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Two 'early college' high schools proposed for Sullivan County

Rick Wagner • Sep 24, 2009 at 12:00 AM

KINGSPORT — Sullivan County needs to have two “early college” high schools, according to one of the teams formed after the education/work force development summit held earlier this year.

Lynn Johnson’s team, which has six recommendations for the NETWORKS – Sullivan Partnership, is focused on ways to help high schools meet the new Tennessee graduation requirements and get more students qualified for the Educate and Grow scholarships at Northeast State Community College.

Johnson, an Eastman Chemical Co. retiree, said the other recommendations would be presented when the full report from four teams comes in November. But he said the short-term recommendation that needs action now is getting an early college operation locally.

In early college, students attend four years of high school and upon graduation also receive a two-year associate degree or two years of credit toward a four-year degree. It is geared mostly toward students at risk of dropping out of high school or who might not otherwise get a college degree.

“We think this one needs to be started on right now,” Johnson told the NETWORKS board, which met Thursday at the Kingsport Center for Higher Education downtown. He suggested one on the Bristol end of the county and one on the Kingsport end.

The audience included Sullivan County Director of Schools Jack Barnes and Bristol, Tenn., Director Gary Lilly, who along with Kingsport Superintendent Richard Kitzmiller have been invited to all meetings of the NETWORKS board, a joint venture of Sullivan County, Kingsport, Bristol, Tenn., and Bluff City.

NETWORKS Chairman Jeff Byrd, general manager of Bristol Motor Speedway, said all three school systems, NETWORKS and the community must work together to meet work force development needs.

The RAMP-Up Task Force has recommended to Gov. Phil Bredesen the implementation of early college in Tennessee, creating both new high schools and co-locating with existing high schools. The idea is to give grants to start up the programs funded by federal stimulus money over three years.

“The key here will be they (teams) report it out, we pick it up,” said Keith Wilson, immediate past chairman of the NETWORKS board who spearheaded the summit.

Among the other three team:

•Nick Grabar said his team — focused on how to make people aware of the benefits and needs for education in economic development — will propose a community call to action plan and education/work force readiness scorecard; improve recognition of work force readiness, higher education opportunities and scholarships available; and benchmark best practices using tools from the Niswonger Foundation and Chattanooga’s Community Research Center.

Byrd said it was crucial to get “buy in” from all stakeholders and not to set unrealistic goals.

•Terry Cunningham, executive director of the Kingsport Housing and Redevelopment Authority, said his team — focusing on how to foster a learning culture in Sullivan County — will recommend working with education and the business community to develop an appreciation of education by families and students.

He said the team is looking at a public awareness campaign and possible incentives, as well as a way to get students help and resources outside the classroom, especially in math and science.

•April Eads of Bristol Tennessee Essential Services said her team — focused on ways to increase the number of higher education degrees in the county — will propose a public awareness campaign of existing programs such as free GED classes and Educate and Grow.

She said the group also is working on short-term plans to get out that information.

Byrd said the NETWORKS board likely will have a called meeting in November to receive the four team reports. The next regular board meeting is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. Dec. 3 in the library at Northeast State in Blountville.

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