Knox Schools Celebrate Veterans DayPosted by JOSH FLORY on 11/13/2018
Monday was marked by flags, bands and parades at many Knox County schools, as students and teachers celebrated the Veterans Day holiday.
At Holston Middle School, the Veterans Day program included performances by chorus and band students, as well as remarks from featured speaker Marine Sergeant Paul G. Hibben III.
Principal Katie Lutton said the event is a popular one for family members who have a student at Holston, and that in years past it has also been attended by veterans who have no connection to the school.
Lutton said the program helps students see the real-life ways that veterans have put themselves in harm’s way for the benefit of others, and gives students a sense of pride in the music that they perform.
“It’s just been consistently a special event that our music teachers have put on,” she said. “We’re very proud of having it each year.”
At Pleasant Ridge Elementary School, students marched in a parade through the hallways, accompanied by veterans from their families. Other students lined the corridors, waving American flags and chanting “U-S-A” as the parade passed them.
Assistant principal Amelia Baker said Pleasant Ridge created the parade last year, and it was a hit with students and their families.
The festivities begin the week before the holiday, as students create tribute posters and a Gallery of Honor in the front entryway, and this year the school added a dance in the gym to cap off the parade.
“Pleasant Ridge has a long history of celebrating veterans, and each year we look for opportunities not only to show our appreciation and admiration for the many community members who have served our country but also to reinforce the ideals of respect, responsibility, and community pride that we work on every day,” Baker said. “We believe community celebrations like this are just as critical to our students' education as they are to the health of our Pleasant Ridge community.”
Governor's Schools Offer Summer EnrichmentPosted by JOSH FLORY on 11/12/2018
Many high school students spend their summer vacation lifeguarding, working in a restaurant or catching up on sleep.
Alan Boles, though, spent part of last summer at an immersive computer programming course that included a field trip to a NASA research center and hands-on exercises that explored heat diffusion through metal.
Boles, a senior at West High School, was part of the Tennessee Governor’s School in Computational Physics, which meets every summer at Austin Peay State University. It’s one of 11 Governor’s Schools across the state that offer rising 11th- and 12th-grade students an intense, residential program in courses including the arts, education, business and the sciences.
Boles said he had taken math and physics in high school, but it was helpful to see how those courses are taught in a college environment, with more students and less time during class for questions.
He was also impressed by trips to the NASA Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory Computational Sciences facility, in Oak Ridge.
The benefit, he said, is meeting with professionals who pursued similar academic tracks, “just seeing where you can go with a degree in that field, what you can do professionally and talking to them about things you’re interested in.”
The Governor’s School for the Arts has a $2,850 program fee and an activity fee of $350, although there may be scholarships available to offset those costs. At the other Governor’s Schools, there is no charge for tuition, room and board. Some programs have additional activity fees, although need-based financial aid may be available for those costs.
Students must be nominated by a teacher, counselor or administrator at their school in order to apply. The application deadline for the Governor’s School for the Arts was Nov. 9, but the deadline for the other schools is Dec. 1.
Sarah Bast, a school counselor at West, said around a dozen West students typically get accepted into one of the Governor’s Schools, and that the ability to meet like-minded students from across the state is one of the selling points.
“It really is an amazing experience,” said Bast. “Most kids that I talk to come back and say it’s the best experience I’ve had in high school.”
West senior Helen Babb attended the Humanities School at UT-Martin last summer, while her twin sister, Elizabeth, attended the International Studies School at the University of Memphis in the summer of 2017.
Helen Babb studied art history and world music, and said one area of focus was the global influence of music from the African Diaspora.
During the program, she became good friends with two other students from Knoxville, and part of their time was spent discussing ways they could give back to the city in the future. “I think it was really about connecting with fellow like-minded scholars who wanted to help their communities, and figuring out ways we could actually do that once we came back to Knoxville,” she said.
Part of the program’s appeal is the chance to meet well-known scholars and thinkers in a variety of fields. Elizabeth Babb said her school included a visit from Philip Mudd, a CNN analyst and former U.S. counter-terrorism official, and a talk by a survivor of the Rwandan genocide.
Avery Ancelet attended the Governor’s School For The Arts, where she specialized in vocal music. In addition to learning about theory and technique, Ancelet said she got a weekly voice lesson from Hope Koehler, a soprano at West Virginia University who has performed around the world.
Ancelet, who plans to study music therapy in college with a focus on autism, said she has stayed in touch with Koehler, and recently got advice about an upcoming audition.
She also said the Governor’s School program gave her the confidence that a career in music was achievable: “It was awesome.”
For more information about the Tennessee Governor's Schools, visit the program's website.
Bearden Elementary Is Turning 80Posted by JOSH FLORY on 11/5/2018
Bearden Elementary School is celebrating a major milestone this month, and school officials are hoping that former teachers and students can help mark the occasion.
Bearden Elementary was built in 1938, and the school will mark its 80th birthday with an open house on Thursday, Nov. 15, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.
The event will include a display of pictures from different decades and a reception hosted by the PTSO that will sell commemorative T-shirts, Christmas ornaments and other items as a fundraiser.
School officials are inviting alumni and former faculty to bring their own photos and memorabilia to the open house.
Principal Susan Dunlap said Bearden has a tradition of educational excellence, and that one thing which makes it special is the number of multi-generation families who have attended the school.
“We have some third-generation students,” she said. “Their parents went here and their grandparents went here.”
The Broomes are one family which fits that description. Amy Broome and her husband, Bill, attended Bearden in the 1960’s, her four children all went to the school and her grandchild is currently a student. Amy Broome’s father also attended high school in an annex of the current elementary school.
Broome said that over the years the school came to feel like a family, and recalled fond memories of teachers and events, including an annual dance festival, safety patrol trips to Washington, D.C., and jump rope fundraisers in the gym.
While things have changed since she was a student, Broome said that when she returns to the school, “It almost feels like I never left.”
According to a history provided by Dunlap, the first elementary school in Bearden was a two-room structure completed in 1892 that was built of logs and heated by a potbelly stove. The present Bearden Elementary was completed in 1938, and additions were made in 1949 and 1955.
Judy Thompson was a teacher at Bearden Elementary for more than 25 years, and said some of the students that she taught have now become close friends.
Thompson said she’s looking forward to the anniversary celebration, and that it will be a chance to re-connect.
“I think everyone’s excited about seeing each other,” she said. “There was such love in that school, people who cared about each other and worked together.”
Gaga Ball Is A Hit
At Elementary SchoolsPosted by JOSH FLORY on 11/1/2018
What do you get when you combine a wooden octagon, a soccer-sized ball and a couple of dozen schoolkids?
The answer is Gaga ball, a schoolyard sport that is growing in popularity and making its mark on KCS elementary schools.
According to the New York Times, Gaga ball is believed to have originated in Israel. The game has become popular at local schools including Norwood Elementary, which got its first pit this year with an assist from home-improvement chain Lowe’s.
Gaga is similar to dodgeball, with players being eliminated if they’re struck by the ball. But Gaga prohibits any strikes above the waist and requires attacking players to hit the ball with their hand, rather than throw it at opponents.
On a recent morning at Norwood, student enthusiasm for the game was off the charts, with cheering players gathered around the sides of the pit as the field was slowly whittled down to a single winner.
Fourth-grader Kory Ball said the game is more fun than dodgeball because hits above the waist don’t count, which means players stay in the game longer. He also said it helps to play Fortnite, because you learn how to hit the ball in advance of targets who are moving.
As for his overall strategy, the fourth-grader said, “Pretty much just stand around while the whole class battles it out. When there’s three people left, go out to the side and let them … battle it out and (then) get the winner.”
Josh Van Pelt, a physical education teacher at Norwood, said Gaga is safer than dodgeball, but that kids respond to the elimination element and end up being more active than they realize.
The new pit was a project of the Great Schools Partnership, a non-profit organization that aims to connect Knox County schools with private-sector resources to support education.
Jordan Frye, the Partnership’s community school site coordinator at Norwood, said the new pit was funded by Lowe’s and built in a single day by volunteers from the home-improvement chain.
“It’s a pretty simple project that can have a long-lasting impact,” Frye said.
Businesses or individuals that would like to participate in similar projects can contact the Partnership at (865) 215-4501.
Knox County Sees Gains
In ACT ScoresPosted by JOSH FLORY on 10/31/2018
ACT scores for Knox County Schools are on the rise, according to data released on Wednesday by the state Department of Education.
The average composite score for KCS students who graduated in 2018 was 21.4, the highest ranking achieved by the district since the ACT became a requirement, and an increase from a composite score of 21.1 the previous year.
KCS ranked among the Top 15 districts in the state, and scored highest among the state’s four urban districts.
Overall, Tennessee public school students earned an average composite score of 20.2 on the test, the highest-ever statewide score and an improvement from a score of 20.1 in 2017.
In reporting its results, the Tennessee Department of Education used the best score achieved by a student, and not their most recent score. Tennessee is the only state that pays for students to take the ACT twice -- once in the spring of their junior year and a retake opportunity in the fall of their senior year.
Knox County Schools Superintendent Bob Thomas said the district’s composite score for 2018 was a significant achievement.
“It’s a tribute to all the hard work that our teachers, principals and students do on a day-to-day basis,” he said. “Our teachers work very hard to provide instruction for our students, and our students work very hard on the assignments they’re given. So I couldn’t be more pleased to see an increase for this year.”
A total of 3,917 KCS students from the Class of 2018 took the ACT, with a participation rate of 99 percent. Of those students, 52.2 percent scored a 21 or higher, up from 51.1 percent in the previous year. A score of 21 or higher is necessary to be eligible for the HOPE Scholarship.
The mean ACT scores for the Class of 2018 increased at 8 of the district’s 16 high schools, and remained constant at another 4 high schools.
The district’s mean composite ACT score has risen or remained constant in each of the last five years. For students in the Class of 2013, the district’s mean composite score was 20.2.
Schools Aim To Support Emotional Well-BeingPosted by JOSH FLORY on 10/30/2018
Rows of desks are the stereotypical pattern for classroom seating, but on a recent afternoon at Northwest Middle School, some students had gathered in campfire-style circles instead.
In teacher Megan Smith’s 7th-grade classroom, students were tossing a plush emoji toy to each other, offering a compliment with each throw to the person who caught the toy.
A few steps down the hall, students in Jason West’s math class were having a discussion about what makes for a good school, a good classroom and a good teacher. Some answers were lighthearted -- at the suggestion of a class pet, West emphasized that a snake was out of the question.
But other answers were more thoughtful. Asked about effective teaching, students said the ideal teacher is funny but can be serious at the right times, and is someone who believes in their students.
The conversation circles are part of a broader push at Northwest to address Social and Emotional Learning (SEL), not only by building a family atmosphere within the school but also by equipping at-risk students with skills to process the challenges they may bring into the classroom.
Within the school’s xSEL Academy, students participate in a morning and afternoon conversation circle, which can include team-building exercises, ice-breaker questions and training on conversation skills such as making eye contact.
Tobi Kilgore, principal of the xSEL Academy at Northwest, said that if a student has experienced a trauma at home, it may be difficult to immediately move into their school work when they arrive in the morning.
“We’ve got to come in and really see what’s going on with them, check in with them, build that community with them, give them the supports and the nurture that they need, and then let’s start rolling into the academic piece,” he said.
Across the district, schools are working to meet that challenge, and last month several of them got a boost. The Tennessee Department of Education has launched a new training program aimed at creating “trauma-informed” schools, and seven KCS schools were included in the first training cohort.
Gwynetta Draper, high school special education supervisor for KCS, has gone through a version of the training, and said there seem to be more students coming out of environments that lack support systems.
“Families are more spread out,” she said. “Kids aren’t growing up in a neighborhood where they have three aunts and a grandparent looking out for them after school. I don’t know that we actually have more trauma in the world, although it certainly feels that way sometimes with instant access to news and social media, but the kids are coming to us from more stressful community environments.”
Draper said the training provides a framework for recognizing where students and their behaviors are coming from. While the training is not a magic fix, she said, the knowledge “can change the way you react to a child who looks like they’re just being defiant. Or we say they’re lazy or unmotivated when actually they are just unable to access educational instruction at that point in time. But recognizing where they’re coming from changes the way we interact and offer supports.”
To that end, one of the key principles of a trauma-informed approach is setting aside the mindset of “What’s wrong with you?” in favor of asking “What happened to you, and how can I help?”
Diana Gossett, principal of the Ridgedale Alternative School, said research has shown that ongoing exposure to trauma -- including abuse, neglect and poverty -- affects a child’s ability to make educational progress.
Ridgedale has a middle-school program for students who have received a long-term suspension from their traditional school, as well as a program for special education students with disabilities or behavioral issues.
Many of the middle-school students come to Ridgedale because of a discipline issue, “but when we get them we realize it’s more than a discipline issue,” Gossett said. “It’s that they don’t have good social-emotional skills, they don’t have good coping skills to manage their anger or manage their stress or manage their anxiety about whatever it is.”
The trauma-informed training will begin next month, with a handful of teachers from seven Knox County schools -- Beaumont Magnet Academy, Dogwood Elementary School, Northwest Middle School, Austin-East Magnet High School, Bearden High School, Richard Yoakley School and Ridgedale Alternative School.
Participating teachers will serve as trainers within their schools to educate their colleagues about trauma-informed practices.
Pat Conner, of the Tennessee Department of Education, said another key focus of the training will be helping teachers and administrators to care for themselves. “It’s kind of like the oxygen mask theory on the plane,” she said. “I can’t help you until I put on my oxygen mask first.”
At Northwest Middle, the focus on social-emotional learning is already having an impact. Braylin Thompson, an 8th grader at the school, said he’s come to realize how many people care about him, in part because they would come up and talk to him when he was alone.
Onna Winton, also an 8th-grader, said the focus on conversations has helped her understand how to disagree with someone, a lesson that was reinforced during a class discussion about the French and Indian War.
If you talk over someone, she said, “that just starts a whole bunch of conflict. If you’re talking over somebody, you’re just yelling across the room, it’s going to be horrible.”
Winton said she’s also learned about setting goals, including her aim to leave frustrations in the past rather than letting them drag her down. In fact, Winton said, she put that goal into practice recently -- after struggling on a math test, she was able to set the disappointment aside and go into Riley Scheyder’s social studies class with a smile.
Scheyder, a third-year teacher at Northwest, said he sometimes clashed with teachers when he was in school, and would have benefited from learning how to process conflict.
“A lot of our students are implicitly taught to keep something in or to explode, just based on how things are dealt (with),” he said. “Where if you can teach them to … process something and be vulnerable enough to share it out, even with just a neighbor who’s a surface-level acquaintance, or a best friend, then you’re able to process those other deeper moments, too.”
Teacher Is Guitar Hero At ChristenberryPosted by JOSH FLORY on 10/24/2018
Christenberry Elementary students paid little attention when kindergarten teacher Michael “Mac” Comer ducked out of the classroom on a recent afternoon.
But their ears perked up at the “whoop whoop” of a mini-siren, and they burst into frenzied cheers when Comer re-emerged wearing a crown, funky sunglasses and a red cape.
That outfit is the guise of his alter ego, The Dean of Fun, and an appearance by the Dean is always a signal that the school day is about to get exciting.
After leading his class into the hallway, Comer began opening the doors to other rooms, using a mini-bullhorn to announce a coupon book celebration happening in the courtyard. As he spread the word, his own students started chanting: “Par-TY, par-TY, par-TY!”
In his 11th year as an educator, Comer has plenty of experience teaching students about reading, writing and math.
But his side gig as a professional musician has helped build a classroom culture infused with the joy of music, and his comfort in the spotlight has boosted the fun factor at Christenberry.
Comer grew up in Knoxville, and said that over the years several teachers were influential in his life. When he was deciding on a career track, education seemed like an obvious choice.
He taught at Beaumont Elementary for six years, then moved to Denver and taught at Cheltenham Elementary School for four years before moving back to Knoxville for the current school year.
At the same time, Comer is an accomplished singer-songwriter who has released three albums and performed at venues and events across the region, including the WDVX Blue Plate Special.
While he took a performance hiatus for about two years, Comer is now in the midst of a comeback, including an all-ages Homecoming show planned in January at Barley’s.
Music is integrated into his classroom in a variety of ways. He keeps a guitar on the wall, and will take it down to mark a transition from one topic to another or to celebrate a student accomplishment. On Fridays, he often plays an original song for his students, even if it’s not directly related to learning.
For school-wide events, he’ll slip into character as the Dean of Fun, a role inspired by a teacher in Denver. Comer said the idea is to make learning as fun as possible, and to build interest in the parties Christenberry regularly hosts to promote positive behavior.
“It makes me kind of wake up every morning and be like, ‘Okay, what can I do today that will just make these kids laugh their butts off?’” he said.
Both strategies were displayed on an afternoon in early October. During his last class period of the day, Comer told students to warm up their “vocalizers”, and when a student was recognized for a positive accomplishment, the class sang together: “Who is a rock star? You, you, you, you.”
When they gathered in auditorium-style seating at the front of the class, Comer grabbed the guitar and students sang the criss-cross applesauce song, a reminder about sitting still and getting ready to learn.
But when it was time for the coupon celebration Comer switched to full-on Fun Mode, gathering students from throughout the wing and leading them to the courtyard for an opportunity to throw pies in teachers’ faces -- including his own.
Christenberry principal Melissa Johnson said the school is just starting to see how Comer’s musicianship will impact the classroom, but that he’s a master at getting children excited about their studies.
“It’s not all fun and games,” she added. “He really is very serious about teaching and learning and he has that unique ability to merge being such a fun person with a high expectation for learning in his classroom. I think that’s a real gift.”
For his part, Comer said a lot of kids think teachers don’t have a life outside of school, but he tries to let them know that he’s a real person.
“In this classroom, everybody’s a real person,” he added. “We all get a chance to share our thoughts and ideas and advocate for our needs … It’s really important that we share what we’re interested in, and what we’re not interested in, too.”
Does your child's teacher have an interesting talent, hobby or spare-time pursuit? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, and they might be featured in our next installment of KCS Enthusiast.
Fulton, Gibbs Students Pitch In For HabitatPosted by JOSHUA FLORY on 10/23/2018
Two Knox County high schools are getting hands-on construction experience while also lending a hand to people in need.
Students in the Career Technical Education program at Fulton High School and Gibbs High School this month began working with Knoxville Habitat For Humanity’s Project Playhouse, which builds kid-sized playhouses for local families.
Local businesses donate $2,500 to cover the cost of materials, while a discount from Lowe’s allows Habitat to direct profits from each playhouse to their core mission of building full-sized homes for the community.
For Knox County students, the initiative allows them to sharpen their construction skills. Matthew Maitland, a senior at Fulton, said Project Playhouse has given him a chance to use saws that he was unfamiliar with, and that he has enjoyed the teamwork involved in assembling the homes.
The most challenging part? “You have to make sure stuff is lined up and right or it’s just not going to look good,” he said.
Once the homes are completed, they’re partially taken apart for delivery to the sponsoring business, which can paint and decorate them before giving them back to Habitat.
Jason Settle, a Fulton teacher who is leading the project at that school, said his students work from a simple plan provided by Habitat, and occasionally have to adjust on the fly in order to address unexpected challenges.
The goal is to learn how to read basic plans, how to use tools safely and how to work as a team. “This is not exactly how a house goes together, but it still gives them an idea of what goes into it,” Settle said.
Lacey Mellott, special events coordinator for Habitat, said the initiative is a great team-building opportunity for local businesses.
Fulton students are building 7 playhouses, while Gibbs students will build 3 playhouses for the program.
Check Rides Help Bus Drivers Stay SharpPosted by JOSH FLORY on 10/18/2018
Terry Holloway worked at Norfolk Southern for 40 years. But when he retired from the railroad, he quickly discovered that casting for bass and enjoying the open road weren’t enough to keep him busy.
“You can’t ride that motorcycle every day,” he said. “You can’t fish every day.”
For the last three years, Holloway has been a bus driver for Lynch Bus Lines, and on a recent afternoon his number was called for the check ride required of every KCS driver.
Benjamin Honaker, a check ride safety officer with the Knox County Schools Security Division, met Holloway at the Lynch Bus yard on Rutledge Pike, and boarded the bus for its trip to Sunnyview Primary School, Chilhowee Intermediate School and Holston Middle School.
Besides helping Holloway brush up on his driving routine, the check ride provided a window into the unique challenges facing bus drivers -- and the extra effort they make to keep children safe.
Like every trip, this one started with Holloway running through a pre-ride checklist, using a fleet management tool called “Zonar”. Each school bus is equipped with nondescript yellow buttons at various zones on the vehicle. Drivers use a hand-held inspection device to check in at each button, and complete any inspection tasks associated with that zone: looking under the hood, examining brake lights, testing the handle on the rear exit door.
After verifying that everything was in order, Holloway got on the road, pulling up to Sunnyview shortly before 2:30 and spending the next few minutes sitting with other drivers. When the bell rang for dismissal, Sunnyview principal Sydney Upton briefly climbed aboard to help students get situated, and then the bus pulled away.
One of the biggest challenges became apparent almost immediately -- Holloway’s responsibility to scan the road while also maintaining awareness of the students behind him.
Shortly after leaving Sunnyview, a Nissan Pathfinder pulled out in front of the bus to make a left turn, cutting it a little too close for comfort. Holloway made a point of telling Honaker that he had seen the Pathfinder coming. Seconds later he showed an ability to multi-task, telling a student in the back to stop screaming.
After making a stop on Skyline Drive, Holloway left his perch to help a student collect his bag -- a regular occurrence -- and at a subsequent stop he helped another student pull her hood up before she went down the bus steps. As she trudged up a steep driveway, Holloway -- known to his students as “Pops” -- waited until the front door of the house had opened before driving on.
Between those stops, he steered the bus down a narrow section of Sunset Road, as a garbage truck suddenly appeared around a bend. It seemed iffy whether the road was wide enough for both vehicles, but Holloway calmly applied the brakes and slid past, with inches to spare.
Taken together, the ride highlighted the multi-faceted nature of the role: part driver, part disciplinarian, and part father figure.
“You grow to love them,” Holloway said of his students.
Throughout the ride, Honaker sat in the front row of the bus, where he monitored Holloway’s driving while also bantering with students. It’s a normal routine for the security officer, who does check rides on most mornings and afternoons.
Honaker said his goal isn’t to get drivers in trouble, but to keep kids safe and make sure drivers are up to date on procedures and policies. While his checklist has dozens of items, he said one point of emphasis is making sure that drivers are up to speed on proper signal use, including the “eight-way” lights that alert other drivers to a drop-off or pick-up.
Honaker, himself a licensed bus driver, said it takes a special person to do the job every day. Asked what makes a good driver, he cited patience, understanding and the ability to multi-task.
“You have all different types of kids, and the bus drivers are the first person the kids see other than their parents in the morning,” he said. “So if they had a bad night or they just had a stressful evening or something, the bus driver can turn that around and make them have a better day.”
Schools Crank Up The Fun To Celebrate CouponsPosted by JOSH FLORY on 10/17/2018
One crowd was buzzing with anticipation, while another was eerily quiet. But the purpose was the same: To celebrate another great year of coupon book sales.
The 30th Anniversary edition of the KCS coupon sale closed on Sept. 26, and across the district many schools held unusual celebrations to mark their success.
At Carter Middle School, a host of noisy students crowded into the gym on a Friday morning to watch principal Thomas Watson’s conservative haircut be transformed into a sharp-looking short mohawk.
While Watson sat at mid-court in a rolling chair, teaching assistant April Gardner -- who is also a licensed cosmetology instructor -- used clippers and hair spray to complete the makeover. Asked if she’d ever cut hair in front of such a large audience, she confirmed that “This is a first!”
Later that day, students at New Hopewell Elementary School gathered outside of the school in a hush, as principal Patricia Moore rode around the lawn on a horse.
New Hopewell had originally planned to bring in a cow for Moore to milk if students met their goal, but muddy conditions nixed that idea. Instead, the principal -- who has owned horses in the past -- rode slowly in a circle as her students looked on.
Moore said she had emphasized the importance of being calm so that the horse didn’t get spooked. “I thought they did a great job of being silent,” she added.
For more examples of creative coupon celebrations, see the pictures below.