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Board votes to move IA to Holston, possibly putting remaining grant money in jeopardy

April 17th, 2014 11:10 pm by Rick Wagner

Board votes to move IA to Holston, possibly putting remaining grant money in jeopardy

BLOUNTVILLE — Innovation Academy of Northeast Tennessee will move from Bloomingdale to Blountville next school year, becoming a grades 6-8 school within a school at Holston Middle.

The question is whether that move could come at a financial penalty of a quarter of a million dollars.

In a called meeting Thursday night, the Sullivan County Board of Education voted to relocate the award-winning STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — program to Blountville. The vote, which followed the recommendation of Director of Schools Jubal Yennie and came after a week of emails and phone calls among parents and school officials, was 5-0 with Todd Broughton abstaining and Betty Combs absent.

However, Wes Hall, director of client engagement for the Tennessee STEM Innovation Network (TSIN) and Battelle Memorial Institute, said in an emailed statement that the move could endanger IA's use of the last $250,000 of $1 million in grant money being carried over to 2014-15.

"Innovation Academy has created an exemplar learning environment with students and a first class faculty that inspire all of us," Hall wrote. "The original grant, administered by Battelle on behalf of the Tennessee STEM Innovation Network, was to create a stand-alone school that would add a grade each year until it grew to accommodate grades 6-12, as proposed by the two districts (Kingsport, which is withdrawing from IA, and Sullivan County).

"No plan to change the funded model has been presented to Battelle. As the original grant was awarded through a competitive process, any changes to the model must adhere to the school design principles described in the districts' funded proposal and must be approved by Battelle," Hall said.

Yennie, in a phone interview after the meeting, said Battelle and the TSIN must be updated.

"But I don't think there is any kind of jeopardy with the carryover funds," Yennie said.

The decision to move IA and not expand to ninth grade came down to the perennial matter of taxpayer money: Keep the program, which uses problem-based, hands-on learning, at the former Brookside Elementary in Bloomingdale and add almost $390,000 to the county school spending, or follow the "break-even" proposal of moving it to Holston and downsizing it.

For an expanded version of this story, see Friday's print edition or our expanded electronic edition.

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