• May 28, 2021


    Dear KCS families,

    I hope you are enjoying the beginning of summer break, and I appreciate the chance to share a final update for this school year.

    I want to remind elementary and middle school families who enrolled in summer learning camps that these camps will begin on June 1. The Elementary Summer Learning Camp is a 6-week program that will run through July 9. The Middle School Summer Bridge Camp is a 4-week program that will run through June 28.

    In particular, I want to thank our employees who are stepping up to make these camps a success. Hundreds of KCS bus drivers, teachers, site coordinators, custodians, nutrition workers and others will be serving students and families, and we should all give them a heartfelt “thank you” for their efforts.

    For additional details about summer learning, please visit our website at www.knoxschools.org/summerlearning. Also, you may find additional information about the upcoming school year at www.knoxschools.org/connect.

    I hope that you have found my weekly messages to be helpful this school year. It is important to me that we provide you with updates so that you may be informed of what is happening in our district. With the school year at an end, I will resume my regular messages when students return in the fall but will communicate with you as needed over the summer.

    Have a wonderful summer break and, as always, thank you for supporting Knox County Schools. It is truly an honor and privilege to serve you!

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools

    May 21, 2021


    Dear KCS families,

    When this school year started, all of us waited anxiously to see how COVID-19 would affect the work of teaching and learning. In my family message on August 21, 2020, I expressed confidence that by working together, Knox County Schools could protect the health and safety of our school communities while also continuing our educational mission.

    Nine months later, my heart is filled with gratitude when I reflect on the tremendous achievements of this school year. As we prepare for the last half-day of classes on Tuesday, I am so proud that despite the adversity, the KCS family overcame the challenges of the pandemic – and we did it together!

    I am thankful for everyone who made this school year possible, including:

    • Students and families, for embracing new policies and procedures to protect our school communities;
    • Teachers, who took on countless new responsibilities with determination, ingenuity and compassion;
    • School administrators, for their skillful leadership and steady presence amid great uncertainty;
    • Nutrition workers and custodians, for going the extra mile to create a healthy and supportive learning environment;
    • School nurses, for tackling the difficult work of contact tracing and providing essential medical expertise;
    • Counselors, for offering social and emotional supports to students who were hurting; and
    • School security officers, secretaries, teaching assistants, as well as all other staff members, for their roles in helping make this school year a success!

    As the summer break begins, I hope that every member of the KCS family gets a chance to rest and relax. Taking time off is essential for each of us, and the summer is a well-earned opportunity to spend time with loved ones and re-charge our batteries.

    In addition, I want to remind our families that graduation ceremonies for the Class of 2021 will be held at Ridgedale School and K.A.E.C. on Thursday, and additional ceremonies will begin on June 1. For more information about graduation – including recognition of valedictorians, salutatorians and students who have made military commitments – please visit knoxschools.org/seniors.

    As we all know, the work of education never ends, and new challenges are surely waiting for us in the months and years ahead. But my hope is that when we look back on this school year, we will always remember how much can be accomplished when we work together. I am so proud of the KCS community and, as always, I am very grateful for your support and for the opportunity I have been given to serve.

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools

    May 14, 2021


    Dear KCS families,

    There are only six and a half days left in the semester, I am very thankful for our students, families, teachers, administrators, and staff who are working extremely hard as we approach the finish line!

    I want to provide an important update about action taken by the Board of Education this week. As you may know, Board members voted to sunset the district’s face covering policy on May 26. This means that masks will be recommended – but not required – after the semester ends, unless the guidance changes. The Board’s decision applies to summer learning, graduations, and the upcoming school year.

    The Board also approved applications for three new virtual schools. These now head to the Tennessee Department of Education for consideration. Families who applied for a transfer to a virtual school will be notified in June about the status of their request.

    As the summer approaches, I want to encourage families to read with their children over the break. We are partnering with the Knox County Public Library and Mayor Jacobs’ Read City USA in their latest community-wide reading challenge Tails and Tales Summer Adventure. Learn more about this fun activity here, and on the following flyer: KCPL-Summer-Adventure-Hidden-Picture.pdf.

    Additionally, the Tennessee Department of Education announced this week it will provide free story booklets to help students in grades K-2 practice their reading skills. Tennessee families can order a pack with 7 booklets for each of their kindergarten, 1st-, and 2nd-grade students using this order formThe booklets include letter sounds and words that are familiar to readers and allow them to practice important phonics and decoding skills at their grade level.

     

    Finally, I want to highlight one of our administrators who recently earned statewide recognition. Shay Siler, the principal of Karns Elementary, was selected by the National Association of Elementary School Principals as the 2021 National Distinguished Principal from the State of Tennessee. I know that Ms. Siler will be an excellent ambassador for KCS when she attends the National Distinguished Principals awards ceremony this fall in Washington, D.C., and we are all very proud of her work.

    As always, thank you for your patience, grace, and support throughout this very challenging school year!

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools

    May 7, 2021


    Dear KCS families,

    Thank you for the chance to share some important updates as we wrap up another week of instruction.

    There has been a great deal of conversation this week about the district’s working relationship with our law enforcement partners. As superintendent, I want to state very clearly that I support and will advocate for continuing to have sworn law enforcement officers in our middle and high schools and School Security Officers at all our schools. We rely on our partnership with law enforcement agencies to help us with that effort.

    I look forward to working with our Board of Education and our community about how to most effectively protect our schools. It is important to remember that we all share the same goal – to ensure that students and employees can learn and teach in a safe environment.

    I also want to highlight two important opportunities to recognize KCS employees. Today is School Lunch Hero Day, and I want to thank the outstanding school nutrition workers who provide healthy meals for our students. On a related note, I am happy to announce that all students will continue to receive breakfast and lunch meals at no cost during the 2021-22 school year. This program was made possible by new flexibilities from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and we are grateful for the chance to continue supporting students and families next school year.

    In addition, National Nurses Week began on Thursday, May 6. Our nurses provide exceptional care in our school buildings, but this year they also took on significant responsibilities related to the pandemic. If you get a chance, please thank a school nurse for their amazing work to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and to reassure our students, families and employees during this very challenging school year.

    As always, thank you for your support of Knox County Schools!

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools

    April 30, 2021


    Dear KCS families,

    It is hard to believe that the last month of the school year is almost here! As the spring semester enters the final stretch, I appreciate the chance to share some updates.

    I want to begin by pointing out that Teacher Appreciation Week begins on Monday, May 3. This has been an extremely challenging year, but I am convinced that years from now we will remember teachers among the unsung heroes of the nation’s response to COVID-19.

    During the pandemic, our teachers have made an extraordinary effort to protect the health of our school communities. Additionally, they worked hard to implement virtual and in-person learning and to support the social and emotional well-being of students. As we celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week, I hope that you will consider sending your teachers a note of encouragement and appreciation to let them know that our community is grateful for them.

    Please remember that families who wish to transfer to one of our virtual schools in 2021-22 (pending Board and State approval) can submit a transfer application beginning this Monday, May 3, and that the deadline to apply is 4 p.m. on May 14. The online application and paper forms can be found at this link. Paper forms in multiple languages will also be available at each of our schools.

    An FAQ document in English and Spanish – with details about prerequisites for our virtual schools, waiting lists, and the priorities for approval – is available at knoxschools.org/connect.

    As always, thank you for your support of Knox County Schools!

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools

    April 23, 2021


    Dear KCS families,

    I would like to extend my gratitude to the KCS community for the tremendous outpouring of support you have shown to our Austin-East family during this difficult time. The Austin-East community has suffered beyond measure this year, and your thoughtfulness and prayers have been heartwarming.

    I know that there are a lot of questions regarding the April 12 shooting, and we are working to gather more information and to examine the events that led to the tragic incident of that day. I am hopeful that together with the community we can find a solution to the violence and move past the trauma that our students have endured.


    I would like to also share some important details about the 2021-22 school year. KCS has been closely monitoring new guidance from the State Board of Education. Based on that guidance and KCS Board approval, we will be submitting an application to create three virtual schools for next fall – one for elementary, one for middle, and one for high school students.

    The transfer window for these schools will be from May 3 through May 14. It is important to note that the process will follow the standard transfer procedure, and students who meet the prerequisites and are approved for a transfer will be notified in June. Students who are accepted into virtual school will unenroll from their base school and enroll in the virtual school; therefore, will not be able to participate in extra-curricular activities at their former base school.

    It is very important to remember that this virtual option is dependent on getting approval from the Tennessee Department of Education, and these plans could change in the future. We will make sure to keep you updated.

    I would like to note that state assessments began this week for our students. I do encourage families to make sure that your student gets plenty of rest and eats a nutritious breakfast so that they can do their best work on these assessments.

    Finally, I am excited to announce that we will be offering a virtual ACT Preparatory course again this summer to help rising seniors prepare for the July 17 ACT date. The dates for this course will be June 21-July 16. More details regarding course structure and registration will be released next week. As always, I am grateful for your support of Knox County Schools.

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools

    April 16, 2021


    Dear KCS families,

    Thank you for the opportunity to share some important updates as we finish another week of instruction.

    I want to begin by expressing my deep sadness regarding the tragic events that took place at Austin-East Magnet High School this week. Students and school employees should never have to be afraid that violence will interrupt the work of teaching and learning, and my heart is heavy for the entire Austin-East community.

    As we wait to learn exactly what happened on Monday, my thoughts and prayers are with the friends and family of Anthony Thompson, Jr. We must also remember that four other Austin-East students have lost their lives this year, and I want to again express my sympathies to the families of Justin Taylor; Stanley Freeman, Jr.; Janaria Muhammad; and Jamarion Gillette.

    I want to express my gratitude to principal Nathan Langlois and the entire staff of Austin-East for their courage and dedication. They love their students and care deeply about their well-being, and I am grateful for them. Support staff will continue to be available to students and staff as we walk through this together.

    As a district, we are committed to providing for the safety and well-being of our students, and we will continue to evaluate our policies and procedures so students at Austin-East and across the district can attend school and learn without fear.

    I also want to share an important update regarding the 2021-22 school year. This week, the Board of Education approved a proposal to follow the Tennessee Department of Health’s COVID-19 guidelines in the upcoming school year. An updated copy of these recommendations may be found here: 2021-22 School Year COVID Recommendations .pdf.

    Please keep in mind that we cannot predict the future trajectory of COVID-19, and any guidance may change in the future. I would continue to ask that our students, families, and employees be patient as we seek to respond appropriately to this very challenging situation.

    On a related note, our district has received new guidance from the Tennessee Board of Education regarding virtual learning. We will be asking the State to allow us to establish three virtual schools – one for elementary, one for middle, and one for high school students – in the upcoming academic year. Under this plan, which must be approved by the Knox County Board of Education and Tennessee Department of Education, each virtual school would have an initial capacity of 1,500 students as required by law (TCA 49-16-211). 

    Pending Board and State approval of our plan, families would apply for a transfer to attend one of three virtual schools and follow the guidelines set forth in our transfer policy. We will provide additional details as soon as possible.

    Finally, the deadline for eligible families to enroll in our free summer learning programs is on Tuesday, April 20. For more details about the Elementary Summer Learning Camp and the Middle School Summer Bridge Camp, please visit knoxschools.org/summerlearning.

    I look forward to seeing our students back in class next week and, as always, I am grateful for your support of Knox County Schools.

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools

    April 9, 2021


    Dear KCS families,

    It has been an eventful week, and I appreciate the opportunity to share some updates.

    As I mentioned in a prior message, our district recently learned that the State Board of Education is holding a special-called meeting on Monday, April 12, to consider a rule that would impact our virtual options in the upcoming school year.

    We are still working with the State and we will share more information with families as soon as possible. However, at this time we have postponed our enrollment window for virtual learning in the 2021-22 school year. We appreciate the patience of families and students as we work through this process.

    As many of you know, the Knox County Board of Education held a work session on Wednesday and discussed our district’s health-and-safety protocols for in-person students during the 2021-22 school year. The Board will hold its regular session on Wednesday, April 14, and is expected to discuss the issue again.

    Please know that if there are changes to the safety protocols – including our mask policy – we will share those as soon as possible. I know that families have strongly held opinions about this topic, and we are committed to providing the information to help you make decisions about your student’s learning model for the 2021-22 school year.

    Finally, I want to make you aware that KCS will host a Community Budget Meeting at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 15, 2021, at Central High School, 5321 Jacksboro Pike. The meeting will also be livestreamed and may be viewed using this link.

    District officials will provide an update on the budget process, and answer questions from the public. We are committed to providing transparency and accountability around the budget process, and I hope that you will take the opportunity to attend or watch this meeting.

    I hope all our families have a wonderful weekend and, as always, I am grateful for your support of Knox County Schools.

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools

    April 7, 2021


    Dear KCS families,

    I have a very important update regarding our plans for the 2021-22 school year.

    We learned today that the State Board of Education is holding a special-called meeting on Monday, April 12, to consider a rule that would affect the ability of school districts to offer daily virtual instruction in the upcoming school year. If approved, this rule would require virtual students in Tennessee to un-enroll from their base school and enroll in a virtual school approved by the state. Our plan would be to apply for a Knox County virtual school for elementary, middle, and high, with each having a capacity of 1,500 students as required by law.

    As a result of this announcement, Knox County Schools is postponing our enrollment window for virtual learning for the 2021-22 school year. This postponement will give our district more time to obtain guidance about the State Board’s decision and to determine our plan for virtual learning. In the meantime, we will continue to have conversations with the State Board.

    In addition, the Knox County Board of Education is scheduled this evening to discuss health protocols for in-person instruction in the 2021-22 school year. The Knox County Board is expected to vote on those protocols at a meeting next week, on April 14. Postponing the virtual enrollment window will also give families additional time to consider the KCS health protocols before making a decision.

    I apologize for any confusion this may cause. However, I do believe that waiting until more information is available will help every family make the best decision for their student.

    Please note that this announcement does not affect our enrollment for elementary and middle school summer learning programs. The deadline for eligible families to enroll in our free summer learning programs is Tuesday, April 20. More information can be found at knoxschools.org/summerlearning.

    As always, thank you for your support of Knox County Schools.

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools

    April 1, 2021


    Dear KCS families,

    I appreciate everyone’s focus and commitment since our return from Spring Break. We are entering a busy time of year for our students and staff but the finish line to what has been an incredible school year is near. Hang in there!

    As a reminder, tomorrow is a KCS holiday for students and staff. Additionally, students will not be in school on Monday, April 5, as our teachers take advantage of professional development opportunities.

    Last week, the district announced our learning plan for the upcoming 2021-22 school year. We will again be offering both an in-person and a virtual learning option. The enrollment window for families to make a selection will be April 15-23. This selection will be for the entire 2021-22 school year.

    We understand that April is early for our families to make a decision for the fall but please know that we pushed the enrollment window as late as we could. Building a master schedule for a school is no small task and that process usually begins in January/February. It requires the hard work of our principals, counselors, and others to pull it together before school ends in May.

    Making a commitment for a year also allows for continuity of learning for our youngest students. This is so important for our students and teachers who experienced a change mid-year, including students not having the same teacher and a teacher not having the same students in their classroom from first to second semester.

    We hope after a year of offering both in-person and virtual instruction that you and your students have had the opportunity to become familiar with our virtual program, and that this will help you as you make a decision for next school year. Families who want their students to enroll in virtual learning will have to meet certain prerequisites. You may read about these prerequisites on our FAQ here

    As I mentioned last week, the current Board of Education policy does include face coverings, but we will be having a discussion about this policy at the next Board meeting on April 7, with Board action taken on April 14. You may view my recommendation here.

    I also want to remind families that we will be offering a 6-week Elementary Summer Learning Camp and a 4-week Middle School Summer Bridge camp for eligible students beginning on June 1. These free programs were made possible by the Tennessee Learning Loss Remediation and Student Acceleration Act, which was approved by the General Assembly in January, and was designed to support students whose learning was interrupted by COVID-19.

    Eligible families should have received an enrollment email on March 22, and the enrollment deadline is April 20. An FAQ and more information are available at knoxschools.org/summerlearning.

    I hope you enjoy your weekend, and as always, I am grateful for your support of our educational mission!

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools

    March 26, 2021


    Dear KCS families,

    Spring is here, and I am very thankful for the warmer temperatures and the many opportunities for our families to spend time outside. The last 12 months have been very challenging, but the changing seasons should inspire us to continue looking out for one another and looking forward to better days ahead.

    I know that many families are eager to receive details about the 2021-22 school year, and the district has been working hard to prepare for it. The district will again be offering both an in-person and a virtual learning option. The enrollment window for families to make a selection will be April 15-23. This selection will be for the entire 2021-22 school year.

    Families who want their students to enroll in virtual learning will have to meet certain pre-requisites. You may read about these pre-requisites on our FAQ here. Kindergarten students will not be eligible for virtual learning.

    The current Board of Education policy does include face coverings, but we will be having a discussion about this policy at the next Board meeting on April 7.

    On a related note, KCS announced earlier this month that we will be offering a 6-week Elementary Summer Learning Camp and a 4-week Middle School Summer Bridge camp for eligible students beginning on June 1. These free programs were made possible by the Tennessee Learning Loss Remediation and Student Acceleration Act, which was approved by the General Assembly in January, and was designed to support students whose learning was interrupted by COVID-19.

    Eligible families should have received an enrollment email on March 22, and the enrollment deadline is April 20. An FAQ and more information are available at knoxschools.org/summerlearning.

    Because Friday, April 2 is a KCS holiday, I will be sending next week’s family update on Thursday, April 1. Please look for it in your inbox, and I hope that our students and school employees enjoy their day off on April 2.

    I hope you have an enjoyable weekend and, as always, I appreciate your support of Knox County Schools!

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools

    March 12, 2021


    Dear KCS families,

    Spring Break begins on Monday, and I am so grateful for the work of our teachers, staff, students and families to bring us to this point. As we look back over the last 12 months, it can be painful to remember all the things that were disrupted by COVID-19. Many families have lost loved ones or suffered from economic distress; many of our school activities and traditions were delayed or modified due to health and safety regulations; and all of us have wrestled with the stress and anxiety caused by the pandemic.

    But in the years to come, I will always remember this moment as one in which our entire KCS family pulled together to care for one another and continue our mission despite the enormous challenges.

    I am thankful for the willingness of our students and families to embrace masks and other safety measures in order to protect the vulnerable members of our school communities; for the leadership of our administrators, health workers, counselors, nutrition staff and other employees to meet unprecedented challenges; and for the creativity and compassion of our teachers and educators who have made sure the work of teaching and learning continues.

    It is still very important that we practice the five core actions for the present time in order to slow the spread of COVID-19. I am very encouraged by the increasing number of Knox County residents who have received the vaccine, and by the reduction in case counts that has taken place. The CDC has changed some of its COVID-19 guidelines, and as the situation in our community improves, we will continue to evaluate our plans as we think about the next school year. Let’s work together to finish the year strong!

    Finally, I want to share that Austin-East Magnet High, Vine Middle Magnet and Sarah Moore Greene Magnet Academy moved to online learning beginning on Thursday, March 11. This decision was made to provide an opportunity for healing in light of recent events, and KCS remains committed to working with community leaders to end gun violence in our neighborhoods.

    As always, I am grateful for your support of Knox County Schools. I hope that each of you has a safe and restful Spring Break, and I look forward to seeing our in-person and virtual students back in class on Monday, March 22.

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools

    March 5, 2021


    Dear KCS families,

    Thank you for allowing me to share some news from the district as we wrap up another week of instruction.

    While March has just begun, I know that many of our families have questions about available summer learning opportunities and the upcoming 2021-22 school year. I want to assure you that district leaders have been working very hard to prepare and more information will be shared very soon.

    As you may know, the state recently passed legislation establishing summer learning opportunities for eligible students to address learning loss due to COVID-19. Next week, principals will be reaching out to families whose student meets the criteria and will be providing additional information about the summer programming available and how to enroll.

    We will also be sharing more details about our plans for next school year after Spring Break, which runs from March 15-19. I can say that KCS expects to continue offering in-person and virtual learning options in the 2021-22 academic year. We will be providing details soon about the timeframe for families to choose a learning option; the health-and-safety procedures that will be implemented in our school buildings next year; and updates about our virtual learning program.

    I want to note that Tuesday was “Read Across America Day,” and I am so grateful for all the community leaders who participated in virtual read-alongs for our elementary students! Literacy is the foundation of academic success, and it is so important for our students to be proficient in reading and to see a love of reading modeled by the adults in their life.

    I also want to point out that next week is National School Breakfast Week. Please keep in mind that KCS is providing breakfast and lunch meals at no cost for the remainder of the 2020-21 school year, regardless of income status or school attended.

    Finally, I want to share that Maynard Elementary moved to online learning beginning on Friday, March 5. As always, I am grateful for your support of KCS!

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools

    February 26, 2021


    Dear KCS families,

    It is hard to believe that March is almost here! I appreciate the chance to share some updates as we move forward with the spring semester.

    This week, our district celebrated an exciting milestone as KCS employees began receiving COVID-19 vaccinations at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital. The pandemic has presented enormous challenges for our teachers, students and families, but seeing our employees get vaccinated should be a great encouragement to all of us. I want to thank Children’s Hospital for coordinating this effort, and although they are not mandated, I encourage all our employees to get the vaccine.

    On a related note, I want to urge our school communities to continue following the five core actions to mitigate the spread of COVID-19: observe physical distancing, wear a mask in public, practice proper handwashing, clean and sanitize surfaces, and stay home when sick. As the weather gets warmer and more of our employees are vaccinated, we are hopeful that the number of active cases and quarantines will continue to decline. But the five core actions remain an essential strategy for achieving that goal, so now is not the time to let up!

    This week, we also celebrated teachers who are doing incredible work across the district. The Teacher of the Year banquet honors outstanding educators at each of our schools, and this year we held the event virtually because of COVID-19. However, that did not diminish the impact of their achievements and I want to congratulate each of our building-level winners. I also want to offer a special recognition to our three district-wide winners, whose names are listed below along with a video profile of each.

    Elementary – Amanda Callahan-Mims, Spring Hill Elementary (Video)
    Middle – Kalie Bearden, Vine Middle Magnet (Video)
    High School – Wendie Love, Farragut High (Video)

    Our keynote speaker, author and leadership expert John Maxwell, said this to teachers during the event: “You are a catalyst to change your world, and Knox County – its future – is greatly dependent upon you, because you hold the future in your hands with the children in your classroom.” I could not be more grateful for the leadership our teachers have shown this year. If you get a chance, please tell them “thank you” this week. As always, I am grateful for your support of KCS!

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools

    February 19, 2021


    Dear KCS families,

    It has been a difficult week for our district, but I am grateful for the chance to share some things that are on my heart.

    Last Friday one of our students, Stanley Freeman, Jr., was shot and killed while driving home from school. On Tuesday evening another KCS student, Janaira Muhammad, was killed by a gunshot. These tragic deaths came just weeks after Justin Taylor, also a KCS student, died from a gunshot.

    These losses are heartbreaking, and I want to extend my deepest condolences to the families and friends of Justin, Stanley and Janaira. All three students attended Austin-East High School, and I also want to express my sympathies and support to the entire Austin-East family.

    The teachers, counselors and administrators at Austin-East do a tremendous job of creating a safe and supportive learning environment for students, and I am so grateful for their work. I want our students to know that they are not alone, and I would urge them to reach out to a trusted adult as they deal with their grief, anger and confusion.

    I have been in close contact with Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon and Chief Eve Thomas of the Knoxville Police Department to determine what steps must be taken to protect our students and employees. KPD will be providing additional patrol officers at Austin-East and in the surrounding neighborhood during school dismissal. I am very grateful to Mayor Kincannon and Chief Thomas for their support.

    As I said earlier this week, we simply must come together to stop the crisis of gun violence.

    It is unacceptable for our young people to fear for their lives or their safety, or to be threatened by those who would seek to inflict harm. This is a community problem that calls for community solutions, and we stand ready to work with leaders throughout the county to find those solutions.

    Our students are precious, and I am thankful for the KCS employees who work so hard to educate and protect them. May we all come together to ensure they can pursue their dreams without fear.

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools

    February 12, 2021


    Dear KCS families,

    As we move into the weekend, I appreciate the chance to share some important updates for our students and families.

    You may have seen news reports about this week’s Board of Education meeting, which included a discussion about the mask requirement in our schools. As I said during that meeting, our most important goal is to protect the health and safety of our students and employees, and the consensus among medical experts is that masks help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

    I believe it is important to continue offering in-person instruction at our schools, but in order to do that we must take common-sense steps to protect our students and employees. After consulting with local physicians and reviewing guidance from the CDC, I remain convinced that now is not the time to let our guard down. While I look forward to the day when we can all put our masks away, I believe they are still an important strategy to protect our school communities.

    I want to highlight a community survey that was recently issued by the KCS Security Division. School Security Officers play an essential role in promoting safety at our school buildings, and I appreciate the division’s effort to seek feedback about topics including overall agency performance, citizen recommendations and the work of agency employees. The deadline is Feb. 26, and if you get a chance to complete the survey at this link it will help the division to continue being responsive to the needs of our school communities.

    I also want to remind families of two upcoming dates. Please remember that Monday, Feb. 15, is an in-service day and students will not be in class on that day. In addition, Tuesday, Feb. 16, is the last day to apply for a transfer to a school outside your attendance zone. The deadline is 4 p.m., and more information is available at this link.

    Finally, I want to share that KCS announced this week that Vine Middle Magnet School moved to the red attendance mode.

    As always, I am grateful for your support of Knox County Schools!

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools

    February 5, 2021


    Dear KCS families,

    Thank you for the opportunity to share some updates as we finish another week of instruction.

    February is Black History Month, and I want to thank our educators for their work to highlight the contributions, achievements and history of African-Americans. As a district, we want all our students to feel welcomed and valued, and one of the best ways to do that is by ensuring that our curriculum reflects the diversity of our community.

    We recently completed National School Counseling Week, and I want to thank our outstanding KCS school counselors for all their work in this unprecedented year. Our counselors play an essential role in building a positive culture for our district and supporting our students, and I hope you take a moment to thank your student’s counselor for all their efforts.

    As you know, the winter weather presented some challenges this week, and I know this has been difficult for many of our families. Please know that the safety of students, families and employees is our top priority, and that whenever possible we try to make early decisions about weather delays or moving to virtual learning. However, there are times when it is difficult to anticipate what road conditions will look like, and as a result we have to make decisions early in the morning.

    With that in mind, I do encourage our families to have an alternative plan in place for those days when a weather delay or a move to virtual learning happens, especially on short notice. As I said, we understand that this is challenging for families, but I do appreciate the community’s support as we try to keep everyone safe while also continuing to provide in-person instruction.

    On a related note, I do want to remind families to make sure their student’s Chromebook is fully charged every night. This will help students be prepared to learn whether they are in their school buildings or learning at home.

    Finally, I want to share that KCS announced this week that Rocky Hill Elementary and L&N STEM Academy will move to the red attendance mode.

    As always, I am grateful for your support of Knox County Schools!

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools

    January 29, 2021


    Dear KCS families,

    As we wrap up another week of instruction, I appreciate the chance to share some updates from the district.

    I was very pleased to visit the Knoxville Station Transit Center this morning for an exciting announcement about the “Youth Freedom Pass,” a new initiative from the City of Knoxville and Knoxville Area Transit that will allow KCS students in Grades 6-12 to ride KAT buses at no charge. While Knox County Schools will continue to provide school transportation on our yellow buses, the Freedom Pass will help students gain access to jobs, visit libraries and museums, or take part in social activities on evenings and weekends. Students in Grades 5 and below do not need a pass, and can ride for free.

    The Freedom Pass will be mailed to families in the next couple of weeks, so please be looking for it. I am grateful to Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon and KAT Director of Transit Isaac Thorne for their support of our students!

    As we continue to offer two instructional models, I want to provide a reminder for the families of our in-person students. If your student is exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19, please make sure they do not come to school. It is also important to remember that if your student is waiting for the results of a COVID-19 test, they should contact their school administration. On a related note, I want to urge our families to continue practicing the five core actions to slow the spread of COVID-19.

    As you may have heard, Gov. Lee yesterday afternoon lifted the COVID-19 restrictions on indoor sporting events. We have updated our winter sports attendance protocols, which will go into effect on Feb. 1. You may find a copy at this link.

    We recently completed School Board Appreciation Week in the State of Tennessee, and I want to thank our outstanding Board of Education for their work. Board members spend long hours meeting with constituents, visiting with students and teachers, and shaping policy for the district, and I am deeply grateful for their efforts. If you get a chance, please reach out to your Board member and say “thank you” for their support!

    Finally, I want to share that KCS announced this week that West Haven Elementary, West High and Sarah Moore Greene Magnet Academy will move to the red attendance mode.

    As always, I am grateful for your support of Knox County Schools!

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools

    January 22, 2021


    Dear KCS families,

    Thank you for the opportunity to share some important updates as we move into the weekend. We recently finished the third week of the spring semester, and I am grateful for the outstanding work of our teachers, school employees, students and families under difficult circumstances.

    As many of you know, the Tennessee General Assembly has been meeting in a special session this week to consider legislation related to the impacts of COVID-19 on K-12 education. Among other things, lawmakers are discussing measures to limit the impact of student assessments on teacher evaluations; to provide funding for teacher raises; to provide funding and guidance for literacy initiatives; and to implement new requirements related to the retention of third-grade students who are not proficient in reading beginning with the 2022-23 school year.

    Our district is closely monitoring the impact of these changes, and we will communicate regularly with families and employees as we implement strategies to address them. I am grateful to Gov. Bill Lee and our legislators for seeking to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on public education.

    On a related note, KCS is continuing to fine-tune its procedures in cases when schools move to online learning because of weather or widespread illness. Please note that in the “red” attendance mode, instruction can be provided in either a synchronous manner (with live, real-time instruction through Microsoft Teams) or an asynchronous manner (using pre-recorded videos or Canvas lessons that can be done at any time.) When online learning is implemented, your student’s school or teacher will provide guidance about which method will be used. Teachers will also conduct live check-ins using Microsoft Teams, even if instruction will be largely asynchronous.

    As I have said before, it remains our goal to continue providing in-person instruction in as safe a manner as possible.

    Finally, I want to let our community know that Cedar Bluff Preschool moved to the red attendance mode this week, and its students will return to their building on Jan. 26. We also announced today that West Hills Elementary and Central High School will move to online learning next week. This decision was based on the metric of teacher / school staff attendance, along with elevated student absences.

    As always, I am grateful for your support of our educational mission!

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools

    January 15, 2021


    Dear KCS families,

    Thank you for the opportunity to share some important updates as we move into the holiday weekend. Please keep in mind that schools will be closed on Monday, Jan. 18, in observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. I am grateful for the opportunity to remember Dr. King’s legacy, and am inspired by our students, families and district employees who are committed to pursuing equality for all members of our community.

    As you know, KCS moved all schools to online learning on Friday, Jan. 8, due to forecasted inclement weather. In last week’s message, I expressed my appreciation for the district’s 1:1 initiative, which allows us to continue providing instruction even when school buildings are closed. At the same time, many families and employees have asked if the 1:1 initiative means that “snow days” are gone forever.

    We delayed the start of school to give our educators more time to prepare in this unusual year, as well as to ensure every student had a Chromebook assigned to them. However, we are still required to provide the full number of instructional days required by state law. To avoid steps such as using any of our Spring Break days or extending the school year, we chose to remove the inclement weather days built into this year’s calendar. My hope is that the 2021-22 school year will begin on time, and that inclement weather days will return to the calendar.

    This week, the Knox County Health Department announced it will scale back its contact tracing work related to COVID-19, in order to prioritize vaccination efforts. I am deeply grateful for Dr. Martha Buchanan and KCHD, and I support their efforts to focus on vaccination. But I also want families to know that we will continue to contact trace and notify anyone who has potentially been exposed to COVID-19 in our school buildings. I would also ask that if a member of your household tests positive for the virus, please contact your school administrators with that information.

    Finally, I want to let our community know that three schools were moved to online learning this week. Students from Mooreland Heights Elementary and Sterchi Elementary will return to their buildings on Jan. 19, while students from Northwest Middle will return to their building on Jan. 25.

    It remains our goal to provide in-person instruction in as safe a manner as possible for our students throughout this semester – but we need your help. Please continue to follow the five core actions to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, and thank you for your support of Knox County Schools!

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools

    January 8, 2021


    Dear KCS families,

    A new year has begun, and I am very pleased that the work of teaching and learning has resumed within our district. In-person and virtual students returned to class on January 5, and I am grateful for the commitment of our teachers and school staff and the support from students and families that has made this possible.

    As you know, KCS moved all schools to online learning today, due to forecasted inclement weather and the potential for hazardous road conditions. I would like to say “thank you” once again to members of the Board of Education and the Knox County Commission, who last year allocated funding to provide Chromebooks to all K-12 students in our district.

    Because of this “1:1” initiative, the district is able to continue offering instruction remotely even if our school buildings are closed. This gives us additional flexibility to make early weather calls so that families have time to make contingency plans. On a related note, please be aware that district schools will be allowed to compete in athletic events that are scheduled for tonight if the weather is not a factor.

    I also want to remind families that the district is continuing to provide breakfast and lunch meals at no cost to all students, regardless of income status or school attended. This step was made possible through flexibility provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and will continue through the end of the spring semester. Please note that this flexibility only applies to meals and not to a la carte items that students may purchase. 

    As we enter the weekend, please be safe and remember to follow the five core actions to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. I am looking forward to the new semester and, as always, I am grateful for your support of our educational mission!

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools

    December 30, 2020


    Dear KCS families,

    I hope you are having a restful winter break and safely enjoying this time with loved ones.

    As we start a new year, I want to acknowledge the remarkable efforts of our students, principals, teachers and staff who made the fall semester possible. There were many challenges, but we learned to adapt and were able to provide both in-person and virtual instruction to our students.

    When students return to school on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021, we will be resuming in-person and virtual instruction. I am grateful for the opportunity to continue working together to provide the educational opportunities and support structures that our students need. Be sure to check our website at www.knoxschools.org/connect for the latest information.

    I look forward to seeing everyone in the new year and wish you and your family abundant blessings of joy and good health.

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools

    December 18, 2020


    Dear KCS families,

    It is hard to believe the semester is over, but I couldn’t be more proud of everyone’s effort during what has been a most challenging time.

    As we head into Winter Break, I wanted to express my gratitude for all our families and students. You adjusted quickly to the new health protocols in our buildings, and you were committed to making our new virtual learning program a success. This semester would not have been possible without your support, and I want to thank each of you.

    Our plan is to resume in-person and virtual instruction when the semester begins on Jan. 5, 2021.  As we have experienced over the last several weeks, it may be necessary to move some schools online at some point during the spring semester. In the event your school moves to online learning, it remains important for families to have a contingency plan.

    I also want you to know that we will continue athletic and extracurricular activities, unless there are extenuating circumstances. Spectator capacity will be limited and health and safety protocols such as wearing a mask and physical distancing will still be followed. Please find more information at www.knoxschools.org/connect.

    We recognize that more hard work will be required in the spring. Many of our students will be returning to schools for the first time in nearly a year, while others will be entering the virtual program for the first time. Additionally, some of you may have questions about our QuEST Virtual Learning Program. You may find more information about it at this link. Please keep in mind that next semester will require patience and flexibility from all of us, but I know that by pulling together we can make this transition a successful one.

    I hope that each of you has a restful and joyous holiday break. I would also like to leave you with a special message from our students to our incredible staff, which can be found at this link. I hope you find it encouraging!

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools

    December 11, 2020


    Dear KCS families,

    As the district moves to online learning for the final week of the fall semester, I want to thank our teachers, students and families for your support. Our ability to offer both in-person and online instruction since August 24 is a testament to the efforts of our staff, students and families.

    For many families, next week will be the first time their student has participated in online learning. With that in mind, I want to share some resources that you may find helpful.

    Please contact your school for specific guidance about academic expectations next week or with any questions about internet access at home. Our “Internet @ Home” hotline is also open and taking calls at (865) 594-4484. In addition, outdoor WiFi is available at all schools and a list of 17 schools with dedicated outdoor access points and signage is available at www.knoxschools.org/connect.

    Resources to assist students and families with Canvas, Chromebooks, Microsoft Teams and other virtual learning tools are available on our Tech Help page. We have also created a video with expectations for online learning. You may watch it here: youtu.be/5tyYIddwQBY.

    To receive meals next week, families should complete the meal request form at www.knoxschools.org/mealsrequest. Also on our website at www.knoxschools.org/connect, you will find information related to childcare opportunities.

    Schedules for the spring semester will be available on Aspen Family Portal on Jan. 4, 2021, unless otherwise contacted by the school. We are working extremely hard to minimize disruptions to teacher and student schedules for the spring semester; however, as we have stated previously, there is no guarantee that students in either in-person or virtual learning will have the same teacher or have access to the same course offerings.

    Finally, I wanted to make you aware that I will be participating in a virtual town hall with the Knox County PTA at 5:30 pm on Thursday, Dec. 17. Tune in to WVLT’s Facebook page to watch it live.

    By working together, I know that we can have a strong finish to the fall semester and build momentum for the spring. As always, thank you for your support of Knox County Schools!

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools

    December 9, 2020


    Dear KCS families,

    I want to share some important news with you. Knox County Schools has offered in-person instruction since our reopening on August 24. This is a tremendous accomplishment, and it is a direct result of the extraordinary efforts made by our teachers, principals, health workers, custodians, nutrition workers and other support staff to provide a safe and healthy environment in our buildings.

    As we approach Winter Break, however, it has become increasingly difficult to continue offering in-person instruction. With COVID-19 cases rising in our community, we have seen a corresponding rise in the number of students and employees who are required to quarantine. As the holidays get closer, it has become challenging to find substitute teachers for our classrooms.

    We also know that many of our families and employees are concerned that a COVID-19 exposure before Winter Break could result in one or more members of their family being quarantined during the holidays.

    With those factors in mind, Knox County Schools announced this evening that all district schools will move to online learning beginning on Monday, Dec. 14. This will last through winter break. In-person students will return to their buildings on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021, unless otherwise notified. In addition, all sports and extracurricular activities will be cancelled during this time. To receive meals during the closure, please complete the meal request form at www.knoxschools.org/mealsrequest.

    During this school year, many of our teachers have already provided online instruction, not only for students in our virtual learning program but also for individual schools that have moved to the red attendance mode. I’m very grateful for their innovation and creativity, and I believe their efforts will help ensure a smooth transition during the remainder of the fall semester.

    To mitigate the spread of COVID-19, it remains essential for our community to follow the five core actions: observe physical distancing, wear a mask in public, practice proper handwashing, clean and sanitize surfaces, and stay home when sick.

    Thank you for your understanding in this matter, and for your support of Knox County Schools!

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools

    December 4, 2020


    Dear KCS families,

    As we begin to make our way through December, I wanted to take this opportunity to thank each of you for your continued commitment and support. I know it has not been easy, but I am grateful for everyone’s efforts to make this semester a success.

    As you may be aware, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has revised its guidelines for individuals who may have been exposed to the coronavirus. The Tennessee Health Department and the Knox County Health Department have also adopted these new quarantine protocols. This means that our students and staff will now only be required to quarantine for a minimum of 10 days; however, parents will still have the option to keep their child home for 14 days. Additionally, students and staff may return to the school building after seven days with a negative COVID test taken after the fifth day of quarantine.

    As a reminder, if you have questions related to the quarantine process, please review our updated FAQ document, which may be found knoxschools.org/quarantine. Also on our website at knoxschools.org/connect, you will find information related to childcare opportunities and guidelines for athletic and extracurricular activities.

    As we enter the season of inclement weather, I do want to remind families how important it is for students to take home their Chromebooks each day. As a 1-to-1 school district, we are encouraged by the opportunity to implement online learning to continue instruction in these situations and in hopes of not having to modify the school calendar.

    I also want to invite you to the Disparities in Educational Outcomes Steering Committee’s Virtual Community Meeting on Thursday, Dec. 10, at 5:30 p.m. This meeting will focus on topics including academic achievement, impacts related to COVID-19 and the virtual learning program, and it will be livestreamed on our website, knoxschools.org/kcstv. Eliminating Disparities is one of the three goals of our Strategic Plan, and I hope that many of our families, students, and employees will be able to watch the livestream.

    Finally, we announced this week that Holston Middle, Gibbs Middle, Gresham Middle, and K.A.E.C. would enter the “red” attendance mode through the end of the semester. This decision is based on the metric of student attendance for Holston Middle, and the metric of teacher / school staff attendance for the others.

    I hope you all have a wonderful and restful weekend!

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools

    November 20, 2020


    Dear KCS families,

    As we move into Thanksgiving week, I wanted to share a few updates. Thanksgiving is a perfect time to reflect on the past three months, and I wanted to say how grateful I am for our staff, students and families. Our school employees and district staff have worked long hours under difficult circumstances to provide in-person and virtual instruction this year. The challenges posed by COVID-19 have made this semester stressful and exhausting, but through it all our employees have been guided by their dedication to our mission and their commitment to students.

    At the same time, our students and families have embraced the many changes of this school year with patience and flexibility. At the start of the semester I asked families to extend grace as we work through these challenges, and I am very thankful that they have done that.

    KCS announced this week that five schools would enter the red attendance mode. Students at Gibbs Elementary and Gibbs Middle will return to school for in-person instruction on Monday, Nov. 30, unless otherwise notified. Students at West Hills Elementary, Bearden Middle and Mooreland Heights Elementary will return to school on Monday, Dec. 7, unless otherwise notified.

    As our community deals with the ongoing impact of COVID-19, I know that many families have questions about the district’s attendance mode going forward. Please know that we are monitoring school-level and district-wide COVID metrics on a daily basis and working closely with the Knox County Health Department.

    As I have said before, our goal is to continue offering in-person instruction to as many students as possible, for as long as possible, with additional safety measures in place to protect the health and well-being of our school communities. However, please have a plan in place in the event that your student’s school moves to virtual instruction at some point during the school year. I would also re-emphasize the importance of following the five core actions: observe physical distancing, wear a mask in public, practice proper handwashing, clean and sanitize surfaces, and stay home when sick.

    I hope that everyone has a safe and joyous Thanksgiving holiday and, as always, thank you for your support of Knox County Schools!

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools

    November 13, 2020


    Dear KCS families,

    I wanted to share a few updates as we end another week of instruction. One of our most important fundraisers is the annual Coupon Book campaign, and I am very grateful for all the students, families and community partners who participated this year.

    In total, the campaign raised more than $1 million, and I’m very grateful for the hard work and community spirit of our students and families in this challenging year. We will be announcing the names of the grade-level winners when each of them has been notified.

    I also wanted to share some news related to the Chromebooks provided under our 1:1 initiative. As part of that initiative, families were offered an optional $30 insurance plan, and we are now extending the opportunity to purchase insurance through Nov. 27. All families who choose the coverage will receive a confirmation email.

    Finally, KCS announced this week that Whittle Springs Middle School would enter the red attendance mode for nine school days. Whittle Springs students will return to school for in-person instruction on Monday, Nov. 23, unless otherwise notified. This decision was based on the district’s metric of student attendance, along with elevated teacher and staff absences.

    In addition, KCS announced that individual grade bands at two schools would also enter the red attendance mode. Pre-K students at Sam E. Hill Primary School and 2nd-grade students at Gibbs Elementary School moved to the red attendance mode for eight school days, and those students will return for in-person instruction on Monday, Nov. 23, unless otherwise notified. This decision was based on the district’s metric of teacher / school staff attendance.

    As always, thank you for your support of Knox County Schools, and I hope you have a restful weekend!

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools

    November 6, 2020


    Dear KCS families,

    As we close out another week of instruction, I wanted to share a few updates. The enrollment window to change your student’s learning model for the spring semester has now closed. All families will receive a communication from your school principal on Tuesday, Nov. 10 with confirmation of your decision. The school will communicate further guidance regarding teacher and class schedules by Jan. 4.

    In total, more than 6,600 requests to change a student’s learning model were submitted. That number includes more than 5,500 requests to change from virtual to in-person instruction, and more than 1,000 requests to change from in-person to virtual instruction.

    I also wanted to make you aware that we have experienced some internet connectivity issues and our Information Technology Department has been working continuously with our service provider to address this concern and to minimize any disruptions. Thanks to updates made on the evening of Nov. 4, we believe the ongoing connectivity issues have now been resolved.

    I would like to point out that these issues were not related to the speed of our individual school networks or servers. We are very fortunate to have a robust information technology system in place and a team of experts who regularly monitor building speed and utilization.

    I want to congratulate the newest member of the Knox County Board of Education. This week, Mrs. Betsy Henderson was elected as the 6th District representative, and we look forward to working with Mrs. Henderson very soon!

    I am happy to announce that our Disparities in Educational Outcomes Steering Committee will host a virtual community meeting on Thursday, Dec. 10, with a focus on disparities in academic achievement among various student subgroups. We will also continue our work addressing disciplinary disparities.

    If you have a question about this topic, please send it to deo@knoxschools.org by Nov. 9.

    Finally, we announced this week that South Knoxville Elementary School would enter the “red” attendance mode for 10 school days. South Knoxville students will return to school for in-person instruction on Monday, Nov. 16, unless otherwise notified. This decision was based on the district’s metric of teacher / school staff attendance.

    As always, thank you for your support of Knox County Schools, and I hope you have a restful weekend!

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools

    October 30, 2020


    Dear KCS families,

    On Monday, you were sent an email with information about how to change your student’s learning model for the semester that begins on Jan. 5. As of this afternoon, enrollment forms have already been completed for more than 3,000 students. Families have one more week to make a decision and submit a request to change.

    As a reminder, the deadline to change from virtual to in-person instruction or from in-person to virtual instruction is 3:30 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 6. The email sent on Monday includes a link to the online enrollment form, and families who are unable to fill out the online form can get a paper copy at their school or a printable form on our website. Paper forms are available in six languages and must be emailed or delivered to the school office by the deadline.

    Families that have multiple children in Knox County Schools should complete the form for each student who will change their learning model. If you are happy with your current choice, you do not need to take any action.

    We are pleased that we are able to offer families a choice between the two learning platforms. We recognize this is a family decision and we respect that.

    I would also like to point out that report cards for the current grading period were distributed today. Please take some time this weekend to review your child’s progress, particularly as you think about how your child will be receiving instruction next semester. Keep in mind that for scheduling purposes, the decision to be in-person or virtual will be for the entire semester.

    If your family is planning to go trick-or-treating this weekend, the Knox County Health Department’s website has videos, tip sheets and guidance about how to celebrate Halloween safely. I am grateful to Dr. Martha Buchanan and the Health Department for their leadership and support during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Finally, I want to remind everyone that schools will be closed on Tuesday, Nov. 3, for Election Day. Please make sure to vote if you haven’t already and thank you for your support of Knox County Schools!

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools

    October 23, 2020


    Dear KCS families,

    For more than three weeks we have been providing you with information about the opportunity to change your child’s learning model for the spring semester. That day is almost here! Beginning on Monday, Oct. 26 until 3:30 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 6, you will be able to request a change for your student’s learning from virtual to in-person or in-person to virtual. This change would go into effect on Jan. 5, when we return from winter break.

    You will be receiving an email on Monday with a link to the request-to-change form for each student. If you are happy with your current learning model, you do not need to take any action. However, if you would like to make a change, click the link in the email and complete the online form. A paper form is also available at each school.

    We recognize that the virtual learning program has been an important option for families who are concerned about COVID-19 or who have specific health-related risk factors. At the same time, please keep in mind that KCS has taken significant steps to address health and safety within our school buildings. One thing we have learned this year is that students who have the greatest success in the virtual program are those who benefit from a strong support structure at home, and who are also highly disciplined and self-motivated. If you are considering the virtual program this spring, please keep in mind these factors that are important for student success.

    Additionally, I would encourage you to review the information about the spring semester found in our FAQ document, which is available in English and Spanish.

    I also want you to know that we will be sending you an email in November with information about your current Chromebook insurance status and the deadline to purchase insurance. Please note that we do not make phone calls asking for insurance payments. These payments should be made at your student’s school or via www.knoxschools.org/chromebooks but never over the phone.  

    Finally, I want to thank our community partners, students, families and school employees for their support of the annual Coupon Book campaign, which ended this week. This fundraiser is an essential resource for our schools, and I’m always impressed by the enthusiasm and school spirit that are reflected in the campaign. As always, I’m grateful for your support of Knox County Schools and I hope you have a restful weekend!

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools

    October 16, 2020


    Dear KCS families,

    I hope that you had a wonderful Fall Break and are rested and ready for the return to school on Monday, Oct. 19. Let’s keep the momentum going!

    I am excited to share some positive news from our Food and Nutrition Services Department. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently announced that it will provide additional flexibility to school districts, allowing us to continue providing both breakfast and lunch meals at no cost for the remainder of the 2020-21 school year, regardless of income status or school attended.

    KCS has opted to take advantage of this flexibility, and we are very grateful for the chance to continue providing breakfast and lunch to our students at no cost throughout the entire school year.

    As we resume the important work of teaching and learning, I also wanted to remind you of the upcoming window to change your student’s current instruction placement for the Spring semester.

    As I have mentioned previously, Knox County Schools will continue to offer two learning options in the semester that begins on Jan. 5. If you are happy with your current choice, you do not need to take any action. However, if you want to switch – from virtual to in-person instruction, or from in-person to virtual – you will have the opportunity to do so between Oct. 26 and Nov. 6.

    More specifically, the deadline will be 3:30 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 6. You will be able to make this change using an online form that will be sent by email on Oct. 26 or by completing a printed form that will be available at each school.

    We have also created an FAQ document that addresses topics including student schedules, masks and quarantine procedures in the spring semester. That document is available at this link, and a Spanish-language version is available at this link. I would like to re-emphasize that the most effective teaching and learning happens in person, and I do hope you keep this in mind as you make your decision.

    Our shared mission is so important, and I’m very grateful for your support of Knox County Schools. Together, we can continue building a better future for our community and making a difference for thousands of students!

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools

    October 9, 2020


    Dear KCS families,

    I know the path to Fall Break has been long, and at times, challenging, but we made it! I am so proud of our students, families, educators and community for hanging in there with us over the last seven weeks. We couldn’t have done it without your support, and I look forward to a strong finish to the end of the year.

    As I mentioned last week, Knox County Schools will continue to offer two learning options in the semester that begins on Jan. 5. If families are happy with their current choice, they do not need to take any action. However, families that want to switch their learning model – from virtual to in-person instruction, or from in-person to virtual – must do so between Oct. 26 and Nov. 6. More specifically, the deadline to change instruction models will be 3:30 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 6. Families will be able to make this change using an online form that will be sent by email on Oct. 26 or by completing a printed form that will be available at each school.

    In an effort to help our families make a decision, we have created an FAQ document that addresses questions about topics including student schedules, masks and quarantine procedures in the spring semester. It may be found at www.knoxschools.org/springenrollmentFAQ. I would also like to emphasize that I believe the most effective teaching and learning happens in person, and I do hope you keep this in mind as you make your decision.

    As you know, our educators have worked extremely hard since the start of school, and I have encouraged them to rest, relax and enjoy time with their family and friends during Fall Break. I appreciate your understanding if they do not respond to requests until school resumes.

    I am also reminding you to please continue to abide by the five core actions – observe physical distancing, wear a mask in public, practice proper handwashing, clean and sanitize surfaces, and stay home when sick. This will help slow the spread of COVID-19 and will hopefully allow us to have a safe return to in-person school on Monday, Oct. 19.

    Finally, I hope that all of you have a safe and enjoyable Fall Break. As always, thank you for your support of Knox County Schools!

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools

    October 2, 2020


    Dear KCS families,

    As we wrap up another week of instruction, I wanted to share some important updates. This week, I announced that Knox County Schools will continue to offer two learning options in the semester that begins on Jan. 5. Students can choose in-person, on-campus instruction with additional safety measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, or they can enroll in our virtual learning program.

    If families are happy with their current choice, they do not need to take any action. However, families that want to switch from virtual to in-person instruction, or from in-person to virtual must do so between Oct. 26 and Nov. 6. Families will be able to change their learning model using an online form, and we will share more details about that process very soon.

    We have taken significant steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and to protect the health and safety of our students and staff. I would like to emphasize that the most effective teaching and learning happens in person, when teachers are in the classroom with their students. I do hope families keep this in mind over the next few weeks, as they think about what option will work best for their needs.

    As you may have heard, KCS also announced this week that Vine Middle and Austin-East High schools will move to the “red” attendance mode. Vine students return to school for in-person instruction on Wednesday, Oct. 7. Austin-East students will return on Monday, Oct. 19.  

    It remains extremely important for the KCS community to continue following the five core actions to prevent the spread of COVID-19: observe physical distancing, wear a mask in public, practice proper handwashing, clean and sanitize surfaces, and stay home when sick. By working together, we can help keep our school communities safe and healthy.

    Finally, as our 1:1 initiative has provided Chromebooks for every K-12 student, the district is committed to protecting their safety while using technology. We encourage parents and guardians to monitor student use of the internet at home and have conversations with students about appropriate behavior. In addition, information about online safety is available on our Internet Safety website.

    Chromebooks provided by the district use internet filtering tools that are grade level-specific, both at school and at home. If you believe inappropriate content is accessible, please submit a ticket using this link, or by calling (865) 594-1830.

    I remain grateful for your support of Knox County Schools, and I hope you have a restful weekend!

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools

    September 25, 2020


    Dear KCS families,

    The first day of autumn arrived this week, and as we celebrate the changing seasons I’m thankful for the hard work of our teachers, staff, and families who have made it possible to continue our educational mission. 

    One of the district’s long-standing traditions is the annual Coupon Book fundraiser, which has been supporting schools for more than 30 years. We launched this year’s campaign on Thursday, and the theme for 2020 is “Staying Strong Together.” As an alternative to in-person sales, I’m excited that this year’s campaign includes an online purchase option. 

    Our work cannot be done without community partners, and I’m deeply grateful for the merchants, restaurateurs, and entrepreneurs who are committed to supporting KCS even in such a challenging time. Please visit www.knoxschools.org/couponbook for all the details. 

    Our community partners have also provided tremendous support on a separate issue during our reopening process. The eKnox Task Force is a public-private partnership that includes representatives of Knox County Schools, the Knoxville Chamber, United Way, the Knox Education Foundation, the City of Knoxville, and Knox County. 

    This year, the district launched a new 1:1 initiative that provided a Chromebook to every K-12 student, whether attending school in-person or enrolled in our virtual learning program. The Task Force has been instrumental in helping students and families secure access to affordable internet service, and I wanted to publicly recognize their efforts. 

    If your family needs assistance with internet service, a list of providers with standard and low-cost options is available at this link. If you need further assistance, please call (865) 594-4484 from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday. Additionally, if you have concerns about security, I would encourage you to reach out to your internet provider for parental control options that may be available. 

    As I have said before, the work of teaching and learning is a shared endeavor. Our teachers and students are blessed by Knox County’s community spirit, and I look forward to Staying Strong Together throughout this school year! 

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools

    September 18, 2020


    Dear KCS families,

    I wanted to express my thanks for your ongoing support of Knox County Schools, and provide a few updates.

    First, the district has created an FAQ document related to the quarantine process. Students and staff are required to quarantine for two weeks if they were potentially exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19. The FAQ can be found at knoxschools.org/quarantine, and addresses topics including virtual instruction; next steps for parents; and required actions before a student can return to school. We remain dedicated to providing in-school instruction in a safe and healthy manner. However, we encourage you to have a plan in place for remote learning if a class or school moves to online instruction.

    On a related note, KCS announced today that Halls High School will begin operating in the “red” attendance mode next week and is expected to utilize online learning for 10 school days. HHS students will return to school for in-person instruction on Monday, Oct. 5, unless otherwise notified.

    This decision was made in consultation with Dr. Martha Buchanan and the Health Department and we feel it is best for the health and safety of our students and staff. As I have said before, it is extremely important that all members of the KCS community continue to follow the five core actions to slow the spread of COVID-19: observe physical distancing, wear a mask in public, practice proper handwashing, clean and sanitize surfaces, and stay home if you’re sick.

    Finally, I wanted to make a brief request. As you can imagine, teachers are carrying a heavy load this semester because of changes related to COVID-19. I am always grateful when parents and guardians work with educators to support student success. However, please keep in mind that teachers may not respond immediately to email messages, particularly when they are sent after-hours. While our district expects teachers to be responsive, we also want them to pursue a healthy and sustainable lifestyle – and sometimes that will mean waiting until the next day to respond to messages.

    This has been an unprecedented year, but I am grateful for the tremendous efforts of our employees and the hard work and dedication of our students and families. Our shared mission is so important, and again I am very grateful for your support of Knox County Schools!

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools

    September 11, 2020


    Dear KCS families,

    It has been an eventful week for Knox County Schools, and I wanted to share a few updates with you. As many of you are aware, one of our schools began operating in the “red” attendance mode this week. That means all students at Cedar Bluff Middle School have been at home learning online using their Chromebooks. They are expected to return to school for in-person instruction on Tuesday, Sept. 15.

    Knox County Schools is monitoring a number of metrics to determine our attendance mode, and more details about those metrics are available at www.knoxschools.org/covid. At Cedar Bluff Middle, the decision to move into the red mode was based on a lack of available substitute teachers. Again, it’s important to have a plan in place in the event your child’s class, grade level, or school goes red.

    As I’ve said before, our goal is to safely continue in-person instruction for as many students as possible, for as long as possible. In order to do that, KCS is seeking additional substitute teachers. If you’re interested in working as a sub, please visit www.knoxschools.org/substitute.

    I am pleased to share that our district celebrated two exciting announcements this week. On Wednesday, I joined state Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn and Dr. Dale Lynch, executive director of Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents, at Karns Middle School to celebrate chorus teacher Kami Lunsford, who was just named the Tennessee Teacher of The Year. Ms. Lunsford is a passionate, creative, and energetic teacher, and we couldn’t be more proud to see her recognized in this way!

    This afternoon, I visited Sarah Moore Greene Magnet Academy to celebrate their recognition with a $5,000 School of Promise Award from the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching. The award honored Sarah Moore Greene’s work to improve teaching and learning, including investments in professional learning and coaching for teachers. We are very proud of Principal Robin Curry and her team and grateful for NIET’s ongoing partnership with our district.

    Finally, I would urge each of us to redouble our efforts to observe physical distancing, wear a mask in public, practice proper handwashing, sanitize surfaces, and stay home when sick. As COVID-19 infections rise in our community, it’s imperative that each of us do our part to slow the spread of the virus.

    As always, I’m grateful for your support of Knox County Schools!

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools
     

    September 4, 2020


    Dear KCS families,

    As we finish our second week of classes, I wanted to say thank you once again to our students, families, educators, and administrators for all your work to make our reopening a success. The fall semester is off to a great start, and it couldn’t have happened without the dedication of our staff and the support of our parents and community.

    I also wanted to share some brief updates. First, please keep in mind that Monday, September 7, is Labor Day and our schools will be closed. I hope that each of you has a restful holiday, and please remember to follow the five core actions to slow the spread of COVID-19: observe physical distancing, wear a mask in public, practice proper handwashing, clean and sanitize surfaces, and stay home if you’re sick.

    We also received some exciting news this week. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has provided districts with an optional, new flexibility that will allow KCS to temporarily provide free breakfast and lunch to all students regardless of income status or school attended.

    KCS has opted to take advantage of this flexibility, and it will begin on Tuesday, Sept. 8, for all students. The program will end no later than Dec. 31, 2020, and could end sooner depending on federal funding.

    Given the temporary nature of this program, we will continue accepting free and reduced-price meal applications. Students who previously used a PIN or scan card will continue to do so, and students in the virtual learning program must still register for meal pickup from their base school. Virtual students can register at www.knoxschools.org/mealsrequest.

    I also wanted to make you aware of a new dashboard at www.knoxschools.org/covid which provides metrics related to COVID-19, including the number of active cases within the district, the number of recovered cases, and the number of people in isolation or quarantine. The dashboard also includes information about metrics used by KCS to determine our daily attendance model of green, yellow, or red.

    Our goal is to be transparent with data related to COVID-19, while also complying with federal laws to protect the privacy of affected individuals. I believe this dashboard will help us accomplish both goals.

    Finally, I wanted to share two attachments that will be of interest to families. The first attachment is a letter from our Chief of Security, Gus Paidousis, with information about a new visitor management system that has been installed at each of our schools. We believe this system will help us protect the safety and security of students and staff, and I’m grateful to Chief Paidousis for his work to oversee this important project.

    The second attachment is a letter from the Tennessee Department of Education which summarizes several categories of information that are required by law to be shared with families. We are committed to full compliance with these requirements, and to providing our families with the information they need to ensure student success.

    I hope that everyone has a safe and restful holiday, and we look forward to seeing students back in class or back in our virtual learning program on Tuesday, September 8!

    KCS Visitor Management Letter 8.28.2020.pdf   Parent Notification 2020.pdf 

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools

    August 28, 2020


    Dear KCS families,

    As we end the first week of school, I want to express my gratitude to all our students, families, educators, and administrators for your patience and your resolve to help make this a great start to the school year.

    I know that school looks a little different, but I couldn’t be more proud of how each of you has risen to this challenge. We remain committed to providing a safe teaching and learning environment and to continue providing the best educational opportunities for our students, whether in-person or virtually.

    While we are working hard to ensure the school day goes smoothly, we know there will be bumps along the way. Please know that we are doing everything we can to help minimize disruptions, but it is possible that at some point during the year, your child’s in-person class, grade level, or school could move to online learning for a period of time.

    While we know this will be difficult for some families, it will give us the flexibility to address specific challenges at specific schools and limit the impact to the fewest number of students possible.

    I am asking for your patience and understanding if this occurs. If we do move to virtual learning in a class, please make every effort to have a plan in place for your child to learn remotely. We are committed to providing families with enough notice to make whatever arrangements may be needed; however, depending on circumstances, there may be times that might not be possible.

    Again, I am so excited for our students and educators to be back in school and look forward to their return next week. I know that this will continue to be a great school year!

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools

    August 21, 2020


    Dear KCS families,

    The fall semester is almost here, and we're excited to welcome students back on August 24! This school year will be very different because of COVID-19, and we wanted to provide a brief update about our strategy for sharing information related to positive tests within our school communities.

    By embracing safety measures including masks, regular hand-washing, and physical distancing, we're hopeful that Knox County will slow the spread of COVID-19 in our community. In addition, the district's reopening plan for the fall semester outlined several steps KCS is taking to prevent the spread of the virus within schools, including temperature checks, a mask requirement, and more rigorous cleaning.

    KCS is working hard to protect students and employees from COVID-19, but it's important to recognize that there will likely be positive tests at many of our schools during the semester. Knox County Schools and the Knox County Health Department will be working together to implement contact tracing when members of our school communities test positive.

    As outlined in the district's reopening plan, KCS will immediately notify the Knox County Health Department as we become aware that a student or employee has tested positive for COVID-19. In such cases, the KCS Health Services Department, under the authority of KCHD, will conduct contact tracing and directly notify individuals in our schools who have potentially been exposed to the virus.

    We are committed to providing timely information to individuals who have potentially been exposed to COVID-19. At the same time, we must comply with state and federal mandates -including the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FER PA) and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 {HIPAA) -to protect the privacy of our students and employees. With that in mind, we will only be able to share limited data about cases in our district at this time. This districtwide information, as well as the metrics KCS and KCHD are monitoring, will be available on the school district's website beginning on Monday at www.knoxschools.org/covid.

    During this challenging time, we are committed to pursuing the work of teaching and learning while protecting the health and safety of our community. By working together, we're confident that we can achieve both goals.

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    KCS Superintendent

    Dr. Martha Buchanan
    KCHD Senior Director & Public Health Officer
     

    August 14, 2020


    Dear KCS families,

    The new school year is almost here, and I wanted to provide a brief update about the fall semester. As we have previously announced, the first day of class will be on Monday, August 24. This will be a half-day for all students, including those receiving on-campus, in-person instruction, and those who are enrolled in our virtual learning program.

    Students who will be receiving on-campus, in-person instruction at our school buildings should also be aware that the Board of Education on August 12 approved a new policy related to the use of face coverings or masks. Under that policy, all employees, visitors, and K-12 students will be required to wear a face-covering or mask in our school buildings or while riding school-provided transportation.

    The only exceptions are for:

    1. Eating and drinking;
    2. A documented medical condition;
    3. A health, behavioral, or other disability concern, as noted in a student’s IEP or 504 plan(s), which will be addressed on an individual basis and afforded all protections and safeguards under federal and state law;
    4. Specific instructional needs and other activities (such as when 6 feet distancing can be maintained, outdoor recess and/or other appropriately distanced activities); and
    5. Special behavioral or individualized needs as determined by the school principal.

     

    We all know that masks are awkward, and I would prefer that no one had to wear them. But wearing a mask is one of the most effective ways to slow the spread of COVID-19, and it’s a tangible way to protect our friends, teachers, employees, and family members. In Knox County, we look out for our neighbors, and I’m confident that our school communities will work to protect one another.

    Finally, I’d like to thank our outstanding teachers and school employees who are working extremely hard to get ready for the semester. Please be sure to thank them for the extra effort they’re making during this challenging time. As always, I’m grateful for the support of our community, and I look forward to the start of a new semester!

    C-240 Face Coverings.pdf 

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools
     

    August 4, 2020


    Dear KCS families,

    We were very excited to welcome our teachers back to the classroom yesterday, getting ready for the new school year. We have the very best educators and I know they miss their students and can’t wait to start teaching.

    We want the very best start to this school year. In order for us to do that, we need to give our administrative team and staff an additional week to prepare. After considering a variety of factors, I am delaying the start of school for students for one week. This means the first day of school, both in-person and virtual, will be delayed one week to Monday, Aug. 24. (Reminder, the first day of school is a half-day for students.)

    I want you to know that this was not a decision that we took lightly, but we felt it was important to help our schools be better positioned for reopening, especially with the launch of our new virtual learning program. As you know, the demand for virtual learning significantly exceeded our expectations with more than 18,000 students enrolled. While we are excited that so many want to take advantage of this opportunity, it has also created some challenges in an already compressed timeline.

    The additional week will allow us to:

    1. Provide schools more time to complete scheduling of both in-person and virtual classes. As you might imagine, this is a massive undertaking every school year for on-campus classes alone. Adding virtual classes has created another layer of scheduling that schools have never had to manage before.
    2. Secure additional staffing to cover some KCS virtual classes. While our vacancies are reflective of where we usually are this time of year for in-person instruction, we must fill positions to cover some of our core classes that will be taught through the virtual learning program.
    3. Provide new hires for the virtual learning program time to train on our online platforms. We are hiring new employees daily, and an additional week will help them complete this training.
    4. Provide existing KCS teachers more time to become more familiar with our online platforms. While most of our teachers (82%) volunteered over the summer to take advantage of the online training that we offered, this will allow time for all to complete or review it.
    5. Get devices deployed to all students. As we have stated, we are continuously monitoring the public health situation in our community and it is important for our families to be prepared if a school(s) or the district must go to remote learning. Getting devices in the hands of our students will give them an opportunity to become familiar with them before school starts.
    6. Provide case managers and special education service providers more time to make individual contact with students and families. While we are making great strides, additional time would be beneficial.
    7. Provide more time for supplies to be received and delivered to schools (including misters and walk-through thermometers).

    This school year won’t be easy, but we are determined to start school in the safest manner possible.

    Thank you for your continued support!

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools

    July 31, 2020


    Dear KCS families,

    The first day of school is quickly approaching, and I wanted to provide some brief updates as we get ready for the fall semester.

    The first is a reminder that the State of Tennessee’s Sales Tax Holiday on clothing, school supplies, computers, and other electronic devices is happening this weekend. The holiday runs from Friday, July 31 through Sunday, August 2, and is a great opportunity for families to save money while making back-to-school purchases. Student supply lists are available on school websites. For more information about the sales tax holiday, please visit the Tennessee Department of Revenue’s website.

    We are also excited to welcome our KCS teachers back to school on Monday, Aug. 3. Student schedules will be released on Aug. 14, and in the meantime, please know that our schools are working very hard to get ready for the work of teaching and learning. We realize there will be challenges so please bear with us as we all get acclimated to the new routines.

    As always, we will continue to share information through direct messages, on our website, and through social media. Please be on the lookout for updates and enjoy the rest of your summer!

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools

    July 23, 2020


    Dear KCS families,

    I know that you’ve received a great deal of information from Knox County Schools in recent weeks, especially since we released our reopening plan last Wednesday.

    Students will have two options when schools reopen. The first option is in-person, on-campus instruction at the student’s school, with additional health and safety measures in place to limit the spread of COVID-19. The second option is to enroll in our virtual learning program, which will provide online instruction using Chromebooks distributed under the district’s 1:1 initiative.

    Please note that the deadline to enroll in our virtual learning program is 11:59 p.m. Wednesday, July 22 (tomorrow). Keep in mind that whichever option they choose, students will be committed to that option for the full semester.

    At this time, we are planning to start school on Aug. 17, and as we have stated, we will continue to assess our reopening. I want to be clear that we have been working even more closely with the Knox County Health Department (KCHD) during this pandemic.

    Both our staff and staff from KCHD have weekly scheduled calls and are in regular communication regarding COVID-19 and a variety of matters. KCHD reviewed and provided feedback on the district’s reopening plan, representing just one of many ways the two organizations have partnered collaboratively during this unprecedented time. As the school year approaches, we will continue to work together to monitor multiple metrics, including public health data.

    We appreciate our relationship with KCHD and want to assure our community that we will continue to work together as school reopens.

    Information about the KCS reopening is available at www.knoxschools.org/connect.

    I hope you have a good evening.

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools

    July 21, 2020


    Dear KCS families,

    I know that you’ve received a great deal of information from Knox County Schools in recent weeks, especially since we released our reopening plan last Wednesday.

    Students will have two options when schools reopen. The first option is in-person, on-campus instruction at the student’s school, with additional health and safety measures in place to limit the spread of COVID-19. The second option is to enroll in our virtual learning program, which will provide online instruction using Chromebooks distributed under the district’s 1:1 initiative.

    Please note that the deadline to enroll in our virtual learning program is 11:59 p.m. Wednesday, July 22 (tomorrow). Keep in mind that whichever option they choose, students will be committed to that option for the full semester.

    At this time, we are planning to start school on Aug. 17, and as we have stated, we will continue to assess our reopening. I want to be clear that we are have been working even more closely with the Knox County Health Department (KCHD) during this pandemic.

    Both our staff and staff from KCHD have weekly scheduled calls and are in regular communication regarding COVID-19 and a variety of matters. KCHD reviewed and provided feedback on the district’s reopening plan, representing just one of many ways the two organizations have partnered collaboratively during this unprecedented time. As the school year approaches, we will continue to work together to monitor multiple metrics, including public health data.

    We appreciate our relationship with KCHD and want to assure our community that we will continue to work together as school reopens.

    Information about the KCS reopening is available at www.knoxschools.org/connect.

    I hope you have a good evening.

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools
     

    July 15, 2020


    Dear KCS families,

    Over the last six weeks, our district gathered feedback from teachers, principals, students, families, and other stakeholders about upcoming the fall semester, and I’m grateful for everyone who participated.

    Today, we are announcing a plan that will reopen our school buildings in August with additional safety precautions, while also offering a Virtual Learning Program for students who are not comfortable returning to school.

    The details of this plan are now available at www.knoxschools.org/connect, where you’ll find the full reopening plan along with summary documents and Frequently Asked Questions.

    This school year won’t be easy, but our students are worth the struggle. By working together, I know we can overcome these challenges.

    Thank you for all your help in making our reopening possible, and for your support of Knox County Schools!

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools

    July 9, 2020


    Dear KCS families,

    Earlier this year, the Board of Education approved a 1:1 plan that will make a Chromebook computer available to every KCS student, starting in August.

    This initiative was made possible by federal funding provided through the CARES Act, and I’m very excited about the opportunities it will provide to enhance our work of teaching and learning.  

    Information regarding device deployment can be found on our website, www.knoxschools.org/chromebooks, and you will receive additional details later this month.

    Beginning on July 17, Chromebook registration forms will be available online, and paper forms will be available at schools beginning on July 24. Once that form is submitted, each student’s base school will contact them with details about how and when the devices will be distributed. The Chromebooks will be provided free of charge, but families will have the opportunity to buy insurance for $30.

    Our hope is that by making computers available to every student, the district will have more flexibility to continue teaching even during unusual circumstances, such as a weather event or a closure due to illness. Equally important, I believe that making computers available to our students will more fully prepare them to succeed in a world where technology plays such an important role.

    Nothing can match the impact of a teacher in a classroom, and a Chromebook can never replace an educator. But I also believe that outstanding teachers can be even more effective when their students have cutting-edge tools, and that’s why I’m so excited about this opportunity.

    Please be on the lookout for all the details about this program and, as always, thank you for your support of Knox County Schools!

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools

    June 30, 2020


    Dear KCS families,

    The last few weeks have been an extremely busy time, and I wanted to thank the entire KCS community for your support. Your feedback regarding the fall semester has been extremely helpful, and I’m grateful for all the time and energy that you gave to our planning process.

    As superintendent, I will share our reopening plan with the Board of Education on July 15, but in the meantime, I wanted to provide an important update. As I’ve said before, our goal is to return to an in-person school setting in the fall. We are continuing to closely monitor the impact of COVID-19 and to coordinate with the Knox County Health Department, the office of Gov. Bill Lee and other state and local leaders. But we do believe that a return to classrooms will lead to the best academic outcomes, if we can do so while reasonably protecting the health and safety of our students and staff.

    However, we recognize that in this scenario, some families would not be comfortable with a return to school. As a result, we will have a virtual option for those students.

    We are asking that by Tuesday, July 7, families who would most likely utilize the virtual school option please complete a survey, which is available at www.knoxschools.org/survey. This virtual option is made possible thanks to our 1:1 initiative that will provide every student with a Chromebook. We are also working very diligently with our community partners to ensure that every family has access to the internet.

    At this time, we are in the process of finalizing details of the program, but for planning purposes and in order to make decisions about staffing and resources, we need to know how many parents would most likely utilize this virtual option. Families who would NOT utilize a virtual option DO NOT need to complete the survey. 

    Your decision at this time is not binding, but your response will be extremely important in helping us to plan for the future. Once details of this program are announced, you will be asked to enroll if interested.

    Thank you for your patience as we work through these complex decisions. Please know that we are committed to the work of teaching and learning while also protecting the well-being of our entire community. As always, I’m grateful for your support.

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools

    June 18, 2020


    Dear KCS community,

    I hope everyone is enjoying their summer break under these unique circumstances. I wanted to provide you with an update on our preparations for the upcoming school year.

    As I have previously stated, our hope is to return to an in-person school setting in the fall. We want your input to help guide our work as a detailed plan is developed that will provide the best and safest environment for our students and staff.

    We are currently gathering feedback from our students, parents, teachers, principals, and community stakeholders through our district survey and small focus groups. More than 27,000 of you have completed the survey, and I am most grateful. If you have not already, I am encouraging you to do so by tomorrow.

    The district also has a Community Task Force that will be charged with reviewing data from the survey and focus groups and will provide additional insights and perspectives on the proposed reopening options.

    I will take ALL this information into account, in addition to state and local public health and Department of Education guidance, and make my recommendation to the Board of Education on July 15, provided conditions don’t require us to make an adjustment.

    As we are working through this process, please know that district staff and school administrators are diligently working to ensure the education, health, and well-being of our community.

    I will continue to update you along the way as we have more to share. Please visit www.knoxschools.org/connect for the latest information.

    We greatly appreciate your feedback and thank you for all you continue to do to support KCS!

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools

    June 10, 2020


    Dear KCS community,

    I wanted to remind our students, families, and employees that Knox County Schools has created an online survey to seek input about opening and operating our schools during the Fall 2020 semester. 

    This brief survey is available through June 19 and if you haven’t yet responded, please consider filling it out before the deadline. Your input is invaluable as we make decisions about the upcoming school year, and I’m grateful for everyone who has already taken part.

    As superintendent, I’m working to gather as much feedback as possible about the district’s path forward. In addition to the online survey, we have established focus groups of students, teachers, parents, and principals to gain their insights and recommendations.

    We have also created a community task force that will provide an objective and transparent process for reviewing and sharing the data that we are collecting from all our stakeholders.

    Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, our district has received guidance from the Tennessee Department of Education and Gov. Bill Lee, and we are in constant communication with the Knox County Health Department. We will continue to work closely with these state and local partners as we prepare for the upcoming school year.

    We’re committed to doing the work of teaching and learning in a safe and healthy manner this fall, but we need your feedback to shape our decisions. Thank you for all you do to support Knox County Schools!

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools

    June 3, 2020


    Dear KCS families,

    I know that our students, families, and district staff have many questions about how the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic will affect the fall semester, and I wanted to provide a brief update about our planning.

    We are monitoring the situation very closely, in conjunction with state and local authorities, and we have developed a three-part strategy to help shape our decision-making.

    First, we have created a survey to solicit feedback from students, families, and staff. That survey is available on our website, and we welcome your responses.

    Second, we have established a task force of community members from each school board district that will be led by Dr. Jerry Askew, President of the Alliance for Better Nonprofits. We believe this task force will provide an additional layer of communication to guide our planning.

    Finally, we will be working with focus groups of students, teachers, principals, and parents to seek insight from multiple perspectives about the fall semester.

    Our goal is to be prepared for three possibilities when school resumes in the fall. Ideally, students and teachers will return to the classroom as normal, while embracing new safety measures such as physical distancing.

    But we are also preparing for two alternative scenarios. The first is a hybrid approach in which ​students would attend school part-time and receive in-person instruction from their teacher in a classroom. In this scenario, part-time classroom instruction would be supplemented ​by a student's teacher with remote learning. This could possibly involve staggering student attendance to allow for physical distancing and extra cleaning of school facilities.

    The second alternative would be a strategy of full-time remote learning, led by KCS teachers, that covers new material and allows for graded assignments, using the electronic devices provided through our 1:1 initiative.

    We want to ensure that resources, plans, and procedures are in place so that the work of education doesn’t miss a beat this fall, and I’m confident we’ll be able to achieve that goal.

    As always, we will share additional details on our website, through mass notifications and on our social media channels as soon as they are available. I’m grateful for your continued support during these challenging times, and I look forward to starting a new school year in August!

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools