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Deadline nears to submit application to attend IA

March 26th, 2014 11:07 pm by Rick Wagner

Deadline nears to submit application to attend IA

Innovation Academy students work with Lego Mindstorm robots during a tour of the school on Wednesday. David Grace photo.

KINGSPORT — Innovation Academy of Northeast Tennessee has at least 220 students registered for grades 6-9 in its third year, including 72 outside the Sullivan County school zone.

And school officials said more than 60 of those are Kingsport City Schools students, but they also include students from Bristol, Tenn., Johnson City and Hawkins County.

The deadline to submit an application, actually more like an intent to attend, is April 15.

Sullivan County Director of Schools Jubal Yennie said a lottery is likely, at least for the sixth grade, and that the county Board of Education is scheduled to make decisions about or at least discuss IA staffing and budgeting at its April 7 meeting.

Principal Sandy Watkins and multimedia teacher Sara Shaffer said IA has 85 students registered for sixth grade, 56 for seventh, 48 for eighth and 30 for ninth. IA started with grades 6-7 in 2012-13 and then added eighth this school year.

The first two years, the school had lotteries as it had more demand than supply of available slots, but the school has ended up not filling all the eighth-grade slots this year.

Yennie told the IA Governing Board on Tuesday that the sixth-grade lottery is likely because of limited funds for additional teachers.

"Obviously, economics for this weigh in that decision," Yennie said.

Shaffer said Wednesday during a site visit of IA by Apple, Battelle and Tennessee STEM Innovation Network officials that about five of the applicants were from Bristol, Tenn., schools, about two each were from Hawkins County and Johnson City and the rest from Kingsport.

IA received an Apple Distinguished Program award for 2013-14 and 2014-15, making it one of 220 nationwide to receive the honor, one of two in Tennessee but the first in the nation to get an award for two school years.

Another IA issue, however, appears cut and dried.

That is the fate of equipment and supplies of IA acquired during its joint operation by the Sullivan Couny and Kingsport school systems but funded with a $1 million Race to the Top grant administered through the Battelle Memorial Institute.

According to copies of a letter given to IA Governing Board members at the Tuesday night meeting, Sullivan County will retain equipment purchased with federal Race to the Top grant money administered by Battelle to the county and city schools systems.

"It is the guidance from Battelle that all assets funded by the grant intended to support the creation of Innovation Academy of Northeast Tennessee, including furniture, equipment and other technologies, remain the property of Sullivan County Schools in support of the furtherance of the school in the coming academic years," Wesley Hall, director of client engagement for the Tennessee STEM Innovation Network and Battelle Memorial Institute, wrote in a Feb. 26 letter for Yennie and Kingsport Superintendent Lyle Ailshie.

During that meeting, Governing Board member and Kingsport Board of Education member Randall Montgomery said that the only caveat might be if IA ceased to exist as a county-operated program or school.

"If it changed drastically, there would have to be a secondary discussion," Montgomery said.

Yennie later that evening said he agreed with Montgomery on that point.

The school has been a program with no school number, but plans are for it to become a school with its own Tennessee number in 2014-15. That means academic test scores would be reported to IA instead of home or base schools.

Battelle administers the $1 million in startup Race to the Top money for IA, of which $250,000 will be carried over to 2014-15 by permission of the state Department of Education.

David Burns, director of STEM Networks for Battelle, said in the next two years officials from schools in 20 states will be coming to IA and "stealing from you."

"We are just stupid proud of you," Burns told students at the Apple ceremony Tuesday night, although he said learning is not all about iPads or computers. "The greatest piece of technology is the human touch between the teacher and students."

Jack Rhoton, executive director of the innovation hub that supports IA and helps disseminate STEM practices to 15 Northeast Tennessee public school systems, said IA exemplifies STEM education, which is project- and problem-based and crosses over curricula of all subjects.

When he recently talked with IA students at a science fair at ETSU, they beamed with "excitement and enthusiasm" about learning and their IA experiences.

"Their faces just lit up," said Rhoton, who is retiring from ETSU at the end of August.

Burns, Hall, Rhoton, Sullivan County Mayor Steve Godsey, County Commission Chairman and IA Governing Board member Eddie Williams and former Kingsport Superintendent Richard Kitzmiller, who works for the Greeneville-based Niswonger Foundation, also attended the site visit.

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