Foundation brings technology to Carter County schools

By Julie Fann

STAR STAFF
jfann@starghq.com

   The Carter County School Board on Monday entered into a technology partnership with the Niswonger Foundation, a regional foundation developed by Scott Niswonger, Chairman and CEO of Landair Corporation, Greeneville. The two-year partnership will bring $346,000 to the county to place mobile computer labs with advanced educational software in each of its four high schools.
   "In this time of monetary crunch, we find ourselves especially needy, and to see this kind of generosity from our business interests in the community is just overwhelming. We need that money; we need the interest that's being shown, and we are certainly grateful that the private sector is reaching out to assist us," Carter County School Board Chairman Richard Winters said after Scott Niswonger and Buzz Thomas, foundation director, outlined the partnership.
   Thomas divided the two-year partnership into separate "phases." The first phase, or year, will focus on Cloudland and Happy Valley high schools. The second year will focus on Hampton and Unaka high schools. Phase two is contingent upon the completion of phase one, and after each year is completed, the school system is responsible for maintaining the labs and providing stipends for staff.
   Thomas said each school will be equipped with Dell PowerEdge file servers, wireless laptop carts with 30 laptop computers, Plato licenses, and Microsoft Office 2000 software and stipends for lab directors. The Carter County School System will be responsible for installing multiple wireless hook-ups at each school.
   The primary architect of the project is Beverly Miller, Greeneville city schools technology coordinator. Miller will work closely with Carter County Schools Technology Director Vicky Stevenson to implement the project at each of the high schools. Buzz Thomas spoke highly of the Foundation's flexibility in working with each school system differently. "We don't take a cookie cutter notion of schools. Everybody learns differently. Each school system is different, and the best people who know how to improve local schools are local people," he said.
   The Niswonger Foundation has, so far, developed six partnerships in east Tennessee. It has helped bring instrumental music to Greene County schools, implemented vocational programs in Johnson County schools, and, in Cocke County, the foundation plans to build a new school that will have special teachers who have prior experience in education.
   Scott Niswonger developed the foundation several months ago. After working with Gov. Don Sundquist on particular economic development projects, he saw that the young people of the state aren't prepared for 21st century jobs. Since area school systems were in need and waiting on the state for limited funds, he started the foundation with 25 million dollars. "What we believe, is that other businesses will follow and do something to help," he said.
   In addition to partnership opportunities, the Niswonger Foundation also has a scholarship fund that is now available to Carter County students. To qualify for a full four-year scholarship, students must demonstrate a talent for leadership. Those who receive the scholarship are required to return home for two weeks every summer for a leadership workshop held at Tusculum College and directed by Tom Garland. "Our scholarships are contingent upon young peoples' desire and willingness to come back to the region and put their talent to work for you in Carter County and upper east Tennessee," Thomas said.
   Taukia Hughes, 18, a senior at Cloudland High School, is a finalist for this year's Niswonger scholarship. Hughes said that being a finalist has helped her understand what it means to bring what she learns back to where she lives. "This area has a small population, and I think that some towns need to be small. I would like to work hard to preserve the heritage of this community and make sure that history isn't disturbed," she said. Hughes plans to attend Lees-McRae College and major in criminal justice.