Innovation Academy Receives Apple Distinguished School Award

The following article appeared on March 25, 2014 in the Kingsport Times-News.

KINGSPORT — Innovation Academy of Northeast Tennessee formally received its Apple Distinguished School (ADS) award Tuesday night for this school year and next.


The presentation came amid the applause of students, teachers and area school officials, as well as the accolades of officials from East Tennessee State University, the Battelle Memorial Institute and the Tennessee STEM Innovation Network.

The award makes the platform STEM school — which focuses on science, technology, engineering and math — one of 220 Apple schools nationwide and two in Tennessee to have the honor. The other Tennessee facility is the L&N STEM Academy, a platform STEM school in Knoxville.

IA Apple 3-24-2014Katherine Hughes, K-12 development executive for Apple Education, said IA is the first school ever to receive the award for two school years, 2013-14 and 2014-15.

Hughes said the five criteria for ADS are visionary leadership, innovative learning and teaching, ongoing professional development, student success and learning and a flexible learning environment.

IA 3-24-14

“It’s changing the way public education is perceived today,” Hughes said of IA.

“We sat in a room three years ago and this was a piece of paper,” said David Burns, director of STEM Networks for Battelle, at the IA Governing Board meeting before the ceremony.

Now, the holder of a doctorate in physics is teaching sixth-graders at IA, which uses problem- and project-based learning that crosses over curricula of all subjects.

David Burns at IA 3-24-2014

“That was the intent of this kind of funding,” Burns said.

“We’re talking about you behind your back all the time in a positive way,” Burns said. “There are people all across the country talking about what happens at this school.”

IA is a joint program of Sullivan County and Kingsport schools, although Kingsport’s school board voted in late 2013 to withdraw from the two-year partnership at the end of this school year.

ETSU operates the STEM hub that supports IA but also STEM education in the 15-school system area of Northeast Tennessee.

ETSU won a $500,000 Race to the Top grant administered by Battelle, while the city and county systems won $1 million in start-up money for two years.

The state has given IA permission to carry over $250,000 of that start-up money to the 2014-15 school year.

“In order for it to continue, it was better to have one system or the other do that (assume lone operation),” Kingsport BOE member and Governing Board member Randy Montgomery said at the board meeting. “By (Kingsport) bowing out, it gives an opportunity to continue.”

Also during the meeting, Sullivan County Director of Schools Jubal Yennie explained that the Governing Board would be abolished effective June 30 and be replaced by an Advisory Board, still containing members of area industry, to make recommendations to the county Board of Education on IA.

“I see a great future for this school,” Jack Rhoton, executive director of the ETSU platform hub, said at the Governing Board meeting. He lauded the IA teachers. “You’ve been an inspiration to me.”

He said the STEM hub at ETSU provides weekly professional development meetings for IA teachers as well as a graduate assistant in math two days a week. The hub also provides equipment, including a recently purchased microscope.

Rhoton also said the hub also has given out 85 STEM mini-grants worth $130,000 to 115 teachers in 15 school districts.

Kingsport has launched a STEAM initiative, STEM plus reading and the arts, in its system.


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