Field Day ... At Home!Posted by JOSH FLORY on 5/12/2020
It's Field Day Season, and KCS is working to helping families participate -- even during the extended closure!
The first KCS@home Field Day will be held from May 18-22, with a list of more than 30 events -- including classic competitions like the sack race, dizzy-bat race and balloon stomp competition -- available on our website.
Share pictures on social media using #KCSatHomeFieldDay, and don't forget to have fun!
Nutrition Team Committed
To "Heart Work"Posted by JOSH FLORY on 5/1/2020
As the cafeteria manager at Gibbs Middle School, Tami Benziger enjoys the chance to visit with hundreds of students every day when school is in session.
It’s hard work, but Benziger said it’s also “heart work” -- “You've got to love what you do to be able to do it.”
That’s even more true during the extended closure prompted by COVID-19. Across Knox County, nutrition workers have stepped up to make sandwiches, pack fruit and prepare meals for thousands of students who otherwise might go hungry.
The scope of that operation was apparent on Wednesday at Halls High School, where a team of nutrition employees worked in the cafeteria to prepare meals that were delivered to the school’s drive-thru lane on carts, where they were distributed by teachers and administrators.
Brett Foster, the district’s Executive Director of Nutrition, said one of the challenges has been making the transition to fully pre-packaged meals, rather than the typical process of giving students options to choose from.
On this particular morning, Foster said employees at Halls had made 1,800 turkey, ham and cheese sandwiches by hand, adding that the extended closure has emphasized the dedication of Knox County’s school nutrition team.
“I’ve always said that they're some of the hardest working people we have in this district, and it’s just being highlighted now,” she said.
During the closure, KCS has been serving between 10,000 and 13,000 students on distribution days. Through May 20, two days of meals are provided on Mondays and three days of meals are provided on Wednesdays, which means that on busy days the team can distribute nearly 40,000 breakfast meals and another 40,000 lunch meals.
Foster said the pandemic has affected some families who never thought they would need food, but are now struggling with the loss of a job or a reduction in their income.
In fact, Benziger -- who is managing operations at Halls High during the closure -- said she recently spoke to a parent who was considering whether to participate, but didn’t want to take food that someone else needed.
Benziger assured her that there was plenty, and said she hopes Knox County families don’t hesitate to pick up what they need.
“I know we can’t help with their finances or with what's going on in their lives, but we can help to put a little food there for them,” she said, “so the money that they would spend on it could go toward something else.”
Halls Student Has
A Heart For AnimalsPosted by JOSH FLORY on 3/11/2020
When the FFA hosted its “NextGen: Animal Systems” conference last month in Kansas City, only 50 students from across the country were chosen to participate.
One of them was Haley Grisham, a Halls High School junior who is hoping her love for animals will lead to a career caring for them.
“It was really encouraging because everyone was there to better their future,” she said. “They were all there to learn, to just absorb everything we could.”
Participants were chosen by a selection committee, and learned about topics including emerging trends in animal systems; the use of big data; and regulatory issues related to the field.
Grisham was one of three students from Tennessee who participated. She enjoyed the chance to hear from U.S. Department of Agriculture officials about the agency’s plan to build a National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility in Manhattan, Kan., and she got firsthand experience conducting pregnancy checks on cows.
The event also provided an opportunity to meet students with similar interests, although growing up in the Knoxville area meant her background was different than some of her fellow attendees.
“I can’t remember ever touching a cow (before), but 90% of the kids there raised cows,” she said.
While Grisham didn’t grow up on a farm, she’s had plenty of exposure to animals. Her family owns a Jack Russell-Dachsund mix named “Pancake” and she has several birds, including a “sun conure” -- a type of parakeet -- named “Sunny D.” Grisham also volunteers at Hooves & Feathers, a farm animal rescue organization, and cares for classroom animals at Halls.
After high school, she hopes to attend Middle Tennessee State University and study horse physiology, and she’s considering a career training and caring for wild horses in areas where their population has outgrown the available resources. In the long run, she said, she’d like to own a ranch.
Grisham said she has a knack for communicating with creatures. “I can just go up to an animal, and they understand how I feel, I understand how they feel,” she said. “I just have that connection with them. … I love animals, they’re great.”
Ultimately, attending the conference may help provide a focus for Grisham's existing interests. Patti Keep, an agriculture teacher at Halls, said Grisham is an excellent student, and that the NextGen conference helped her zero in on her interests: “She’s very dedicated to anything that she does,” Keep said.
Program Offers Incentives
For Special Ed TeachersPosted by JOSH FLORY on 3/11/2020
A new partnership between Knox County Schools, the University of Tennessee and the Tennessee Department of Education is working to boost the number of special education teachers in Knox County.
On Monday, officials announced the “Grow Your Own” initiative, which offers incentives to UT students who aspire to special education as a career.
The program would launch in the fall of 2020, with KCS hiring 10 to 15 UT students as paraprofessionals during their intern year. Students in that Aspiring Teacher cohort would receive a salary and health care, and earn years toward retirement.
In addition, KCS would offer teaching jobs and signing bonuses in the 2021-22 school year, pending degree completion, licensure and good standing as a paraprofessional.
At a news conference on Monday, Superintendent Bob Thomas joined Tennessee Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn; interim UT System President Randy Boyd; and Ellen McIntyre, dean of the UTK College of Education, Health and Human Sciences, to announce the program.
Thomas said the announcement was a historic moment for Knox County Schools, and noted that the district starts every school year with teaching vacancies, particularly in special education.
The Grow Your Own initiative, he said, “is going to provide a pipeline for us. It’s going to allow us to fill the (vacancies) that we have … as well as build a pipeline of well-prepared teachers.”
The state Department of Education also announced that $1 million will be made available for teachers across the state to get a special education endorsement.
The state will contract with educator preparation programs to offer the endorsement to current teachers, and the funds will pay for teacher tuition. Districts will be allowed to submit teachers to get the endorsement at no cost to them.
Boyd, the interim UT president, on Monday recalled three teachers at Doyle High School who made a difference in his own academic journey, and noted that the percentage of college students who choose education as a major has dropped significantly in the last 40 years.
“This program, this partnership will help us go a long way to solving that,” he said.
"Good Night, Inskip" Promotes
Literacy, CommunityPosted by JOSH FLORY on 2/25/2020
Inskip Elementary School is using technology to put a new twist on the traditional bedtime story.
Over the last two years, Inskip has launched a weekly gathering called “Good Night, Inskip,” in which teachers, principals and other school staff read a bedtime story that is videotaped.
The videos are shared online every Wednesday night, and many of them feature school employees reading in their homes.
Lalita Thompson has two daughters who attend the school, and said she learned about the program shortly after they enrolled.
Thompson said her girls look forward to the videos, and their favorite so far was “The Very Hungry Caterpillar,” by Eric Carle. “We’ve been reading it to them since they were little,” she said.
Inskip Principal Lynn Jacomen said the school is trying to promote a culture of reading, and to reach families in unconventional ways.
As part of that effort, a teacher recently teamed up with a student to read a children’s book in two languages. “Now we’re really trying to reach out to our Spanish-speaking families more and see how can we also make sure that we’re reading the book in Spanish,” Jacomen said.
Besides sharing popular books with students, “Good Night, Inskip” has also made an impression by showing a different side of teachers and school staff.
Some teachers have worn pajamas in their videos, while others incorporate their pets as sidekicks. Kaelyn Martin, a 2nd-grade student, said those videos are fun because “the pet’s cute and it makes the people happy.”
Martin said her favorite bedtime story was “Pete The Cat,” adding that the videos help her fall asleep.
“Whenever they’re reading the stories, they’re not really going too fast,” she said. “And when they’re kind of going slow it makes me sleepy.”
Teachers Of The YearPosted by JOSH FLORY on 2/19/2020
Educators were in the spotlight on Tuesday as Knox County Schools gathered to celebrate its Teachers of the Year.
Nearly 200 teachers were honored during a banquet at the Knoxville Convention Center, in an event that included remarks from Superintendent Bob Thomas and Knox County Juvenile Court Judge Tim Irwin.
The event also highlighted the three district-wide Teachers of the Year. To see video profiles of those winners, click on the links below:
Payne is a 4th-grade math teacher who believes an important part of growth is giving students space to struggle with a problem. Using manipulatives and modeling, she helps students move from inefficient thinking to efficient thinking.
Lunsford is a chorus teacher who is committed to building community among her students, and urging them to pursue big dreams. Her students are able to learn a wide variety of instruments, including guitars, ukuleles, drums and harmonicas.
Clark teaches Algebra 1 and works to provide a classroom environment where students feel safe to make mistakes and take ownership of their learning. He makes a point of greeting every student, every day when they come into the classroom, and has worked to create a welcoming environment for English Language Learners.
Student Contest Highlights
Women's SuffragePosted by JOSH FLORY on 2/5/2020
It’s been nearly 100 years since American women won the right to vote, and Knox County students are marking the occasion with movies, essays and art.
The Suffrage Coalition, a local nonprofit, is sponsoring a Centennial Celebration Contest to mark the Aug. 18, 1920 vote that approved the 19th Amendment.
As part of the contest, students can submit entries in three categories: a literary category that includes a poem or essay, a visual arts category including several design types and a documentary category.
Angie Maxey and Sarah Eddins, teachers at Farragut Intermediate School, are helping spearhead the contest and have been performing skits -- in costume -- on the school’s morning news program to raise awareness.
While the state of Tennessee requires 5th-graders to learn about the suffrage movement, Eddins said most of them are not aware of the topic until hearing about it in school.
Maxey said the goal of the contest is to get students involved in the centennial celebration. “We’re really excited to see what they come up with,” she added.
Tennessee played a decisive role in the women’s suffrage movement. After Congress approved the 19th Amendment it went to the states for ratification, and Tennessee was the 36th state to vote in favor, providing the needed two-thirds majority of states.
In fact, it was an East Tennessee lawmaker -- state Rep. Harry Burn, of McMinn County -- who switched his vote to break a tie in the House. Later, Burn credited his decision to a letter from his mother, Febb Burn, urging him to support suffrage.
Knoxville attorney Wanda Sobieski is president of the Suffrage Coalition, and said that while it may be hard to believe now, the idea of allowing women to vote was “extraordinarily controversial” in 1920.
Sobieski said the story of Harry Burn and Febb Burn is important because “it tells us not only every vote counts but every letter or phone call or telegram counts. And sometimes just one more person deciding to do the right, or trying to do the right thing, will make all the difference.”
The deadline for contest entries is Feb. 14, 2020. For more information, visit the Farragut Intermediate School website.
Maynard Principal Earns
MLK Education AwardPosted by JOSH FLORY on 1/22/2020
His musical talent brought Dexter Murphy to Knoxville and earned him acclaim, but Murphy’s second act -- as an educator -- was recognized this week during celebrations of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday.
Murphy, the principal of Maynard Elementary School, received the Education Award during an MLK Memorial Tribute Service at Overcoming Believers Church.
In a summary statement, the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative Commission said that while Murphy is not a native Knoxvillian, “his investment in the uplifting of this community has been consistent since first coming to East Tennessee.”
A native of Bolivar, Tennessee, Murphy came to Knoxville after earning a scholarship to play trombone with the University of Tennessee’s Pride Of The Southland marching band.
In an interview, he recalled the formative role of educators in his life: Ms. Helen Johnson was a teacher who combined warmth with high expectations, while his band director, Mr. Harrison, recognized his gift for music and pushed him to apply for competitions, while also making it possible to receive private instruction that he couldn’t otherwise afford.
“He pushed me outside my limit,” Murphy said. “When I would learn all the 12 major scales he said, ‘Let’s learn the minor scales now.’”
Equally important was the support of his mother, a single parent who never used that struggle as an excuse, and urged him to enroll at UT because it would give him a chance to understand a culture different than the one in which he grew up.
After playing at UT for two years, Murphy was invited to rehearse with a band called Gran Torino, which was playing local venues and weekend shows in Chattanooga. The band eventually began to tour extensively and gained a measure of fame when its song “Moments With You” was featured on MTV’s “The Real World.”
Murphy had left school to perform full-time but said a wake-up call came in 2002, when the band’s bus was driving in a rainstorm and was struck by a tractor-trailer that had hydroplaned. While Murphy wasn’t injured, he felt blessed to be alive and decided to go back to school to earn his bachelor’s degree in jazz piano, fulfilling a promise to his mother.
After graduation he began working as the music program director for a non-profit called Tribe One, which used the arts to support urban youth. In that role, Murphy began offering free time in a recording studio to young people who would commit an equal amount of time toward preparing for their GED.
As he got involved in the work of tutoring, Murphy’s wife, Nicie Murphy, recognized that he was well-equipped to work in a school setting. “She came over for lunch one day and saw me and said, ‘You’re a natural at this. You need to look into teaching,’” he said.
After earning his elementary licensure from Lincoln Memorial University, Murphy did a teaching internship at Pond Gap Elementary and eventually became a full-time teacher at the school.
He began calling his 5th-graders the “Murph Dogs”, an effort to build a family atmosphere that also helped students avoid negative behaviors.
“We were like, ‘That’s not what Murph Dogs do,’ … We just created this culture in our classroom,” he said.
From there, Murphy went on to work as a mentor teacher; an assistant principal at Vine Middle School and Sarah Moore Greene Magnet Academy; and principal of Green Magnet Academy.
In 2017 he became dean of the upper school at Emerald Academy, and in 2018 became principal of Maynard Elementary.
While his career as a professional musician may be in the past, the charisma of a performer is still evident, whether it’s in managing a school assembly, greeting a visiting dignitary or having a one-on-one meeting to encourage a student.
Murphy said at Maynard he’s emphasizing the importance of courage, reminding students that choosing knowledge and doing the right thing will provide them with opportunities.
“That’s what my Mom poured into me,” he recalled. “She would say, ‘I want you to get your education, you need to go back to school. I’m glad you guys are touring, but you need to go back and get your education because nobody can take that from you.’ I feel like that’s my calling right now to inspire, motivate and be a role model for these kids, to see success that looks like them and understand it is possible.”
South-Doyle "ACT Academy"
Boosts Student SuccessPosted by JOSH FLORY on 1/22/2020
Being sent to the principal’s office isn’t always a positive outcome, but when three principals of South-Doyle High School knocked on the door of Kailey Garrison’s home, they came with good news -- and a cookie cake.
That’s because Garrison was the newest member of the “30-Plus Club”, an honor for South-Doyle students who score a 30 or higher on the ACT.
On a recent afternoon, Principal Tim Berry and Assistant Principals Denise McGaha and Michael Carter presented Garrison and her parents with the cake and a yard sign commemorating Garrison’s score of 31 on the national standardized test.
Garrison, a junior, is a member of the South-Doyle robotics team and plans to study engineering after high school. Her favorite subjects are the STEM classes -- focused on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math -- and she said biology teacher Kimberley Nixon has been particularly influential: “She was a really awesome teacher overall and helped me like and want to go further into the science categories.”
High schools across Knox County are working to improve ACT scores, which have a significant impact on post-secondary options and scholarship opportunities for students.
At South-Doyle, the 30-Plus Club is part of a multi-faceted push to boost achievement, including an ACT Academy that targets motivated students with the potential for improvement. The Academy includes a practice test, which leads to tutoring tailored to areas where each student needs to get better.
Carter, an assistant principal at South-Doyle, said the Academy meets for 7-8 weeks on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and also includes steps aimed at removing practical barriers to success.
At the beginning of the Academy, school officials make sure that students have completed their registration, and they prepare a notebook with entrance tickets for each student in case they forget their ticket on test day.
They also provide extra calculators for students who don’t have their own. Carter said that after a recent test, one student commented that it was the first time he had used a calculator on the ACT.
Steve Mosadegh, whose daughter Ava scored a 34 on the ACT, said she attended the Wednesday and Saturday sessions of South-Doyle’s Academy, and said it’s important to target instruction toward areas where a student is less prepared.
“It’s so smart, because kids these days don’t have big attention spans,” said Mosadegh, himself a teacher at South-Doyle Middle School. “If they see something redundant or something they already know, they’re going to lose interest in it.”
School officials have also worked to build awareness of student success. Besides the 30-Plus Club, South-Doyle has a trophy case that highlights every student who improved their score after taking the test multiple times.
Carter said steps like the display case and recognition on social media have generated strong interest in the ACT Academy.
“We didn’t have to recruit nearly as hard the second time around, it kind of sold itself,” he said. “It’s like having a sports team that starts winning. People want to go be a part of it, you don’t have to recruit nearly as hard.”
For the Garrison family, the 30-Plus Club is affirmation of the success that Kailey has achieved.
Her father, Andy Garrison, is a mentor for the robotics team and her mother, Chrissy Garrison, said South-Doyle has brought out the best in her daughter.
“I’m more than proud,” said Chrissy Garrison. “She has worked very, very hard for it. It’s all her and I see nothing but a huge, bright future in whatever she wants to do.”
Education A Family Legacy
For KCS EmployeesPosted by JOSH FLORY on 1/14/2020
When Linda Norris was growing up, she would spend part of her summers playing at Adams Elementary School, in Hamilton, Ohio, where her grandfather was the principal.
“The new textbooks for the following year were housed on the stage,” she recalled. “So I would spend time there while he was working. There were no teachers or students in the building, but I would play school on the stage with the new textbooks.”
Given that history, it’s not surprising that Norris -- now the principal at Bonny Kate Elementary School -- chose a career in education. But that family legacy has also extended to another generation.
Besides having four grandchildren who attend Bonny Kate as students, Norris’ son, Anthony Norris, is a first-year principal at South-Doyle Middle School.
Anthony Norris said his first passion was coaching, which led to his career as a teacher. He praised his mother’s steadiness, and her willingness to go back to school after having kids, in order to pursue a teaching career.
“She just works hard and she cares about it,” he said. “She’s going to do her best every day.”
The work of teaching and learning runs deep in the Norris family, but they’re not the only ones. Across Knox County there are multiple examples of families whose service to students spans generations.
Bearden Elementary Principal Susan Dunlap began her KCS career as a kindergarten teacher at White Elementary, which is now closed. Her father was a professor and an academic dean at Johnson University, and Dunlap said his influence shaped her career decision.
“I used to gather the neighborhood children in the basement of my house and have school,” she said. “I always wanted to be a teacher and my parents of course encouraged it, and they provided me a space in my house when I was a young as probably 4th grade.”
Dunlap’s daughter, Jennie Scott, recalled that because her mother was a teacher and administrator, she would be recognized whenever the family went out. “I just remember as a child thinking, ‘Wow, she’s really making a difference.’ Not only for people, the kids that she taught, but for a community.”
Scott worked at a day care facility while trying to figure out her career path after high school. That experience, she said, steered her toward education as a calling, as she realized “that’s what God wanted me to do, that’s where I’m supposed to spend my life and invest in kids and that I had a talent and I would be wasting it if I did something different. And clearly it’s in my blood.”
Scott became a teacher and is now an assistant principal at Christenberry Elementary. In fact, her husband, David Scott, is a social studies teacher and coach at South-Doyle High School.
Jennie Scott said one of the biggest things she learned from her mother is the importance of treating students as if they were her own children. “I tell my parents, ‘I treat your child no differently from my own.’ And I think my mom had a lot to do with that. She never said that, it was just her actions that proved it.”
Last year, the paths of mother and daughter converged when both Christenberry and Bearden Elementary were designated as Reward Schools by the State of Tennessee. And for her part, Dunlap became emotional when talking about her daughter’s journey.
“She knew it was hard work, but she knew the rewards,” Dunlap said. “It’s so rewarding.”
For some families, the path to the classroom was unconventional. Cynthia Lynn worked as a nurse for 15 years before becoming a teacher.
After several years teaching at Gibbs High School, Lynn left to teach at Carson-Newman University and later at King University, but in 2017 she returned to Gibbs and started a Certified Nursing Assistant program.
Lynn’s daughter, Julia Loy, also became a nurse but more recently began working as a health science teacher at South-Doyle High School, while her son, Nathan Lynn, is the assistant principal at Halls Elementary.
Both had their mother as a teacher -- Loy at Carson-Newman, and Nathan Lynn at Gibbs High School.
Julia Loy said her mother provided health care to people who were experiencing homelessness, and that helped shape her own approach to people.
“That’s what I learned from my mom -- you treat everyone the same,” said Julia Loy, who still works as a nurse on weekends and during summers.
While Nathan Lynn never worked in health care, he learned from his mother about the value of listening, a lesson that has shaped his approach to working as a school administrator.
“If you just listen to (school employees), we can get them where they want to be to make an impact,” he said. “And as far as parents and the community, they’re going to tell you what they want and how they want their kids to grow … Then you can formulate that vision for your school if you just listen really well and hold those high standards.”
For her part, Cynthia Lynn said she’s glad that her children chose to stay in the KCS family, because “I just love Knox County … I think they did well by choosing Knox County to use their gifts.”