• Superintendent Updates

    May 13, 2022


    Dear KCS families,

    As we approach the end of the school year, I am grateful for the chance to share some updates.

    I would like to begin by congratulating two schools that recently earned an important honor. Green Magnet Academy and South-Doyle High School were among 27 schools to receive the STEM designation for 2022 from across the State of Tennessee and the Tennessee STEM Innovation Network.

    This honor recognizes schools that prepare students for postsecondary and future career success by committing to promote STEM and / or STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) learning for their students. Schools that received the designation underwent a rigorous application process, including completing a self-evaluation, participating in interviews, and hosting site visits with the Tennessee STEM / STEAM designation review team.

    STEM education is a crucial part of our mission, and we celebrate the tremendous efforts made by these two schools to help students be prepared for future success.

    I also want to congratulate one of our outstanding counselors who was recognized this month. Emily Fain-Lynch, of Green Magnet Academy, was named the state’s Counselor of the Year by the Tennessee School Counselor Association. Thank you to Ms. Fain-Lynch for all her hard work!

    On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Education announced its latest class of U.S. Presidential Scholars, which I am pleased to say included L&N STEM Academy student Cristine Chen. Cristine is one of 161 high school seniors in the country who was recognized for accomplishments in academics, the arts, and career and technical education fields. Additionally, L&N STEM Academy teacher Derek Griffin was named as a U.S. Presidential Scholars Program’s Distinguished Teacher. Congratulations to Cristine and to Mr. Griffin on their recognitions!

    Finally, a reminder to our families that graduation season begins on Thursday, May 19, and will continue through Friday, June 3. A complete schedule along with a list of valedictorians and salutatorians is available on our website at knoxschools.org/seniors.

    The Class of 2022 has preserved through many hardships and challenges, and we are extremely proud of their courage and persistence. I look forward to celebrating with them in the coming days!

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

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools

    May 6, 2022


    Dear KCS families,

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

    Knox County marked an important milestone this week with our designation as a Ford Next Generation Learning community. Over the last year, the district has partnered with educators, students, community partners and business leaders on this effort, which was convened and funded by Knox Education Foundation.

    As part of this initiative, our district will create career-themed academies at district high schools, which will be known as The 865 Academies. By helping students participate in work-based learning, receive opportunities for career exploration and work with professionals in their field of interest, The 865 Academies will promote a strong alignment between our academic mission and the workforce needs of the East Tennessee region.

    I am grateful for everyone who has engaged in this process so far, and I look forward to the positive changes that are yet to come. For more information – including a Frequently Asked Questions document – please visit knoxschools.org/academies.

    As I mentioned last week, the Board of Education recently approved our budget plan for the 2022-23 school year. I want to thank Mayor Jacobs for approving the Board’s budget and recommending it be approved in full by Knox County Commission. For more information, you may find details in our General Purpose Budget and Capital Improvement Plan.

    As we kick off National Nurses Week, which runs May 6-12, I also want to recognize our school nurses for their hard work and dedication to providing exceptional care to our students. I am grateful for their caring heart and expertise in addressing issues related to the health and well-being of children.

    Finally, I want to wish all of our moms a Happy Mother’s Day. Thank you for your commitment to education, and your support of Knox County Schools!

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools

    April 29, 2022


    Dear KCS families,

    As April comes to a close, I appreciate the opportunity to share some updates about our district’s work.

    Let me begin by thanking everyone who provided input and feedback about our budget for the 2022-23 school year. Last fall, we asked our community to respond to a budget survey to help inform us about their priorities and we received over 4,500 responses. Results of our survey indicated that among the community’s top priorities were increasing teacher pay, hiring and retaining quality teachers, and maintaining student/teacher ratios, and I am very pleased to share that these priorities are included in the budget, which was unanimously approved by the Board of Education on Wednesday. A copy of the budget proposal can be found on our website, knoxschools.org/budget.

    I was especially pleased that KCS could make investments toward increasing pay for district employees, adding school security personnel, and providing additional positions to support our students’ social-emotional health, students with disabilities, and English Language Learners. These investments will help us serve the academic and social-emotional needs of students, and I am grateful to the district’s budget staff for all their long hours and hard work on this budget and to the Board of Education for their support of this plan.

    Teacher Appreciation Week begins on Monday. With that in mind, I want to say “thank you” to our teachers, not only for their dedication and hard work but for their commitment to our community every day of the year.

    Additionally, next Friday is School Lunch Hero Day, and I want to express my gratitude to the KCS nutrition workers who provide healthy meals to students every day!

    I am very excited about the One Book Read City initiative which will launch on Monday. As part of this program, every elementary student will receive a free book and will have an opportunity to participate in fun activities designed to promote literacy. I am thankful to Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs and 6th District Board of Education member Betsy Henderson for their work on this project!

    Finally, I want to remind everyone that Tuesday, May 3, is a student holiday and our schools will be closed because of the primary election.

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

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools

    April 22, 2022


    Dear KCS families,

    As we wrap up another week of instruction, I am grateful for the chance to provide some updates.

    I would like to begin by highlighting two training opportunities that the district is offering in the coming weeks.

    The first is for our parents of students with disabilities who want to learn more about Individualized Education Plans, or IEPs. Next week, the KCS Department of Student Supports will provide a free online event aimed at empowering parents to confidently navigate the IEP process, build relationships, and advocate for their children. The class will be offered on the following dates:

    • Monday, April 25 from noon - 1 p.m.; and
    • Thursday, April 28 from 5:30 - 6:30 p.m.

    For more information, visit this link. KCS is committed to effectively supporting our parents of students with disabilities, and I am hopeful that this class will be an important tool to help schools and families ensure the success of all students!

    Second, this summer our district will provide a free ACT prep course for rising juniors and seniors. Registration for this five-week virtual course will end at noon on May 30, and students can sign up at this link.

    Finally, I want to give a brief word of encouragement to teachers and students who began the state assessment process this week. After many months of instruction, the TCAP test is an opportunity for our students to demonstrate their knowledge and growth, and I am proud of their efforts. I also want to thank our teachers who have worked very hard to prepare our students for these assessments.

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

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools

    April 14, 2022


    Dear KCS families,

    As we enter a holiday weekend, I appreciate the chance to give a brief update about our district’s work.

    On Tuesday, April 26, the Knox County Schools Alliance for Educational Equity, formerly the Disparities in Educational Outcomes (DEO) Committee, will host a community meeting at Fulton High School from 6 – 7:30 p.m. The meeting will include a large-group presentation and breakout discussions focusing on academics, communications, discipline, school culture, staffing, and student supports (special education and English Language Learners).

    Arabic- and Spanish-language interpreters will be available for the large-group presentation, and a Spanish-language breakout session will also be available. The large-group presentation will be livestreamed; however, the breakout sessions will not.  

    The KCS Strategic Plan identifies “Eliminating Disparities” as one of our district’s three priorities. The meeting on April 26 is an important chance for members of the public to ask questions and provide feedback. I am grateful for the Alliance’s support, and I look forward to this important meeting!

    I would like to thank the Knoxville National Guard for recently hosting several of our educators and sharing information about the Tennessee STRONG tuition reimbursement program available to our graduating students. The program provides eligible members of the Tennessee National Guard with tuition towards a first bachelor’s or master’s degree, certificate, or diploma from a vocational or technical school. This is a great opportunity for our students who are interested in serving our state and country.

    Finally, I want to remind our families that district schools will be closed on Friday, April 15, and Monday, April 18. I hope that our students, staff and families enjoy the chance to rest, reflect on our blessings and spend time with loved ones. We will look forward to welcoming students back to class on Tuesday, April 19.

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

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools

    April 8, 2022


    Dear KCS families,

    As we complete another week of instruction, I appreciate the chance to provide some updates about our district and its work.

    I would like to begin by highlighting some important information that is available on our website related to commencement ceremonies for the Class of 2022. As announced previously, this year’s ceremonies will take place from May 19 through June 3, and in most cases will be hosted at high school football stadiums.

    A full schedule is available at knoxschools.org/seniors, as well as a list of valedictorians and salutatorians. This year, we asked these “vals and sals” to share their postsecondary plans, highlight a teacher or school employee who made a difference in their life and even answer an icebreaker question, so I hope you will take a moment to read their responses. Congratulations to all our valedictorians and salutatorians!

    Last month, I mentioned the Advance Knox planning process, which is being coordinated by staff from Knox County and Knoxville-Knox County Planning, and is an effort to guide growth, land use, transportation and quality of life in our community. Advance Knox hosted several in-person meetings last month, and an online feedback form is now available at this link. If you were unable to attend the in-person meetings, please consider sharing your thoughts using that form.

    This morning, Mount Olive Elementary School celebrated a ribbon-cutting for its new playground, and I would like to thank the many generous donors who made the project possible. Special thanks to the project’s largest donors The Boyd Foundation and Thompson Charitable Foundation.

    Finally, I want to remind our families and students that Knox County Schools will be closed on Friday, April 15, and Monday, April 18. I hope that you are able to enjoy the time off, and we will look forward to welcoming students back to class on Tuesday, April 19.

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

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools

    April 1, 2022


    Dear KCS families,

    It is hard to believe that April has arrived, but I am grateful for the chance to provide some updates following another week of instruction.

    I would like to begin by sharing some important news about resources for families who speak a language other than English. Earlier this month, “Translate” buttons in Spanish, Arabic, Chinese and Swahili were added in the upper left-hand corner of our district website, as well as on school websites. This enhancement makes it easier for users to access those languages, while a drop-down menu with dozens of additional languages continues to be provided.

    In addition, KCS recently launched knoxschools.org/espanol, a condensed, Spanish-language version of the district website that highlights areas of high importance. We have also launched a series of videos on YouTube that highlight Spanish-speaking students and families; profile Spanish-speaking employees; and provide updates about essential topics.

    It is very important that all families have access to important information about their child’s education, even if they are still learning English, and I am pleased that we can offer these new resources.

    I also wanted to reiterate that our district is continuously looking to hire interested individuals who want to make a difference for students. From teachers, educational assistants, tutors and substitutes to school security officers, custodians, and school nutrition staff, the district has many opportunities for those who would like to work for KCS.

    If you know someone who is interested in a rewarding career of service to Knox County children, please direct them to our Human Resources website.

    Next week, our Board of Education will make the move to its new meeting space in Summer Place, 500 W. Summit Hill Dr. Both the Board’s work session on April 4 and its regular session on April 6 will be held there. The entrance to the building is at the intersection of Wall Avenue and Walnut Street. Parking is available at many downtown parking facilities, with the closest being Market Square Garage, Langley Garage, and Locust Street Garage. » Parking Map

    Finally, I want to acknowledge three important partnerships that were celebrated last week:

    • An adaptive pathway and trail redesign was opened at Dogwood Elementary, with support from Legacy Parks Foundation and Knox Education Foundation;
    • Students from Chilhowee Intermediate completed their fundraising goal for a new playground, thanks to donors including County Commissioners Larsen Jay and Dasha Lundy; Knoxville City Council; Town Hall East; Partners in Education Foundation; the Knoxville Ice Bears; and Dick’s House of Sport; and
    • As part of its 50th Reunion, the Bearden High School Class of 1972 presented a $25,000 gift to the school that will provide computers, Adobe software and a projector / active board for the graphic arts studio.

    Thank you to these generous donors, and to all the partners who come alongside our school communities.

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools

    March 25, 2022


    Dear KCS families,

    I hope that everyone has had a productive week as we returned from Spring Break, and I appreciate the chance to share some updates.

    I would like to begin by highlighting our free summer learning camps, which will take place over four weeks in late May and June. Eligible families of elementary and middle school students can enroll in these camps through April 22, and more information in English and Spanish – including an FAQ – is available at knoxschools.org/summerlearning

    I also want to raise awareness about an important opportunity to help students who are struggling academically.

    KCS is hiring paid tutors to assist with reading in grades K-5 and math (including Algebra 1) in grades 6-8. These tutors will be district employees who work with small groups of students (4 or fewer). Available positions include:

    • Full-time tutors, earning $125 / day, plus benefits;
    • Part-time tutors earning $16 per hour for half-day or hourly positions.

    Tutors have the opportunity to make a tremendous difference in the lives of our students, and if you know of anyone who is interested in serving, please encourage them to visit knoxschools.org/tutors.

    Additionally, the district is hosting its KCS Recruitment Fair from 9 a.m. to noon tomorrow at Central High School, 5321 Jacksboro Pike. We are always looking for outstanding educators, as well as high-quality candidates in school security, food service, and custodial. For information on specific employment opportunities, please visit knoxschools.org/recruitment.

    Finally, I want to let our families know about a chance to provide input regarding growth and development in our community. The Advance Knox planning process, which is being coordinated by staff from Knox County government and Knoxville-Knox County Planning, is an effort to guide growth, land use, transportation and quality of life in Knox County.

    The process will include meetings at several of our schools next week, and more information is available at AdvanceKnox.org.

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

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools

    March 14, 2022


    Dear KCS families,

    I hope you are having a wonderful start to your Spring Break! I wanted to make you aware that U.S. District Judge Ronnie Greer has granted the joint motion to lift the mask mandate while the Board of Education and the plaintiffs are undergoing the mediation process.

    This means that when students and staff return to school on Monday, March 21, masks will not be required, until further notice. Additionally, those who are attending school camps this week will not have to wear a mask. Please note that students and staff may still wear a mask if they choose.

    Thank you for your continued support and enjoy the rest of the week!

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools

    March 11, 2022


    Dear KCS families,

    I am grateful for the opportunity to share some updates in advance of Spring Break.

    I would like to begin by providing an update about the mask litigation. On Monday, March 7, U.S. District Judge J. Ronnie Greer ordered the Board of Education into federal mediation with the plaintiffs in the “mask mandate” lawsuit.  On Wednesday, March 9, the Board of Education voted to mediate in a public meeting which will have the Board switching between the public session and meeting in executive session. The day and location will be made available once a court-approved mediator has been selected and further arrangements are made.  Additionally, on Wednesday, March 9, the Board of Education voted to hire advisory outside counsel to assist the Knox County Law Department in its defense of the Board of Education in the mask mandate lawsuit.

    Further, on Monday, March 7, the Board of Education voted to file a joint motion with the plaintiffs in the mask mandate lawsuit. The motion requests the judge lift the mask mandate while the parties are mediating (negotiating) the case. The motion has been filed and the Board is awaiting a decision from the judge.

    Lastly, the Board of Education’s appeal of the mask mandate injunction continues with the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. That Court Clerk gave notice this week that oral arguments in the case have been set for May 4, 2022, at the 6th Circuit Courthouse in Cincinnati, Ohio.

    I would also like to thank the United Way of Greater Knoxville, Knox Education Foundation, Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs and Knox County Commission, who recently provided important grant funding for our district:

    • $210,000 for student-focused initiatives, including math and reading supports, professional development for teachers and staff, and programs to support post-secondary readiness and student transitions to middle school and high school;
    • $10,000 for the KCS Teacher Supply Depot; and
    • $5,000 for the KCS Clothing Center.

    These grants will make a tremendous difference in our schools, and I am deeply grateful for these generous community partners.

    Finally, I hope our students, families and school staff are able to rest and relax during Spring Break next week, and we look forward to seeing students back in class on March 21.

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

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools

    March 4, 2022


    Dear KCS families,

    Thank you for the chance to provide some updates as we move into the weekend.

    I would like to begin by highlighting our virtual Skates and Plates fundraiser, which is sponsored by the Partners in Education Foundation and launched this week. In the 2022 school year, proceeds from the campaign will be used to:

    • Provide scholarships for Knox County high school seniors;
    • Help provide recreational equipment for schools; and
    • Fund identified needs for schools across Knox County.

    A short campaign video is available at this link, and a school-by-school needs list is available at this link.

    I am also pleased to announce that Knox County Schools will once again offer a free summer learning camp for eligible students this year. The Elementary Summer Learning Camp will run from May 31 – June 24, and the Middle School Summer Bridge Camp will be held from June 1 - June 28.

    These camps are an important opportunity for students to continue sharpening their skills in ELA and math during the summer break, and eligible families will receive more information beginning next week.

    Finally, I want to give a heartfelt thanks to the generous donors who helped purchase a playground at New Hopewell Elementary, a project that held a ribbon-cutting this week.

    This initiative was supported by a $50,000 grant from the Boyd Foundation, a $17,000 donation from the Knoxville Academy of Medicine Alliance and several other gifts. It will have a positive impact for students in South Knox County for years to come, and I am grateful for everyone who made it possible.

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

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools

    Feb. 25, 2022


    Dear KCS families,

    I appreciate the chance to share some updates as we complete another week of instruction.

    I would like to begin by offering my congratulations to Dr. Jon Rysewyk, who this week was chosen by the Board of Education as the next superintendent of KCS beginning July 1.

    I have worked with Dr. Rysewyk for many years as he has successfully taken on roles of increasing responsibility within our district. He is an outstanding educator, and I am confident that his leadership abilities will serve the district well in the coming years. I will do everything I can to assist Dr. Rysewyk during the transition period, and I look forward to supporting him as the next leader of Knox County Schools!

    I would also like to make families aware of an important opportunity. Knox County Schools is soliciting feedback about the relationship and interactions between law enforcement, schools and students within our district.

    The survey is available at this link, and your responses will be part of a larger effort to gather community insight. Law enforcement plays a crucial role in protecting our school communities and supporting our educational mission, and I hope you will consider giving us feedback about this important issue.

    I want to highlight two important events that are happening soon. On Saturday, Feb. 26, KCS will host a virtual recruitment fair from 9 a.m. to noon. We are looking for certified and classified employees in a variety of categories, and if you or someone you know is interested in joining our team, more information – including a registration form – can be found at knoxschools.org/recruitment. An in-person recruitment fair will be held on March 26 at Central High School.

    In addition, KCS will join Centro Hispano of East Tennessee and Project Grad Knoxville to host a Latino College and Resource Fair on Thursday, March 10, from 5 to 7:30 p.m. For more information, visit this link.

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

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools

    Feb. 18, 2022


    Dear KCS families,

    As our students prepare for a long weekend, I appreciate the chance to share some updates.

    I would like to begin by highlighting one of our outstanding educators who received national recognition this week. Melody Hawkins is an assistant administrator at Austin-East Magnet High School who previously worked as a teacher at Vine Middle Magnet School.

    On Tuesday, National University announced that Ms. Hawkins had been chosen as their Teacher of the Year, a recognition that includes a $50,000 cash prize and a full scholarship to pursue a doctoral degree. Ms. Hawkins was also featured on “The Drew Barrymore Show,” in an episode that included several students who talked about her impact on their lives. You can watch the televised interview at this link.

    Congratulations to Ms. Hawkins for this well-deserved recognition!

    I also wanted to provide an update on the mask mandate that is in place for our schools because of a federal injunction. The Board representatives and the Knox County Law Department have engaged in settlement negotiations with attorneys for the plaintiffs in this case, and we are filing additional documents requesting relief. As always, we will continue to provide updates on this matter when significant developments occur.

    Finally, I want to remind families that Monday, Feb. 21, is Presidents’ Day, and students will not be in class. I hope that this day off provides an opportunity for rest and relaxation, and we look forward to seeing our students back in class on Tuesday, Feb. 22.

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

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools

    Feb. 11, 2022


    Dear KCS families,

    As we wrap up another week of instruction, I am grateful for the chance to share some good news with our families.

    I would like to begin by congratulating the educators who were recognized during our Teacher of the Year celebration at the Knoxville Convention Center on Tuesday evening. The winners from every school were chosen by their peers, and nearly 200 were honored as part of the event.

    In addition, three district-wide winners were chosen from each grade band. Pictures and video profiles of these teachers are highlighted below:

    Lauren Fevrier
    Librarian, Bonny Kate Elementary
    Photo / Video

    Lora Williams
    Special Education teacher, Carter Middle School
    Photo / Video

    Kathleen DeVinney
    STEM Teacher, South-Doyle High School
    Photo / Video

    I am also very pleased to announce that Knox County Schools this morning was recognized by the Tennessee Department of Education as a “Best For All” district, joining 67 other districts across the state who earned the designation.

    The Best for All recognition program awards benefits to Tennessee school districts that designated historic amounts of federal COVID-19 relief and stimulus funding directly to student achievement and improvement of academic outcomes. This honor highlights our district’s work to use this funding wisely and effectively, and I am grateful to the district leaders who have helped guide this process. You may watch a video about this award at www.knoxschools.org/esser.

    An important event related to our superintendent search will happen next week. A community meeting with the three finalists chosen by the Board of Education will be held at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 17, at Bearden High School. The three candidates will answer questions on a variety of topics, and community members can submit questions for the event using this link.

    Finally, I want to point out that Feb. 7-11 was National School Counseling Week. Our counselors have done incredible work with our students as we have navigated the challenges of the last two years, and I am deeply grateful for their efforts. Please join me in thanking them when you get a chance!

    I hope that our staff, students and families have a restful weekend and, as always, thank you for your support of Knox County Schools!

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools

    Feb. 4, 2022


    Dear KCS families,

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

    I would like to begin by noting that February is Black History Month, and is a perfect time to celebrate the Black educators who have achieved great things at KCS in the past, and are doing outstanding work in the present. I hope you will also join me in recognizing and honoring the achievements of our nation’s black leaders who have served an important role throughout history.

    The diversity of our school communities is one of the strengths of our district, and we will continue working to build a culture which celebrates that diversity and ensures all our staff, students and families feel supported and empowered to succeed.

    I would also like to highlight an important deadline that is coming up later this month. Families who wish to apply for a transfer outside of their zoned school for the 2022-23 school year must submit an application by 4 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 22.

    Additional information about the transfer process, including an FAQ, online and print application forms and more can be found on our website.

    Finally, I would like to highlight two hiring events that will take place in the coming weeks. Our district is looking for community-minded team members in a wide variety of certified and classified positions, and is hosting two recruitment fairs:

    Virtual recruitment fair

    Saturday, Feb. 26, 9 a.m. – noon

    In-person recruitment fair

    Saturday, March 26, 9 a.m. – noon

    For more information and to register, please visit knoxschools.org/recruitment.

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

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools

    Jan. 28, 2022


    Dear KCS families,

    I am grateful that students and staff were able to resume instruction this week, and I appreciate the chance to share some updates with our families.

    I would like to begin by making high school families aware that new scores related to EOC exams have been posted on a state website. You may recall that in August, the Tennessee Department of Education launched the TCAP Family Portal, a free, online resource with valuable information including:

    • TCAP scale scores and performance levels by subject;
    • Test history features allowing families to track progress over time;
    • Links to Parent Guides; and
    • Next Step recommendations, including links to practice tests.


    The Family Portal has now been updated to include EOC data from the Fall of 2021 for high school students. In order to access this resource, families must utilize their student’s TN Student ID. For detailed directions about how to navigate the process, please visit knoxschools.org/tcap.

    I would also like to briefly remind families that Knox County Schools is continuing to operate under an injunction from U.S. District Judge Ronnie Greer, which requires those present inside our school buildings to wear a properly fitting mask at all times. This includes those in attendance at extracurricular activities or athletic events, unless they are actively participating in a sport.

    Finally, I would like to point out that school districts across Tennessee recognized this week as School Board Appreciation Week. We appreciate and value the leadership of our outstanding Board of Education members, and I hope that you take an opportunity to say “thank you” to your board member for their service.

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

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools

    Jan. 21, 2022


    Dear KCS families,

    I would like to begin by thanking each of you for your understanding as we closed school this week amid staffing challenges our district faced because of widespread illness. I hope that our students and staff were able to rest and recover during this time.

    Our plan for Monday is to return to school, though we will continue to monitor staff and student attendance. We recognize that any decision to close schools or implement virtual learning on a school-by-school basis can be disruptive for families, and we will continue making every effort to provide timely notice of scheduling decisions. In addition, we are asking families to take precautions to prevent the spread of illness by using mitigating strategies.

    On Wednesday, you should have received an email highlighting an opportunity to provide important feedback. Knox County Schools is partnering with BrightBytes, an educational research organization, to learn more about our students’ school and home technology use for learning.

    If you have a few moments to complete a Technology & Learning questionnaire, your participation can help us form a more complete picture of technology used for learning. All responses will remain anonymous to protect the privacy of respondents, and the full survey is available at this link. We appreciate everyone who has taken the time to complete the survey.

    As you know, the Board of Education is currently searching for a new superintendent, and today was the deadline for candidates to submit an application to the Tennessee School Boards Association. In the coming days, TSBA – working on behalf of the Board of Education – will review and evaluate the applications and will recommend semifinalists early next month.

    This is an important process for the future of our district, and I am very grateful for the hard work of our board members and TSBA, along with the feedback provided by our community.

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

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools

    Jan. 14, 2022


    Dear KCS families,

    I appreciate the chance to share some updates as we finish another week of instruction.

    I would like to begin by highlighting the three virtual schools that our district launched at the beginning of the current academic year – one each for elementary, middle and high school students.

    Families will have the option to apply for a transfer to our virtual schools in the 2022-23 school year during the transfer window, which is currently open and will close at 4 p.m. on Feb. 22. You can obtain more information by filling out an interest form on our website: 

    KCS Virtual Elementary School

    KCS Virtual Middle School

    KCS Virtual High School

    I am grateful for the work of our outstanding virtual school principals, Laicee Hatfield and Jennifer Garrett, for their leadership.

    This week, KCS also held the third and final master-planning session in our effort to reimagine the high school experience in Knox County. The community initiative is being led by Ford Next Generation Learning, with support from Knox Education Foundation. The goal is to prepare students for post-secondary success in both college and careers, by creating a system of interest-based academies and career pathways within district high schools.

    In the coming weeks, KCS will be sharing more information about the Ford work and will provide details about the goals of the project, and to outline the time frame for potential implementation.

    Finally, I want to highlight a KCS principal who received an important recognition this week. Tammi Campbell, principal of Austin-East Magnet High, was honored by Knoxville’s Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Commission with the Education Award, in recognition of her work on behalf of students and schools. Congratulations to Ms. Campbell for this well-deserved honor!

    Our schools will be closed on Monday, January 17, in observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and I would encourage you to take time to reflect on Dr. King’s important work to promote justice and equality. We will look forward to seeing students back in class on Tuesday, January 18. As always, thank you for your support of Knox County Schools!

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools

    Jan. 7, 2022


    Dear KCS families,

    As our students and district employees return from Winter Break, I am thankful for the opportunity to share some updates.

    As you know, the first week of this semester has been disrupted by winter weather, and I am grateful for the flexibility and patience of our school communities as we have adjusted our schedule.

    As you can imagine, there are many factors that we consider when making weather decisions, including the uncertainty of forecasting and the disruptions faced by working parents when schools are closed. However, student safety is our most important concern, and we know that families value early decisions to allow time for making alternate plans. We will continue working to make prompt decisions whenever possible, and I appreciate the feedback we have received in this regard.

    On a similar note, I would again encourage our students, families, and employees to have a plan in place for inclement weather. The months of January and February can be unpredictable, and the district still has several weather days available in case of snow, ice, or other hazardous conditions. While we cannot avoid all the disruptions caused by the weather, having a plan in place can help our families mitigate those disruptions.

    I also wanted to share a reminder that the mask mandate preliminary injunction placed by the federal Eastern District Court remains in place for Knox County Schools. I appreciate everyone helping us to be in compliance with the Court’s mandate. On behalf of KCS, the Knox County Law Director has recently filed a brief with the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals disputing the Eastern District Court’s decision to grant the preliminary injunction ordering a mask mandate. It is expected that the other parties will file a brief supporting the preliminary injunction pursuant to the Sixth Circuit’s schedule.

    I hope that each of you had a restful and relaxing Winter Break, and I am proud of our teachers, students, and school employees for kicking off the new semester with enthusiasm and energy despite the weather-related challenges.

    The work of education is tremendously important, and the arrival of a new year is an opportunity to reflect on all the ways that our administrators, teachers, staff, and school communities shape the lives of young people. I know our students will achieve great things in 2022, and I am grateful for your support of Knox County Schools!

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools

    Dec. 16, 2021


    Dear KCS families, 

    With tomorrow being the last day of school before Winter Break, I wanted to take an opportunity to say thank you to everyone who has worked so hard to make this semester possible. It is during this time of the year that we are often reminded that by working together and looking out for one another we can overcome challenges that may come our way.

    I would like to express my appreciation to our families and all our employees for continuing to support our students. We truly have much to be thankful for, and I hope that during the holidays you enjoy time with loved ones and reflect on the many blessings of this year.

    We look forward to welcoming students back to class on Tuesday, January 4. Happy Holidays!

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools

    Dec. 10, 2021


    Dear KCS families, 

    As we approach our last week of instruction before Winter Break, I appreciate the chance to share some updates.

    The Board of Education has received extensive feedback from a wide variety of stakeholders about the Superintendent search process, and it will be accepting applications in December and January. One theme that has emerged from the process has been community support for our district’s work of pursuing educational equity. With that in mind, I wanted to share an update regarding these efforts. 

    In November of 2014, we created the Disparities in Educational Outcomes (DEO) Task Force to address disproportions in academic achievement and discipline outcomes. The DEO presented its recommendations five years ago, and KCS has made great progress in implementing them.

    The DEO has been renamed and is now the Alliance for Educational Equity (AEE), a change that highlights the community partnership which is vital for this mission and reflects our pursuit of educational equity. The AEE will host quarterly public meetings that will also include a public forum session, and the next quarterly meeting will be held at Central High School on January 25. We will also continue to host an annual community meeting for broader public discussion.

    The district is currently finalizing an equity policy that will be brought to the Board of Education for consideration in January or February. I believe that this will provide the next superintendent with an important foundation to guide our work in the future.

    We are partnering with the Tennessee Educators of Color Alliance to conduct an equity audit for the district. The first phase of this work will analyze our recruitment and retention strategies and provide insight into the challenges and experiences of educators of color within our district.

    When I became Superintendent, one of my three priorities was to eliminate disparities in academic achievement and discipline. Much work remains, but I am deeply grateful for the efforts of our employees to pursue this goal, and I am confident that the district’s next leader will be well-positioned to continue the work we are doing in this area. 

    I also wanted to provide a brief update regarding the ongoing appeal of the federal mask injunction with the Sixth District Court of Appeals. The Knox County Law Director has filed a motion to stay the injunction which may provide earlier relief if granted by the Court. Additionally, a decision rendered today in the Williamson County case in the Federal Middle District Court does not directly affect the KCS situation. We will continue to share information with you as we have it. You may keep up with updates regarding the litigation at this link.

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

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools

    Dec. 3, 2021


    Dear KCS families,

    I hope that each of you had a blessed Thanksgiving holiday, and I am grateful for the chance to share some updates as we finish a week of instruction.

    I would like to begin by thanking everyone who provided input for the Board of Education’s ongoing search for a new superintendent of Knox County Schools. Students, families, employees, community leaders and others gave valuable feedback during this week’s in-person forums, and we also received many responses to our virtual survey. This feedback will be very helpful as the board considers the necessary criteria for our district’s next leader and evaluates candidates who apply.

    Additional details about the process are available at www.knoxschools.org/supersearch, including a timeline of the process. Later this month, the Board will consider a set of criteria to guide the search, and applications will be accepted in December and January. Candidate interviews are expected to take place in February.

    I also wanted to provide an update about another important feedback opportunity. Last month, we sent all KCS families a brief survey that focuses on the district’s fiscal priorities and strategies to improve engagement with our stakeholders. The survey will close on Friday, Dec. 10, at 5 p.m., and I hope you will consider participating if you have not already done so. The survey is available at this link, and a short video with information about the KCS budget is available at this link.

    Finally, I want to congratulate the School Security Officer recruits who joined our Security Division this week. Ten recruits took the Oath of Honor during a ceremony at South-Doyle Middle School, and I was pleased to be part of the ceremony. Security officers play an essential role in our school communities, and these officers completed a rigorous training program in preparation for joining the force. I am confident that they will do great work in support of our students and employees.

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

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools

    Nov. 19, 2021


    Dear KCS families,

    As we approach the holiday season, I appreciate the opportunity to share some important updates.

    I am excited to announce that the State of Tennessee has approved our ESSER 3.0 grant application! As you are aware, the district will be receiving approximately $114 million to support schools in addressing learning loss and improving in-person learning. We will be working over the next few weeks on our implementation plan. You may find more information and updates as we have them at www.knoxschools.org/esser.

    As the mask case involving Knox County progresses, our attorneys have asked for a trial by jury and are continually monitoring our appeal to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. The State of Tennessee has appealed all three federal mask cases (in West, Middle, and East TN) to the same Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Appeals Court has consolidated the three cases and they will be heard by the same panel of judges. It does appear that the Middle District Court (Williamson County) has extended its preliminary injunction to the new state law regarding masks in school.

    On Monday, we sent all KCS families a brief survey that focuses on the district’s fiscal priorities and strategies to improve engagement with our stakeholders. The survey is available at this link, and a short video with information about the KCS budget is available at this link. Results from the survey will provide valuable insight as we begin the budget planning process, and I encourage you to consider participating.

    I would also like to reiterate an important opportunity that I mentioned last week to share your feedback as the district searches for the next Superintendent of Knox County Schools. On Thursday, Dec. 2, Dr. Tammy Grissom, executive director of the Tennessee School Boards Association, will lead a series of stakeholder forums designed to gather input and views about the issues and challenges facing our school system and community.

    Forum details and a timeline for the search process can be found at knoxschools.org/supersearch. If you are unable to attend an in-person meeting, I would encourage you to share your thoughts using the online survey that is now available at this link.

    Finally, as we prepare for the Thanksgiving holiday next week, I want to remind you that all district schools and Central Office will be closed from Nov. 24-26. I hope that the holiday provides you with an opportunity to get some much-needed rest and to enjoy time with loved ones.

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

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools

    Nov. 12, 2021


    Dear KCS families,

    I am grateful for the opportunity to share some important updates as we finish another week of instruction.

    Earlier this year, I announced my intention to retire as superintendent on June 30, 2022. Serving in this role has been a tremendous privilege, and I am committed to supporting the Board of Education as they work to identify the next leader of our district. With that in mind, I want to highlight important opportunities for you to provide feedback.

    On Dec. 2, Dr. Tammy Grissom, executive director of the Tennessee School Boards Association, will lead a series of stakeholder forums designed to gather input and views about the issues and challenges facing our school system and superintendent. Forum details and a timeline for the search process can be found at knoxschools.org/supersearch. If you are unable to attend an in-person meeting, I would encourage you to share your thoughts using the online survey that is now available on our website at this link.

    Identifying the next superintendent for our district is a crucial decision, and I hope that our students, families, employees and other stakeholders will consider providing feedback as the Board embarks on this process.

    Gov. Bill Lee is expected to sign the special session's omnibus bill that will change how the state responds to COVID-19 today. However, as I shared with you last week, the masking provisions of the bill would not apply to Knox County Schools as long as we are under a federal court order.

    Finally, I want to highlight an important celebration. This morning, KCS leaders gathered at Main Event to recognize the top sellers from the 2021 Coupon Book campaign, who got the chance to eat lunch with a family member, play games and receive their hard-earned prizes. I would especially like to give a shout out to Ridgedale student Thomas “Lake” Freeman for being the district’s overall top seller with an incredible 556 books sold!

    This year’s campaign was particularly exciting because the full $10 from each sale is going to the school of the student who sells it. That means over $1.2 million will be directed back to our schools. Thank you to the students, families and participating merchants who made this year’s campaign a great success!

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

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools

    Nov. 5, 2021


    Dear KCS families,

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

    I know that many families are eager for guidance about the ongoing litigation related to masks in our schools. While much about this process remains uncertain, I would like to provide an update about where things stand.

    As you know, U.S. District Judge Ronnie Greer in September issued an injunction requiring our schools to implement a mask mandate. Since then, the Knox County Law Department has filed several motions for relief and Judge Greer has allowed for mask exemptions and accommodations which are medically based. Judge Greer has denied all other requested relief from the mask mandate.

    Pursuant to the judge’s order, Knox County Schools has filed with the court a confidential list of mask exemptions for November. Such a list is due each month.

    While the case is still proceeding in Judge Greer’s court, an appeal has been filed with the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, Ohio (the appropriate appeals court for Tennessee) with regard to the mask mandate injunction order. Argument briefs in that appeal are due in December and January. At this time, KCS will be required to maintain the mask mandate until further order of the federal court.

    In addition, the Tennessee General Assembly last month approved legislation which would limit the ability of school boards to implement mask mandates, except in certain circumstances. This legislation has not yet been signed by Gov. Bill Lee. However, even if this law is implemented, please know that a federal order supersedes state law.

    I am grateful for the flexibility that has been shown by our students, families and teachers as we navigate this situation, and we will continue to provide updates as they arise.

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

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools

    Nov. 1, 2021


    Dear KCS families,

    We will be gathering community insight into the expected role and relationships of law enforcement with students, staff, school administration and school security personnel. As part of this process, we will be conducting individual interviews with community leaders, holding focus groups and providing an electronic survey (in January).

    If you are interested in being considered as a participant for one of the focus groups, please complete the questionnaire at the link below. Space is limited and participants will be selected through a process developed by our Research, Evaluation and Assessment Department in an effort to have a representative group from across the district. Selected participants will be notified in January.

    English: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/HS699H6

    Spanish: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/HSRBRKJ

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools

    Oct. 29, 2021


    Dear KCS families,

    I appreciate the opportunity to provide you with updates as we wrap up another week of instruction.

    I would like to begin by sharing two important opportunities for students, employees and families to provide feedback about the work of KCS. Our district has developed a plan to gather insight into the expected role and relationships of law enforcement with students, staff, school administration and school security personnel. This will include individual interviews with community leaders, focus groups and an electronic survey (in January). Next week, you will receive a link to a questionnaire to gauge your interest in participating in one of the focus groups. Space is limited and participants will be selected through a process developed by our Research, Evaluation and Assessment Department in an effort to have a representative group from across the district.

    As I have said before, I believe it is important to provide law enforcement officers in each of our schools, including both School Security Officers (SSOs) hired by KCS and School Resource Officers (SROs) provided by our law enforcement partners. Our district is also committed to receiving community feedback about these important partnerships, and I am confident that this process will help us accomplish that goal.

    In addition, we will be distributing a districtwide survey later in November that is related to the 2022-23 budget. The survey will focus on the district’s fiscal priorities as well as strategies to improve engagement with our stakeholders. Please be looking for that survey in a few weeks, and we appreciate the feedback that our families will be providing to us.

    I also want to acknowledge a heartbreaking loss that occurred on Monday evening when Junior Santiago, a student at Fulton High School, was killed by gunfire. As our community continues to seek solutions to the issue of gun violence, I want to offer my deepest sympathies to Junior’s family, friends, and the Fulton High School community.

    Finally, I want to remind our families that Tuesday, Nov. 2, is a student holiday and district learning day for our employees.  

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

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools

    Oct. 22, 2021


    Dear KCS families,

    Thank you for the chance to share some updates. I hope that each of you enjoyed a restful Fall Break, and I am grateful for the work of teachers, students, and school employees as classes resumed.

    I want to highlight two important events that happened this week, which I believe will have a positive impact on our district. On Monday, community leaders gathered at the McNabb Center to celebrate the district’s new Elevate program. Elevate provides a supported learning environment for students in recovery from substance misuse, including intensive outpatient services and academic programming.

    Randy Boyd and the Boyd Philanthropic Organization provided a $150,000 grant for the program’s start-up costs, while Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs allocated funding to cover staffing costs for the program’s first three years. In addition to outpatient therapy, the McNabb Center is providing free classroom and meeting space for the program. I believe Elevate will make a tremendous difference for students who are pursuing sobriety, and I am grateful for the community partnership that has made this initiative possible.

    On Wednesday, students, educators, business executives and other community leaders gathered at the Change Center for a vision meeting led by Ford Next Generation Learning, a nationally recognized education non-profit. The Ford NGL model seeks to combine the high expectations and academic rigor of college preparatory academic programs with the real-world relevance and rigor of career and technical education through the establishment of interest- and career-themed academies at high schools.

    At Wednesday’s meeting, stakeholders from across the county gathered to share their experiences and ideas for the future, in advance of a master-planning process. This initiative has great potential to transform the high school experience in Knox County, and I am grateful for everyone who participated. I am especially thankful for the work of Knox Education Foundation to support this effort.

    I believe that both of these events reflect the innovative work that is being done within our district, and I appreciate the leaders from across our county who are committed to coming alongside our educators. As always, thank you for your support of Knox County Schools!

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools

    Oct. 13, 2021


    Dear KCS families,

    I apologize for sending this email over fall break, but I wanted you to have the latest information as it relates to U.S. District Judge Ronnie Greer’s ruling yesterday regarding the mask mandate.

    This update gives the district the ability to authorize a mask exemption or accommodation for a student if there is documentation that demonstrates a medical need. Please note that the blanket exemption for autism and tracheotomy no longer exists. Additionally, an IEP or a 504 does not automatically exempt your child from the mask mandate. Students who were eligible last year based on a pre-existing IEP or 504 plan and an approved exemption will be exempt beginning on Monday, Oct. 18. If you believe your student has a diagnosis requiring a masking accommodation but is not identified as receiving services under an IEP or 504, please notify your child’s principal. Based on the Court’s order, these decisions will be approved by the district and not at the school level.

    The order makes clear that the mask mandate is universal, and we should not be allowing students to come to school without masks: “The record evidence supports the need for—and the Court ordered—a universal mask mandate, and the Court fully expects its mask mandate to be exactly that: universal, to every possible extent, with ‘very few’ medical exemptions,” the court filing states.

    This means that all students and staff who do not qualify for an exemption and visitors will be required to wear a mask while inside our facilities.

    • Non-masked students who can be immediately transported by a parent or guardian will need to return home.
    • Non-masked students who arrive at school by bus or who decide to take their mask off while at school will remain in an administrative designated area while a parent or guardian is called to pick them up.

    Per the Knox County Law Department, the order requires universal masking and states that students who refuse are subject to truancy; as such, students who refuse to wear a mask will be counted absent and will not be provided access to assignments while at school. Students who are marked absent will follow the district’s make-up work guidelines as outlined in Attendance Policy J-120.

    Thank you for your support and cooperation.

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools

    Oct. 8, 2021


    Dear KCS families,

    Thank you for the chance to share some updates.

    At this week’s Board of Education meeting, I had the privilege of recognizing several schools that are doing great work. The State of Tennessee recently issued achievement designations, and 10 district schools were honored as “Reward” schools. This designation recognizes improvement in achievement and growth for all students and student groups, and I want to congratulate the following "Reward" schools: A.L. Lotts Elementary, Blue Grass Elementary, Copper Ridge Elementary, Corryton Elementary, Farragut Intermediate, Hardin Valley Elementary, Rocky Hill Elementary, Sequoyah Elementary, Shannondale Elementary, and Northshore Elementary.

    I also want to recognize nine of our schools that improved their academic performance and exited Targeted Support and Improvement status: A.L. Lotts Elementary, Belle Morris Elementary, Cedar Bluff Elementary, Cedar Bluff Middle, Chilhowee Intermediate, Inskip Elementary, Karns Elementary, Norwood Elementary and West Haven Elementary.

    Additionally, I want to highlight an important event that is happening later this month. The KCS PTA Clothing Center will be collecting items from Oct. 18-22, in sizes from Child 4 through Adult 3X. This is an important way to help students in need, and more information can be found on our website.

    Finally, I want to remind everyone that district schools will be closed next week for Fall Break. Our students, staff and families have done a tremendous job during a challenging semester, and Fall Break is a good opportunity to rest and recharge. I hope you are able to enjoy time with friends and family, and we look forward to welcoming our students back to school on Monday, Oct. 18.

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

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools

    Oct. 1, 2021


    Dear KCS families,

    Thank you for the chance to share some updates.

    I would like to begin by extending a special thanks to the administrators who lead our school communities. October is National Principals Month, and it is the perfect time to express our gratitude to KCS principals.

    School administrators work long hours and grapple with many challenging issues, in an effort to create positive, welcoming environments where students can thrive academically and socially. This has been especially difficult over the last 18 months because of the disruptions caused by COVID-19, but our principals have done an exceptional job of leading with strength and compassion. Please take a moment this month to say “thank you” to our principals.

    I would also like to highlight an impressive academic achievement within our district. In September, 27 KCS seniors were recognized as National Merit semifinalists, a prestigious award that is based on scores from the 2020 Preliminary SAT / National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. The full list of semifinalists is available on our website, and I am very proud of these students.

    In addition, I want to celebrate a very generous donation from one of the district’s community partners. Last month, the Boyd Family and the Boyd Foundation announced a $650,000 gift, made in coordination with Knox Education Foundation, to reimagine the outdoor learning space at Green Magnet Academy. This gift will have a tremendous impact on the GMA school community, and I am grateful for the Boyd family’s investment in our students and schools for many years.

    Finally, I was pleased to see that this year’s Centro Hispano Latino Awards recognized Knox County Schools in two of the three categories. The KCS Welcome Center was honored with the Latino Community Ally Award, while Hardin Valley Academy teacher Verónica Calderón-Speed received the Latino Community Leader Award. This is a great honor, and I am thankful for the efforts of these employees!

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

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Sincerely
    Knox County Schools

    Sept. 24, 2021


    Dear KCS families,

    I want to address an important development concerning our district’s response to COVID-19. This afternoon, U.S. District Judge Ronnie Greer issued a preliminary injunction which ordered the Knox County Board of Education to immediately enforce the face covering mandate which was in place during the 2020-21 school year.

    In conjunction with the Knox County Law Department, the district is reviewing the judge’s order and working to understand its implications. However, we do want to provide our families, students and employees with preliminary guidance in preparation for next week.

    Beginning Monday, Sept. 27, all our students, employees, and visitors will be required to wear a face covering when indoors at one of our facilities or riding a school bus or shuttle, until further notice. Any individual with autism or with a tracheotomy is exempt; however, parents who have students with autism who can wear a face covering are encouraged to do so.

    Others with a documented medical condition may be exempted from this policy pending court approval.

    We recognize that this is a sensitive topic and that there are a wide variety of strongly held feelings about COVID-19 mitigation measures. At the same time, I want to make very clear that we are required to implement this order.

    Thank you for your understanding.

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools

    Sept. 17, 2021


    Dear KCS families,

    Thank you for the opportunity to provide some updates as we wrap up another week of instruction.

    I would like to begin by sharing some exciting news from last week. On Friday, Sept. 10, our district broke ground on a new elementary school in northwest Knox County. I want to thank Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs along with the Board of Education and County Commission for approving this important project, which will support rapidly growing communities in Hardin Valley and Karns.

    In addition, Knox County Schools last week kicked off our annual Coupon Book campaign. This fundraiser provides important financial support for our schools, and this year we are very pleased that the entire $10 purchase price will go to the school of the student who sells each book. Thank you to all the merchants and business partners who are providing coupons, and to the students and families who are participating in the campaign.

    Knox County Schools is also pleased to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15. On Wednesday, the district launched a new Spanish-language Facebook page, which will provide news, feature stories and important updates for families. The page is available at facebook.com/knoxschoolsespanol, and we hope it will be a valuable resource.

    Finally, I wanted to let you know that the Tennessee Department of Education will release its annual Report Card on Tennessee schools on Thursday, Sept. 23. This report, which will be available on the state’s website, will display state, district and school-level data for each school year, and will include demographics, achievement results, accountability progress, value-added data, attendance figures, graduation rate and more. Last year, as a result of school closures due to the pandemic, the U.S. Department of Education and the Tennessee General Assembly waived federal and state assessment and accountability requirements for the 2019-20 data. As a result, data for that particular year is not publicly available; however, student performance data for the 2020-21 school year will be available on the report card.

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

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools

    Sept. 10, 2021


    Dear KCS families,

    I am always grateful for the chance to provide updates about our district’s work, but this evening I wanted to share some personal news.

    In discussions with my family over the summer, I made the decision to retire on June 30, 2022. However, due to all the work required to get school started and underway, I thought it best to make my announcement after the school year began. While there is much important work to be done, I wanted to make my plans clear so the Board of Education would have ample time to find the next superintendent for our district.

    Many things have changed during my time as an educator, but my commitment to our mission has never wavered. This is a critically important school year for every student, and I look forward to continuing to partner with our outstanding team of educators to help our students succeed this year.

    Serving as your superintendent has been the privilege of a lifetime, and I am deeply thankful for the opportunity. Thank you for entrusting me with this responsibility and, as always, thank you for your support of Knox County Schools!

    Best regards,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools

    Sept. 3, 2021


    Dear KCS families,

    I am grateful for the chance to share some important updates as we begin a holiday weekend.

    This week, the Knox County Board of Education voted to approve the enhancement of our existing COVID dashboard to provide a range of active cases by school. Our staff will work diligently to implement this change and we will notify you when we begin posting this information.

    I also want to make families aware of a new benefit related to internet access. The Emergency Broadband Benefit will provide a discount of up to $50 per month towards broadband service for eligible households. Eligible households can also receive a one-time discount of up to $100 to purchase a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet from participating providers if they contribute more than $10 and less than $50 toward the purchase price. Details about this program – including income eligibility and other criteria – are available on our website.

    You will find a letter below 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 be in compliance with these requirements and to provide our families with the information they need to ensure student success. 

    Our district received a sobering reminder last week of the sacrifices made by members of the KCS community who serve in the Armed Forces. Army Staff Sergeant Ryan C. Knauss was a graduate of Gibbs High School who died in a bombing attack at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan on August 26. I would like to extend our deepest condolences to Ryan’s family and friends, and to the Gibbs community. Ryan gave his life on behalf of his country, and he is a true hero and an inspiration to us all.

    Please keep in mind that Knox County Schools will be closed on Monday, September 6, for the Labor Day Holiday. I hope our students, families and employees enjoy the chance to rest and spend time with loved ones.

    ESEATitleIParentNotification.pdf

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

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools

    Aug. 27, 2021


    Dear KCS families,

    As we finish another week of instruction, I want to share some important updates. As you know, Knox County Schools this week launched a COVID-19 dashboard with data regarding active student and staff cases confirmed by the Knox County Health Department (KCHD) and KCS Health Services. This important step has highlighted the significant challenges facing our community in connection with COVID-19.

    As positive cases increase, our district is continuing to take concrete steps in response. KCS is partnering with KCHD as they conduct contact tracing to provide available, relevant information – including seating charts, schedules and class rosters. Our outstanding teachers are providing asynchronous assignments to students who are in isolation or quarantine, and our dedicated custodians are continuing to sanitize buildings daily and to mist common areas using a COVID-certified disinfectant.

    We do expect students and staff to maintain 3 feet of physical distancing while indoors to the greatest extent possible. We are providing hand sanitizer in each classroom and encouraging everyone to wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

    The Tennessee Department of Health recommends the use of face coverings; however, the district recognizes that this is a family decision. The district strongly supports the recommendation that teachers, students, school personnel, and visitors use face coverings when indoors and physical distancing is not possible, regardless of vaccination status.

    There will be a special-called meeting of the Board of Education on Wednesday, Sept. 1, to discuss various Covid-related items including masks, contact tracing and the dashboard. Also at that meeting, I am asking the Board to consider an amendment to our attendance policy allowing students to be counted present if they are isolating or quarantining and submit their class assignments.  

    It is important to keep in mind that we are at a critical juncture when it comes to the work of teaching and learning. State assessment scores released earlier this month made clear that students in our district and across our state have fallen behind. The number of Knox County Schools test takers who were proficient across all grades and subjects was down 3 percent compared to data from 2019. We must do everything in our power to help them catch up – even as we are working diligently to overcome the challenges posed by COVID-19.

    In the midst of adversity, the employees of Knox County Schools are doing incredible work every day to ensure that students continue to make progress. I want to thank them for their dedication and professionalism, and I would urge our families to express their gratitude as well.

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

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools

    Aug. 20, 2021


    Dear KCS families,

    As the district finishes our second week of classes, I want to express my gratitude to all our students, families, educators, and administrators for helping to successfully launch a new school year.

    I know that families have many questions about COVID-19, and I want to address a few of them this evening. First, I want to acknowledge that KCS has received a great deal of feedback asking for a public release of data regarding the spread of COVID-19 in our schools.

    With that in mind, we will be launching a districtwide COVID dashboard with active student and staff cases confirmed by the Health Department. This dashboard will be updated daily, Monday through Friday, and will go live on Monday, Aug. 23, at www.knoxschools.org/covid. Also on Monday, families will begin receiving notifications from their child’s principal if there is a confirmed case(s) at their school.

    While COVID-19 remains a challenge, our options to respond are more limited this year. As you recall, the district last year was able to provide a virtual learning option for students who were in isolation or quarantine, and could move schools to virtual learning as needed. This year, however, State Board of Education rules do not give districts that option.

    This year’s district calendar does include the traditional 10 inclement weather days, which can also be used throughout the school year in case of illness. If all inclement weather days are used, any school- or district-wide instructional days that are lost due to illness must be made up using other days such as fall break, winter break, spring break or by extending the school year.

    I would like to emphasize that if your student has tested positive for COVID-19, they are required to isolate and will not be allowed to return to school without documentation from a physician or the Health Department. Contact tracing is being led by the Knox County Health Department and we are providing relevant information to assist them in this process. The Health Department is responsible for communicating guidance to families if their child has been identified as a close contact. Student absences related to COVID-19 will be excused, and students will follow the school-based protocol for makeup work.

    We hope these steps will help you make the best decision for your family. If you have additional COVID-related questions, I encourage you to read our recently updated FAQ, which may be found at www.knoxschools.org/backtoschool. Please know that COVID-related protocols are subject to change, and we will make those changes as they occur.

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

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools 

    Aug. 13, 2021


    Dear KCS families,

    It has been an amazing first week as we return to school for the fall semester! I was very grateful to visit with students and families on Monday morning, and I was inspired by the high fives and fist bumps that were exchanged by students and staff on our first day.

    Thank you to all of our school personnel, our students and our families for making this week a huge success. It was wonderful to see all our students back in the classroom ready to learn. Several pictures from our first week were shared on our social media channels, so please take the opportunity to see them.

    I visited several schools this week, and I am incredibly impressed by the enthusiasm and energy of our employees. From the front office to the cafeteria to the classroom, it takes a team effort to help students feel welcome and to support their academic progress. The employees I have talked with this week are completely focused on our mission, and I am very grateful for their dedication. It is truly amazing to see how much our employees care for our students.

    On a related note, I want to share that the Board of Education on Wednesday evening approved a one-time, $1,000 retention and hiring bonus for custodial and school nutrition workers. Providing nutritious meals and clean classrooms is an essential part of our mission, and we need more team members to join us in this work. If you know of a friend or relative who cares about young people and wants to serve their community, please make them aware of this $1,000 hiring incentive.

    I also want to extend my deepest condolences to the family and friends of Johnkelian Mathis, who was killed by gun violence last weekend.

    Johnkelian would have been a student at Austin-East Magnet High School this year, and his death is a terrible tragedy. My thoughts and prayers are with Johnkelian’s family during this difficult time. As I have said before, our community must address the issue of gun violence, and Knox County Schools is committed to working with local leaders to find solutions and ensure that students can learn without fear.

    The Austin-East community has suffered greatly this year, and we continue to mourn the losses of Justin Taylor, Stanley Freeman Jr., Janaria Muhammad, Jamarion Gillette, and Anthony Thompson Jr.

    I hope that each of you has a safe and restful weekend, and we look forward to seeing our students on Monday. As always, thank you for your support of Knox County Schools and for the opportunity to serve you and our community!

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools 

    Aug. 11, 2021


    Dear KCS families,

    I hope that this new school year is off to a wonderful start for your students!

    As you know, we experienced enormous challenges last year in connection with COVID-19. Today, district-level data from the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program, commonly known as TCAP, were released and, unfortunately, the results for our district show that student scores have declined.

    In one sense, this decline is understandable given the significant disruptions caused by the pandemic. It is also encouraging that our district outperformed the state in terms of our combined proficiency rate.

    However, I believe the most important message from these TCAP scores is that many of our students have fallen behind academically over the last 18 months, and we must do everything we can to help them catch up. I can assure you that Knox County Schools will be intensely focused on closing gaps in academic performance and accelerating student learning in the coming year.

    We have already identified strategies using our ESSER 3.0 funds to help mitigate the learning loss that has occurred. These strategies are focused on K-2 literacy and math, 6-8 grade math and high school career advising and academic supports. The district will also enhance its teacher training and mentoring program, extend its partnership with Helen Ross McNabb for additional mental health supports and develop a Newcomers Academy for English learner students who are new to the U.S.

    To view the entire Knox County Schools ESSER 3.0 plan, please click here: PowerPoint Presentation.

    If you are interested in learning more about your child’s TCAP scores, I would encourage you to take advantage of a new resource from the State of Tennessee. The TCAP Family Portal is a free, online resource to inform families of their student’s strengths and areas for growth. This resource has valuable information including:

    • TCAP scale scores and performance levels by subject;
    • Test history features allowing families to track progress over time;
    • Links to Parent Guides; and
    • Next Step recommendations, including links to practice tests.

    In order to access this resource, families must utilize their student’s TN Student ID. For detailed directions about how to navigate the process, please visit our website at www.knoxschools.org/tcap. In addition, please note that the TCAP Family Portal is optional and paper copies will be available in the coming weeks.

    Throughout the pandemic, I have emphasized that we can overcome every challenge if we work together – and that message remains true. Our students have enormous potential, and our teachers, administrators and school employees are second to none.

    As we start a new school year the stakes are higher than ever, but I know that we can accomplish this mission together. Thank you for your support of Knox County Schools!

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent 
    Knox County Schools

    Aug. 6, 2021


    Dear KCS families,

    I am very excited to welcome students back for a half-day of classes on Monday, Aug. 9! I hope this summer provided your family with an opportunity to rest and spend time together so that your child will be ready for an incredible school year.

    We recognize that last year was challenging in many ways and we know, based on achievement data that will be released next week, that we have a lot of work to do to help our students close the learning gaps that resulted from disruptions caused by COVID-19.

    It is very important to have our students in class and getting the instruction and social supports they need to make up this lost ground. Educating our students is our priority and we are committed to providing a learning environment that will allow them to flourish.

    As COVID-19 continues to be a concern as we start this school year, I want you to be aware of the following guidance:

    • The Tennessee Department of Health recommends the use of face coverings, and we support these recommendations; however, the district recognizes that this is a family decision. The district will not tolerate harassment of students or employees regarding their decision. Any incidents of bullying should be reported to school administration.
    • Contact tracing will be conducted by the Knox County Health Department and communication regarding isolation and quarantines will come from the Health Department. Absences related to COVID-19 will be excused and students will follow their school's make-up work process.
    • We will continue to sanitize buildings daily and mist common areas using a COVID-certified disinfectant. Hand sanitizer, disinfectant and towels will be provided throughout each school campus.
    • While temperature checks will not be required, we encourage families to check their child’s temperature before coming to school. Students and staff should monitor their symptoms daily. Anyone with an elevated fever (100.4 or higher) or COVID-related symptoms should not come to school.


    I am pleased to share that KCS will continue to provide Chromebooks for every K-12 student within the district. Families must fill out a Technology Device Agreement, which can be found at this link. Chromebook distribution will be coordinated by each individual school, so please watch for an email from your principal or school administrator with additional information.

    You may also find more information on the district website about topics including bus stops, starting / dismissal times, meal schedules and other topics.

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

    Sincerely,

    Bob Thomas
    Superintendent
    Knox County Schools