• Superintendent Updates

    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