An academic village has sprung up in downtown Kingsport with nearly 3,000 students — a collaboration between higher education institutions, the city, and local and regional businesses. It’s a promising development in its role of ensuring a qualified workforce, which is a cornerstone of community growth and economic development.
The Kingsport Acade Kingsport City Schools and Northeast State Community College are working to ensure that vital foundation remains strong by preparing students to fill the pipeline of talent flowing to the region’s industries.
It Takes a Village
The Kingsport Academic Village, a $12 million, 54,000- square-foot facility, houses the Kingsport Center for Higher Education, which combines the resources of Northeast State Community College, King University, Lincoln Memorial University, Milligan College and East Tennessee State University to allow local students to take courses and apply credits toward associate, undergraduate and graduate degrees from those colleges and universities.
“One of the biggest challenges for businesses and industry to expand or locate is a qualified workforce. The Academic Village is Kingsport’s answer to helping ensure a quality workforce and prosperity for the greater Kingsport community and for the whole region,” says Jeff McCord, vice president for Economic and Workforce Development, Northeast State Community College.
“The Kingsport Center for Higher Education is part of an infrastructure that helps people go all the way from a certificate or associate degree to taking post-graduate level classes.Post-secondary education is the key to prosperity for individuals and for communities.”
McCord says the education and training provided by the Academic Village also helps serve the needs of the community’s employers. For example, the Regional Center for Advanced Manufacturing helps train future skilled manufacturing professionals.
“We work with local businesses to customize training programs and to help connect them to our students,” McCord says, “and we also encourage what we call pipeline development in the school system. We encourage students as early as middle school to understand the various career paths available to them, particularly in STEM-related fields. We work with our economic development partners in the region to help attract prospective businesses who want a skilled workforce. Our goal is to help bring jobs here and prepare students to fill them.”
Flowing Up STREAM
Kingsport City Schools is addressing workforce demands by implementing a STREAM- (science, technology, reading, engineering, arts and mathematics) based curriculum throughout its 11 schools, emphasizing the use and understanding of technology as a way for students to compete. For example, all students in grades 4-12 receive a laptop or Chromebook to use during class and for coursework.
“We’re offering the community a strong curriculum that will prepare students for college and careers,” says Andy True, assistant superintendent, Kingsport City Schools. “This curriculum also supports our local science industrial base, so students can grow up here and learn here and stay here and have productive careers here.”
True says the district’s new regional science and technology center at Dobyns-Bennett High School, which begins construction in fall 2017, will give students a comprehensive foundation in technology and the sciences, preparing them for tech-based careers.
“I think it's critical that our community be on the cutting edge of what students need to be successful today and also in the future. We're preparing students for careers that have not even been invented yet,” says True. "Once they leave high school, they're going to be competing in a world that is very flat now. Our students need to be able to compete for college and careers on a global scale.”
True cites another program, DB-EXCEL (Dobyns-Bennett Excellence in a Creative Environment for Learning), as an example of the cutting-edge education the district provides. DB Excel allows high school students to learn at their own pace through a blended learning model, taking some of their courses online while also having access to instructors and support staff. The program is housed in a new facility in downtown Kingsport.
“[DB-EXCELl] provides a level of individualization to the curriculum,” True says. “It's important for us to set a very high bar because our community expects it; they expect us to provide an exceptional educational experience for students. We also understand that a strong public school system — a school system that is exceptional, not only regionally but on a national and international level — is a key measure for recruiting potential residents to our area. So when folks are looking for somewhere to live, they can point to Kingsport and the school system as being world-class and providing a world-class educational experience for their children.”
National accolades certainly help in that endeavor, too: Dobyns Bennett High School has earned recent recognition from U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek and The Washington Post.