School Partnership Program
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 meeting (currently weekly given the issues of COVID 19) bring all the superintendents/ directors to one table for discussion, deliberation and planning. This Consortium is noted statewide as a model effort.
Mini-Grants – Up to 10 percent of the Foundation’s total operating budget can be used to assist with important projects that are identified through proposals from schools, school districts and other not-for-profit agencies. Mini grants provide for exploration into creative educational activities, start=up projects, one-time unique educational experiences and assistance with other areas of great need in the Foundation’s service region. More than 400 mini grants have been awarded in the 19-year history.
Scholarship and Leadership 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 university that will best prepare them for success in their field of study, while participating in a comprehensive four-year leadership program. These students, in turn, commit to returning to Northeast Tennessee to work in their chosen careers and become catalysts for the growth and improvement of their communities. There are currently 20 Niswonger Scholars and 83 Scholar Alumni. This year saw the milestone of surpassing the 100th Niswonger Scholar.
College and Career Advising Program – Students in 30 high schools receive the assistance of college and career advisors through the NiswongerCARE program. Seminal to this program is the goal of establishing a college-going culture in the region’s high schools. Students are assisted with FAFSA’s, college applications, career exploration/college planning, ACT test registration, scholarship searches and applications, and informational meetings for families. In the past ten years, the region’s college-going rate has risen from 50.6% to 63.4%.
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 nearly 60 courses – spanning AP, STEM, English language arts, international languages, CTE, etc., 19 regional LEA’s and 10 affiliate counties across Tennessee 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 nine AP courses (and expanding) 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 provides a three-year program for up to 300 students, with 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 Diploma, with selected goals to be accomplished in pursuit of a credential recognized by businesses and industries across the State. 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. Over 7000 high school seniors are registered on WE Track and pursuing a Work Ethic Diploma.
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 mathematics, science and social studies in a total of 29 content areas. These resources are growing at a pace of 50-60 materials each month.
Key components to the CER program include:
- Regional curriculum aligned to state standards, containing the rigor to help students master essential skills.
- Curriculum supported by the necessary materials and resources for successful implementation.
- Pacing guides for all core subjects.
- Benchmark assessments to ensure students have mastered essential skills.
- Data management system which level staff analyze and effectively use state/benchmark data to drive the instructional program.
Project On Track – This is a literacy tutoring program for kindergarten through third grade students whose learning has been significantly impacted by COVID due to interrupted learning opportunities. The project was designed based on preliminary research estimating learning loss due to school building closure from March until fall, 2020 being as much as 2 ½ times that of typical summer learning deficits. Research has demonstrated that students who are not reading on grade level by third grade are four times less likely to graduate high school by age 19 than a child who reads proficiently at that time.
The project was designed based on preliminary research estimating learning loss due to school building closure from March until fall, 2020 being as much as 2 ½ times that of typical summer learning deficits. Research has demonstrated that students who are not reading on grade level by third grade are four times less likely to graduate high school by age 19 than a child who reads proficiently at that time.
The project will provide High Dosage (small student groups with a trained tutor at least three times per week for a minimum of one hour each session over several weeks) and High Impact (quality instructional materials aligned with district needs) tutoring. Project On-Track will arrange tutoring for both in-person learners and remote learners beginning this summer. The program can be used during summer camps within the six-hour day, after the six-hour day, and after the school day beginning in Fall, 2021.
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) 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. Over the next two years, a minimum of 5,000 students will gain access to AP coursework and the opportunity to earn college credit through the AP exam.
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 will be able to 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 will also be able to 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 the School Success Symposium, uniting nearly 1000 educators to share the region’s best educational practices. A broad range of nationally acclaimed speakers and state educational leaders have provided the keynote addresses. 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. The newest professional development opportunity is a regionwide annual Learning Together Day – a joint commitment of the 19 school districts and the Niswonger Foundation.
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 are represented among the leadership, of the following organizations:
- Tennessee Higher Education Commission (Commission Member)
- Tennessee Independent Colleges and Universities Association (Board Member)
- State Collaborative on Reforming Education (Advisory Committee)
- Tennesseans for Quality Early Education (Board Member)
- Governor’s Early Literacy Foundation (Board Member and Officer)
- Communities in Schools (Board Member)
- Tennessee Department of Education Partnership Council
- Tennessee Arts Commission (Commission Member0)
Selected National, Regional and State Grants and Partnerships
US. Department of Education
- Investing in Innovation (i3), 2010 ($21 million with 20% match) – This grant was focused on establishing a college and career consortium of 15 school districts and 30 secondary schools serving 27,000 students. This project resulted in 5 findings of significance, two recorded in the What Works Clearinghouse. An overview of the grant is included as an attachment. The twenty percent match funds for this grant were secured from The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation ($1.5 million); the Rural School and Community Trust ($.5 million); the J.P. Morgan Foundation ($250,000). Scott M. Niswonger personally provided the remainder of the matching funds.
- Education, Innovation and Research (EIR) Rural LIFE (Literacy Initiative Focused on Effectiveness), 2017 ($8 million with 10% match) – The Niswonger Foundation was one of 6 recipients in the “mid-phase” category. This grant funds 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 identify specific technology needs as part of their learning model. The grant will serve seventeen school systems in Northeast Tennessee. The majority of the 73 schools in this project are designated rural and 85% are Title I schools. Approximately 19,700 students are served by Rural LIFE-participating schools.
- EIR – Instructional Coaching – Partnership with New Teacher Center, 2019 (total grant of $14 million) – This grant will implement a high-quality standards-aligned instructional coaching (IC program to improve the effectiveness of teachers via job-embedded coaching and advance the learning of K-12 students in high-need rural and urban school districts. There are two rural and two urban partners.
- Tennessee Department of Education – 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. ($10 million)
- Governor’s Direct Appropriations Grants – NiswongerCARE College and Career Advising (2019 and 2021, $1.4 million)
- Care Foundation of America – This foundation has engaged in two substantial grant partnerships with the Niswonger Foundation:
- NiswongerCARE College and Career Advising – With the completion of the i3 federal grant, a grant proposal to the Care Foundation resulted in five years of total or partial funding that ensured the sustainability of the program for this time period. ($2 million)
- NiswongerCARE Online – Expands the Foundation’s online program to rural and distressed counties across Tennessee. This movement outside our traditional service region provides much needed support for rural students who would have no other possibility of being able to, for example, select from several international languages or complete an AP course. ($340,000)
- Project On Track – Established to meet the needs of students (K-3) who are not on track to third grade reading proficiency. The work is designed around the best methods identified through research, using high dosage/high intensity advising. The programs serve 19 school districts. ($2,300,000 and additional $1,150.000 match)
- Walmart Foundation – This grant supported a three-year literacy development program for all kindergarten through second grade students in the Hancock County School System from 2017-18 to 2019-20. ($450,000)
- Annenberg Foundation – The grant provided support for the development of two literacy resource centers in two of the region’s most disadvantaged elementary schools. ($100,000)
- Other Charitable Contributions – Private donations to the Niswonger Foundation are encouraged and welcomed. These contributions are received from Board members; staff; interested citizens; former Scholars and their families; local, state, and national business leaders; private foundations; and national and international businesses and corporations.