BLOUNTVILLE — Parents have submitted nearly 300 applications for 160 available student slots in the new Innovation Academy of Northeast Tennessee.
The grades 6-7 STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) platform school will be jointly operated by the Kingsport and Sullivan County school systems and eventually will become a grades 6-12 school. It will open Aug. 6 in the soon-to-be-former Brookside Elementary School in the Bloomingdale community of the county. Applications for the STEM school — which will integrate math and science throughout all classes, including English and social studies — were first distributed May 9, and the application deadline is June 1.
Each student will receive a school-owned iPad for use during the school year. Textbooks and the library will be virtual, accessed on the iPad or other wireless devices.
As of Wednesday evening, Sullivan County Schools spokeswoman Jamie Whitinger said 277 applications had been received from both systems. Of those, she said 132 were male, 105 female and the rest were of undetermined gender because of names not exclusive to one gender.
The school has no minimum grade requirements, but students are urged to have an interest in science, math, collaborative learning, leadership and a rigorous course of project-based, hands-on learning.
Sullivan County Director of Schools Jubal Yennie told the county Board of Education during a called meeting Wednesday that the number of applications after only two information sessions shows strong interest in the school.
“We have people who are interested in education and what’s best for the kids. I’m excited about that,” Yennie said.
The school already is helping “to start a ripple effect of STEM throughout the region,” Yennie said.
The trend among applicants so far is more city students than county and more boys than girls, although Whitinger did not provide an exact breakdown. Each system will get 80 slots, or 40 per grade, and each system will provide four teachers and split the expense of the principal.
A lottery is to be used to choose student applicants, but under the Tennessee grant of $1 million — funded by federal Race to the Top money but administered by the Battelle Memorial Institute — the school is supposed to reflect the demographics of the region.
The school’s governing board will decide how close percentages must match for minorities and gender. The application forms have no check box for gender, and Yennie said it would be illegal under federal law to have one for race.
Yennie also said that parents, students and the community need to understand a lot of logistical issues — including transportation and identifying county base schools for related arts including band and after-school sports — remain unresolved.
About 15 people have applied to be the school’s principal, and Yennie said he and Kingsport Superintendent Lyle Ailshie have narrowed down five finalists to be interviewed in early June, with one likely chosen by June 10.
Teachers also will be hired in early June, four by the city system and four by the county system.
Many of the unanswered questions will be answered after the principal and teachers are hired and the pool of applicants is finalized.
Aside from the mostly start-up grant funding, the city is projecting to spend $521,755 on the school its first year and the county $501,555. The county is providing the building rent free, but operational items are to be split between the two systems.
The plan is for the students to leave the STEM school about 12:30 p.m. each day for afternoon related arts, including band, and after-school sports. However, Yennie said that is not written in stone, especially for subsequent years. He said it is conceivable some students won’t want to return to a base school this year.
“That is an option that has not been explored,” Yennie said.
Other ideas include putting Wi-Fi on school buses and having students work on iPads during the bus ride from the STEM school to the base school.
“There is a whole bunch of opportunity here,” Yennie said.
An information session at Ketron Intermediate Monday drew about 55, and one at Sevier Middle Tuesday drew about 60.
The remaining information sessions, all from 6 to 7 p.m, are scheduled for tonight (Thursday) at Colonial Heights Middle School; Monday at Holston Middle; Tuesday at Robinson Middle; and May 31 at the Eastman Employee Center.
For information on applying and other details about the school, go to the Innovation Academy Web site at www.ianetn.org.