrichment in traditional courses in a blended format.
Advanced Placement – In addition to AP courses available through Niswonger Online, the Niswonger Foundation has sent over 600 teachers to AP summer institutes to ensure continued focused growth and sustainability of AP courses in all high schools throughout the region. We have also supported “communities of practice” opportunities for subject area teachers to gather, share resources and participate in discussions to more fully develop their teaching skills.
CareerConnect and WE Track – This career and technology focused experience is available to 23 high schools across the state of Tennessee and offers soft skills development; and introduction to career choices and employment opportunities available in their communities. One aspect of this experience is the pursuit of the Work Ethic Distinction. Tennessee students who complete this distinction are recognized as “Tri Star Scholars.” The Work Ethic Distinction (WED) consists of 13 standards that reflect whether a student has the character, academic and technical skills necessary to enter the workforce.
The Niswonger Foundation houses and operates the WE Track (work ethic tracking) program which electronically maintains the students’ accomplishments and interactions with the business and industrial communities. In 2019, this program was expanded to a statewide program with a grant from the State of Tennessee. This digital platform adds function and ease to the collection of student data and connections to potential internships and employment opportunities.
Comprehensive Educational Resources (CER) – The mission of this program is to improve student achievement by providing common benchmark assessments, reporting and pacing guides, data analysis, teacher created resources, and collaboration across the region. This effort provided a ready-response to the challenges of instructional delivery during the pandemic with the majority of the resources already formatted for virtual learning or adaptable for use in a virtual setting. The content is available in Math, Science, Social Studies, Writing, Biology and Physical Science in a total of 38 content areas.
Key components to the CER program include:
Project On Track – is a high-dosage/low-ratio tutoring program for students in grades 1-8 in the areas of literacy and mathematics. High dosage/low-ratio tutoring is an evidence-based practice that helps schools address learning gaps and accelerate learning through more intensive and personalized support for students.
Project On-Track’s Five Design Principles of High-Dosage Tutoring:
AP Access for All – This program is a partnership between the Niswonger Foundation and the Tennessee Department of Education. The program is supported by the Niswonger Foundation’s extensive history of virtual instruction and AP virtual instruction through the Niswonger Online program.
Advanced Placement (AP) Access for All provides students across the state with access to virtual AP courses, educational resources and individualized teacher support. The goal of this program is to eliminate common barriers to AP coursework.
Students can enroll in AP courses that are not currently offered at their home high school by taking the course online, through Niswonger Online, taught by a licensed Tennessee educator. Common costs associated with participation in AP coursework are covered including, but not limited to the AP test fee and the educational resources and/or textbooks.
AP Access for All provides training for teachers as well. Current AP teachers can take advantage of advanced professional development to refine their curriculum and teaching strategies. Tennessee teachers who have not attended professional development to teach AP courses can also take advantage of comprehensive AP training. These teachers will be able to teach in-person AP courses in their home district and virtually for students in the AP Access for All program through the Niswonger Foundation.
Professional Development – In addition to the efforts with AP training, the Niswonger Foundation has established a track record of success in meeting the needs of teachers through professional learning opportunities. Each year, the Foundation hosts a professional development opportunity uniting educators to share the region’s best educational practices. The newest professional development opportunity is a regionwide annual Learning Together Day – a joint commitment of the Northeast Tennessee Consortium of School Districts and the Niswonger Foundation. Additionally, we hold a Counselor Convening to provide Kindergarten – University counselors with professional learning and best practices opportunities. Year-long programming has been provided for new school leaders, and to develop school leaders in digital and personalized learning.
Response to Immediate, Unexpected and/or Critical Needs – While the Niswonger Foundation has a clear focus on the longstanding and successful programs and activities that have “set the course,” the staff functions in an environment that nurtures and supports flexibility, creativity and responsiveness. When evidence indicates, Foundation staff are prepared to “change course” based on unexpected and/or urgent needs of our school systems. This nimble environment has also served the region well as the Foundation is effectively prepared to take advantage of unanticipated opportunities and partnerships that fit the mission and provide opportunities and support for the LEA’s.
Statewide Partnerships and Engagement– The mission of the Niswonger Foundation is firmly placed in the First Congressional District of Northeast Tennessee. However, the leadership of the Niswonger Foundation recognizes the need for engagement in ensuring quality educational opportunities throughout Tennessee and nationally. As examples, the Niswonger Foundation President and CEO is represented among the leadership, of the following organizations:
Selected National, Regional and State Grants and Partnerships
US. Department of Education
The Niswonger Foundation was established in 2001 to make a positive and sustainable difference in education in Northeast Tennessee. This dream was envisioned by Scott M. Niswonger, who founded Landair Transport, Inc. and Forward Air Corporation. These companies were the first two Greeneville-based companies to be taken public in the history of Greene County, Tennessee. Jointly, the companies have combined annual revenue of over one-billion-dollars and employ more than 5000 people.
223 North Main Street
P.O. Box 1508
Greeneville, TN 37744