New Departments Aim To Help
Support All KCS StudentsPosted by Josh Flory on 7/29/2019
Knox County Schools is always preparing for new challenges and opportunities, and with that in mind the district recently implemented a reorganization which aims to ensure that all students are equipped for success.
The reorganization includes the creation of two new departments, which will be led by former KCS principals.
Janice Cook, formerly the principal of Paul Kelley Volunteer Academy, in July began working as KCS Director of School Culture.
In that position, she will focus on supporting initiatives that can have a significant impact on students’ academic performance, including disparities in education, restorative discipline, absenteeism and social-emotional learning.
Former Bearden High School principal Jason Myers was appointed as Executive Director of Student Supports. In that role, he will focus on areas including special education, English-language learners and health services.
Previously, these responsibilities were all part of the Department of Student Support Services. The director of that department, Melissa Drinnon, left KCS earlier this year as part of an early retirement incentive offered to employees.
Jon Rysewyk, Assistant Superintendent and Chief Academic Officer at KCS, said Drinnon’s departure was an opportunity to re-evaluate how the district can provide focused attention in areas that have become increasingly important.
The federal government is closely involved in the oversight of special education, with an increased emphasis on ensuring special education students are able to learn in the least restrictive environment.
The number of English-Language Learners within KCS is also increasing, and research is providing new insights into the best ways to support those learners.
At the same time, school culture has become a priority for policymakers and community advocates both nationally and locally in recent years.
In 2014, KCS created a Disparities in Educational Outcomes Task Force, which aims to address disproportions in academic achievement and discipline outcomes that might be correlated with income, race, language and/or disability.
The district has also worked to implement best practices for students who may be struggling with behavioral or emotional challenges, which are often related to trauma they have experienced outside the classroom.
Rysewyk said the decision to appoint separate leaders for those policy areas reflects a more intentional focus on topics that “have risen to the level where we need to provide concentrated effort to them.”
“Sometimes if you have too many balls in the air, it’s hard to really focus on making a dent,” he added.
Both Cook and Myers have significant on-the-ground experience with the policy areas that they will oversee.
Cook was principal at the Dr. Paul L. Kelley Volunteer Academy, a high school that provides intensive academic services for students who have fallen behind at their zoned school and are at risk of dropping out.
Prior to that role, she was principal of the Knoxville Adaptive Education Center, or KAEC, a special day school for students with mental health needs.
Cook also has experience in program development at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital where she was the coordinator of EMBRACE, a program to serve children with complex diagnostic needs, including mental health and educational issues.
“Students need a way to feel connected,” she said. “And as a district, this reorganization is one way we can pay more attention to how we support students.”
Myers was the principal at Bearden High School and previously worked as a special education teacher and as the principal of KAEC.
He said the opportunity to affect policy from a district-wide perspective was appealing. He also cited the district’s recently adopted strategic plan, which emphasizes increasing student achievement, eliminating disparities and building a positive culture.
The district can’t achieve those goals without a focus on students with special needs, he said. “It’s pretty evident that without making sure we have quality programming in place for those populations, we’re simply not going to be able to promote those priorities to every student.”