Innovation Academy board credits ETSU's Rhoton with getting school up and running

Rick Wagner • Nov 3, 2012 at 9:43 AM

KINGSPORT — Innovation Academy of Northeast Tennessee isn’t just a joint Sullivan County and Kingsport STEM school.

It’s a regional asset.

And the folks involved in starting and operating the science, technology, engineering and math school say it probably never would have won $1 million in federal Race to the Top (RTTT) money without the help, support and guidance of Jack Rhoton, East Tennessee State University professor of science education, executive director for the Center of Excellence in Mathematics and Science Education, and director of the Tennessee Governor’s School for Scientific Models and Data Analysis.

One of the reasons is that Rhoton is also head of the innovation hub operated by ETSU, which received another $500,000 in RTTT funding in addition to the $1 million that went to Kingsport and Sullivan County.

Innovation Academy Principal Sandy Watkins, former STEM coordinator for the county system, said aside from providing excellent STEM professional development, Rhoton helps Innovation Academy in its curriculum — recently providing assistance with a science program on immunization and inoculations. Sullivan County Director of Schools Jubal Yennie also said Rhoton has been an invaluable resource for STEM education in general and Innovation Academy in particular.

During a recent Innovation Academy Governing Board meeting at the school, Sullivan County resident Rhoton said the school is a focal point for regional cooperating and collaboration, like no other STEM asset or program in the region.

The hub, which has a STEM Advisory Council and STEM Asset Committee, serves 15 public school systems in Northeast Tennessee — not just Kingsport and Sullivan — providing STEM professional development and disseminating best practices to all area schools.

In addition, Rhoton said the hub provides other support to Innovation Academy and other schools, including soliciting of financial support and grant applications.

Snap On Tools in Elizabethton recently became the latest business partner for the regional STEM initiative, with plans to offer scholarships for teachers and students and funding for STEM development.

The main partners are Eastman Chemical Co., the Domtar paper mill and Wellmont Health System, but others include Aerojet, AOL Industries, the Niswonger Foundation and Nuclear Fuel Services. Memorandums of understanding are due in December for the city, county, Eastman, Domtar and Wellmont, Rhoton said, with more to come.

As an example of regional STEM efforts, Rhoton said ETSU recently provided in-service for 90 teachers in the region: 45 high school chemistry and physics teachers and 45 elementary and middle school science teachers.

Teachers get the professional development, a stipend, supply money and sometimes graduate-level college credit for the professional development.

The hub also is working on four grant proposals. One is to the state for teacher quality, another to the state for math and science partnerships. A third is to be to the National Science Center for a research in-service through ETSU, and a fourth is to be to the NSC for K-12 STEM research involving ETSU, Kingsport and Sullivan County.

In addition, he said several mini-grant applications will be available to individual teachers through the hub, the hub recently got science kits and more than 30 microscopes donated for STEM programs, and the hub will provide $4,000 in grants directly to Innovation Academy.

In addition to all that, Rhoton said he will become a presenter at the school in a few weeks, doing a program on air and gases.

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