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Innovation Academy continues with plan to add ninth grade in fall, but many unknowns remain

January 31st, 2014 1:08 am by Rick Wagner

Innovation Academy continues with plan to add ninth grade in fall, but many unknowns remain

Emily Durham tries out the Lego Mindstorm robot at the Innovation Academy with instructor Felicia Kellner during open house. Photo by Ned Jilton II.

KINGSPORT — Innovation Academy of Northeast Tennessee this fall likely will be a grades 6-9 school with its own school number at its current location.

However, Sullivan County Director of Schools Jubal Yennie said the STEM school won’t include an early college high school program for the 2014-15 school year. The future of band and athletics also is unknown.

That would mark the third year of IA but its first as it transitions from a Sullivan County-Kingsport joint program to a wholly Sullivan County operation, although city students are welcome to remain at or apply for the lottery to attend IA.

Yennie spoke to about 100 current and prospective IA parents and students during an IA open house Thursday night.

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math, but it also is marked by a hands-on learning style and use of technology, including every student being assigned an iPad.

“The best news is we are moving forward,” Yennie said. However, unanswered questions include whether band will continue at the school, as well as how athletics would be handled.

Students now can return to a home or base school to play athletics, but city students who choose to attend would have to be assigned a new base county school if IA has no number.

If IA has a number, it could field its own teams or could have students participate in a single middle school per each sport.

Yennie said he will recommend to the Board of Education not to proceed with an IA early college program in 2014-15. After talking with Northeast State Community College President Janice Gilliam, he said it was clear there was not enough time to put together a quality program for next school year. In early college, students can graduate from high school with enough or nearly enough college credits for a college degree.

In addition, Yennie said he will recommend the board keep IA at the former Brookside Elementary School because of the “unity” built up there and give the school staff the “green light” to make plans to add the ninth grade at that location. He also said shuttle bus transportation likely would continue for county students.

Pupil-teacher ratios of no more than 20 to 1 at IA the past two years would move to no more than 25 to 1 next year, Yennie said, to put IA staffing and funding in line with other county schools.

The still-fluid plan, he said, would have about 50 students, or two classes per grade level, for a total of 200 students, compared to 80 students, or four classes per grade level, staffed at this year’s school, although actual enrollment is lower than 240. He said that could be stretched to three classes at some grade levels if demand warranted.

Principal Sandy Watkins said enrollment this week is 73 in the sixth grade, 64 in the seventh, and 50 in the eighth, while new applications — not including existing students — as of Thursday numbered 45 for sixth grade, 20 for seventh, and seven for eighth.

Kingsport’s school board decided to pull out of IA at the end of this school year. 

The two systems jointly got a two-year $1 million start-up grant for IA. East Tennessee State University won a $500,000 two-year RTTT grant to be the hub for IA, helping support IA’s curriculum and programs, as well as spreading best practices from IA in Northeast Tennessee. Major IA partners are Eastman Chemical Co., Domtar and Wellmont.

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