Planet Fitness Provides
Workout Facility At NorthwestPosted by JOSH FLORY on 1/16/2019
Students at Northwest Middle School have a new exercise option, thanks to a grant that was announced this week.
On Wednesday, Planet Fitness unveiled a new workout center at Northwest that includes stationary cycles and elliptical machines; weight machines, free weights and medicine balls; and a cushioned floor space for cardio workouts.
The facility is located in two rooms off of the school gym, and was made possible by a $25,000 grant from Planet Fitness to the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Tennessee Valley, which hosts programming at the school.
The Great Schools Partnership, which works with private-sector groups to provide services at KCS schools, helped coordinate the project.
At a ribbon-cutting ceremony to mark the gym’s opening, Principal Bill Baldwin noted that Northwest students come from several elementary schools, and then move on to multiple high schools, which makes community-building a key priority.
“This gym … will help us build that community, help us build confidence among our students,” he said. “And also sweat just a little bit, which is always good for the soul."
After the ribbon-cutting, Baldwin joined Knox County Schools Superintendent Bob Thomas in trying out the new elliptical machines, while elected officials and other dignitaries toured the facility.
Ramiah Patton, a 6th-grader at Northwest, cut the ribbon on the project, and said in an interview that the facility is “amazing.”
Patton, who hopes to pursue a career as a physician, said the cardio machines were her favorites, adding that “I just like that we can have fun” in the new workout facility.
Bart McFadden, President and CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs, highlighted the Planet Fitness motto of creating “Judgement Free Zones” where everyone feels accepted.
“One of the challenges that face kids, especially in this part of the country and the state of Tennessee, is childhood obesity and lack of physical activity … So this is a direct shot in that direction to help us meet that need,” McFadden said. “But also, I really appreciate what Planet Fitness stands for in terms of Judgement-Free Zones, in making sure our kids are able to be themselves."
Seniors Prepare For
Financial Aid DeadlinePosted by JOSH FLORY on 1/14/2019
Cory Donathan got some good news last week.
The senior at South-Doyle High School is hoping to attend Middle Tennessee State University next year. On Friday he filled out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, known as FAFSA, and learned that he may be eligible for more than $10,000 in financial aid.
Like many students at South-Doyle, Donathan would be the first member of his family to attend college, and said he was surprised to learn about scholarships and grants that might be available.
“That’s just free money … so I’m definitely excited for that,” he said.
FAFSA is a gateway to many grants, loans and work-study programs, and in order to be eligible for Tennessee Promise it must be filled out by February 1. With that deadline in mind, high schools across Knox County are pushing to ensure that seniors and their families complete the FAFSA this month.
Sonja Wood, college and career coordinator at South-Doyle, said many parents and guardians are intimidated by the FAFSA, in part because they’re afraid it’s going to be complicated.
Wood said the first step in the process, creating an electronic ID for the program, can be challenging, but filling out the form isn’t that difficult.
One of Wood’s responsibilities is to assist students with FAFSA: “I’m available to them to sit at their elbow and walk them through the process.” But she also spends time with families, including one mother who came in at 7 a.m. to talk about the application.
Wood works from a small office in the school’s library that is decorated with college pennants and marketing material. On a recent morning, students repeatedly stopped by to ask questions about FAFSA or the college process, including one student whose grandmother came to work on the financial aid application.
Parents aren’t always available to assist in the process, but Wood has even helped students who bring in their parents’ tax forms in order to fill out the FAFSA.
Donathan said he’s met with the coordinator several times, and that Wood has been a blessing throughout the process. “She’s talked me through everything and just really helped me, and I appreciate it.”
Karns Administrator Earns
Statewide RecognitionPosted by JOSH FLORY on 1/10/2019
Laicee Hatfield isn’t a fan of the phrase “Because I said so.”
The assistant principal at Karns High School is a believer in collaborative leadership, and wants students, parents and teachers to understand the “why” behind decisions that are made at the school.
But her voice may have more authority than usual after a recent recognition. The Tennessee Association of Secondary School Principals recently named Hatfield as its Assistant Principal of the Year, beating out finalists from Middle and West Tennessee.
Brad Corum, the executive principal at Karns, nominated Hatfield for the award, and described her as a workhorse who has provided leadership in scheduling and curriculum development, while fostering an environment where individuals have a say in decision-making.
“She gives students the opportunity to have a voice and in any conversations, good or bad, she gives parents a voice,” Corum said.
Hatfield was a chemistry teacher at Central High School for seven years, but her love of science wasn’t immediate. She had initially majored in elementary education and said that she hated science, but an instructor at Pellissippi State Community College helped unlock the subject for her.
“That’s when I realized a teacher can make or break a content (area) for a kid,” Hatfield said. “She listened, she understood, she explained. She helped you understand the ‘why’.”
Hatfield went on to major in chemistry, and said that while teaching at Central, former principal Danny Trent gave her leadership opportunities. She was in no hurry to leave the classroom, but eventually followed the advice that she had given to others over the years.
“I enjoyed science and I also enjoyed the students,” Hatfield said. “But one thing I always challenged my students and teachers is to get outside of your comfort zone, because if you’re not uncomfortable, you’re not growing.”
Hatfield was selected as a University of Tennessee Leadership Academy fellow, and served as an assistant principal at Farragut High School for a year, before moving to Karns in 2013.
As an administrator, one of the biggest challenges has been time management. Hatfield said it can be difficult to break away and spend time with her family, but that she’s tried to re-prioritize that work-life balance.
When she’s not in the office, Hatfield is an avid reader, and said her favorite authors include spiritual writer Eckhart Tolle and journalist Malcolm Gladwell. Reading is also a way for her to re-charge her batteries, which she said is crucial for teachers and educators.
“I tell our teachers you can’t pour into others and help others … until you’re full yourself,” she said. “Whatever it is that makes you full, whether it’s hiking or reading or spending time with your family, until you’re full you can’t pour your emotions and yourself into others.”
Law Enforcement Urges Drivers
To Stop For BusesPosted by JOSH FLORY on 1/4/2019
Law enforcement officials from across Knox County were at Central High School on Friday with a back-to-school safety message for drivers.
At a news conference, KCS Chief of Security Gus Paidousis said that during the 2017-18 school year, bus contractors working for the district reported around 600 incidents in which drivers wrongly passed a bus that was loading or unloading students.
Paidousis said it’s likely that the actual number of incidents was even higher, and urged drivers to remember that students will be back in school beginning Tuesday.
“We’re all just working together to try to prevent a tragedy,” he said.
Other participants at the news conference -- which can be viewed online -- included Knoxville Police Chief Eve Thomas; Knox County Sheriff Tom Spangler; and Knox County District Attorney General Charme Allen.
Thomas said that in some cases, drivers don’t understand when they’re required to stop for a school bus that is loading or unloading students.
Drivers in both directions must stop on two-lane roads and also on multi-lane roads that are paved across, even if there’s a double-yellow line or a turning lane in the middle.
When traveling in the opposite direction from a bus, drivers are not required to stop if there’s a concrete barrier or an unpaved median in the middle of the highway.
“As drivers we all have to be aware of what children are doing,” Thomas added. “They’re unpredictable at times.”
Spangler said law enforcement officials are united behind the goal of making sure that kids are safe. When drivers are approaching a bus, he said, “If you’re not sure, stop. It’s just that simple.”
Allen, the county’s top prosecutor, said drivers can be fined up to $1,000 if they fail to stop for a bus that’s loading or unloading. But she said that in certain cases, other charges could be applicable, including a felony charge that includes jail time.
Allen said people sometimes complain about getting stuck behind a bus, but urged drivers to account for that possibility when they hit the road.
“When school’s in session, plan ahead,” she said. “There are going to be buses on the road.”
KCS E-Book System
Another Option For ReadersPosted by JOSH FLORY on 12/21/2018
Whether you’re traveling to Grandma’s house, in line at the mall or just looking for a new way to read your favorite author, Knox County Schools has a tool that could help.
The district’s e-library provides access to more than 4,500 free books, which can be read on a variety of digital devices.
The MackinVIA system allows users to log in with their school ID and access books online. The service is also available as an app, which allows users to download books and read them even when they’re not connected to the internet.
Sarah Searles, a library/media services specialist with KCS, said the goal is to create new options and reading patterns for students and families. “We would never want to pull anybody’s attention away from those great experiences that they have with print books, but we open up some new types of experiences by having the additional format,” she said.
The MackinVIA platform works as a circulating collection, in which users have access to individual books for a specified length of time. If a certain title is already checked out, users can put their name on a waiting list, and look at a preview in the meantime.
Searles said the circulating collection gives KCS access to popular titles such as the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” series and the Harry Potter series. The district has a collection of titles, while students also have access to separate collections maintained by their individual school.
While much of the collection is aimed at reading for fun, the MackinVIA platform allows users to take notes or highlight material from the books they’re reading. When they return the book, the notes and highlighted material will still be available on the platform, along with a full citation that can be used in research papers.
The service is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and many titles are available as audiobooks.
Searles said that for some families, it’s relatively easy to make a trip to the bookstore or the public library whenever they need a new book, but that’s not the case for everyone.
And in other cases, opportunities to read may show up unexpectedly. “Maybe we’re going to a restaurant and I could carry five different books in my diaper bag -- or I can have a whole library worth of books on my phone,” Searles said. “So that when I get to that place where we suddenly have an opportunity to read we didn’t even know was going to be there, we have that option right at our fingertips.”
To begin using the e-library, visit https://knoxschools.mackinvia.com.
Celebrates New HomePosted by JOSH FLORY on 12/19/2018
When Ashley Griffin’s academic career hit a rough patch, she enrolled at the Dr. Paul L. Kelley Volunteer Academy, a school for Knox County students who have fallen behind on their coursework.
Griffin said she learned life skills that helped her stay out of trouble, and got a helping hand from teachers who made sure she didn’t fail. This week, those efforts paid off as Griffin graduated from the Kelley Academy, along with more than 30 classmates.
“None of the teachers gave up,” Griffin said. “They might have been frustrated a little bit, but they really pushed me, and that is the only reason … I can graduate. Because without their help and the support of my family, I wouldn’t have graduated. I would be a dropout.”
On Tuesday, the Academy celebrated several milestones. Besides a graduation ceremony in the evening, school officials and local dignitaries in the afternoon held a ribbon-cutting for the Academy’s new facility at Lincoln Park Center, on Chickamauga Avenue.
The Academy was previously located in space at Knoxville Center Mall, but the move was made possible with the help of a $100,000 grant from the Simon Youth Foundation, a non-profit organization that receives financial support from Indianapolis-based real estate company Simon Property Group. SYF works with public school districts to support youth academies for students who are at risk of dropping out of school.
In addition, SYF recently recognized Kelley Academy Principal Janice Cook as its Administrator of the Year, while teacher Jannice Clark was a nominee for the group’s Teacher of the Year award.
In an interview, SYF President and CEO Michael Durnil said Cook stands out for her innovation, caring and thoughtfulness.
“Her colleagues and her teaching staff really appreciate that she can work with them and provide leadership, as well as work with the district and advocate for them,” he said.
The Kelley Academy is named for the late Paul Kelley, a former teacher and principal who served three terms on the Knox County School Board. His wife, Norma Kelley, was on hand at the ceremony on Tuesday.
Knox Schools superintendent Bob Thomas said the Kelley Academy meets the three priorities set by the district: increasing student achievement, creating a positive culture and eliminating disparities. He also recognized Norma Kelley, herself a former librarian at Whittle Springs Middle School, and said her late husband “was truly an advocate for students.”
Jennifer Owen, a member of the Knox County Board of Education, said that during her first visit to the Kelley Academy, Cook brought to her a math classroom to see instruction taking place. “It was immediate and obvious that there was so much teaching and learning going on,” Owen said. “That’s exactly what we need.”
SYF isn’t the only organization to give the school a financial boost. On Tuesday, TVA Employees Credit Union also provided a $1,500 grant to support the Academy’s work.
Cook, the Kelley Academy’s principal, said the ribbon-cutting was a good opportunity to remember the school’s mission of rekindling hope in students who didn’t believe they could graduate.
“Our purpose is to reach every student where they are, and provide them with what they need to get them to go where they want to go,” she said.
Game Show Puts Scholars
In The SpotlightPosted by JOSH FLORY on 12/17/2018
The stage lights were bright, the cameras were rolling and Maggie Gordon was facing a question about the mass of subatomic particles.
The West High School senior gave her answer -- “up” and “down” quarks -- and when told that she was correct, leaned back with a smile of celebration.
Gordon and three other West students were facing a difficult test on this particular November morning, but it didn’t come in the classroom. Instead, they were taping an episode of the Scholars Bowl, a tournament-style game show competition whose 35th season will air on East Tennessee PBS starting on January 7.
Each episode features head-to-head competitions between two schools from across the region, with students quizzed on a wide range of topics including science, history, math and current events. The winner advances to the next round of the tournament, and a champion is crowned at the end of each season.
In an interview, Gordon said the West team practices partly by watching past episodes of the show and trying to buzz in with answers before the contestants they’re watching. Her most difficult category is sports questions, while teammate Sami Isaac said he struggles with the category of literature.
And how do they overcome their weaknesses? “I just rely on Sami,” Gordon said. “It’s a team sport.”
“I just rely on Maggie,” Isaac said in reply.
Besides the academic knowledge, Scholars Bowl participants get an up-close education on the making of TV magic.
The PBS studio, located on Magnolia Avenue, was mostly darkened during the show’s taping, except for spotlights that hung from the ceiling and were trained on the stage. Four students from each school sat at a two-tiered podium, facing the studio cameras, while in-studio spectators could view the proceedings live or on monitors that showed the camera feeds.
Show host Frank Murphy kept the proceedings moving with a steady patter of wisecracks and commentary, displaying broadcasting chops from his career in radio and a sense of humor honed as an improv comic.
Before the show began, each student gave their name and a short bio, with Gordon noting that she’s a National Merit semi-finalist and an ordained elder in the Presbyterian Church.
“You don’t look old enough,” Murphy joked.
On this occasion, West was competing against a team from outside of Knox County, and while the results are a secret until the show airs, the WHS contestants put on a strong performance.
Afterward, math teacher Celeste White said she’s in her second year of coaching the team, although she mostly leaves the preparation up to the students.
White said she learns something new at each competition, and enjoys “working with these kids whose passion is learning and competing and having fun.”
Students aren’t the only KCS connection to the Scholars Bowl. Ernie Roberts, the show’s executive producer, teaches AP statistics at Bearden High School.
Roberts said the station goes through nearly 4,200 questions per season, and approximately 70 questions per show. He said many adults who watch like to test their knowledge against the students, and that the Scholars Bowl is a good fit for the PBS mission of promoting education from the cradle to the grave.
“It’s a great chance to showcase the talents and academics of our schools,” he said.
Walking School Bus
Promotes Safety, ExercisePosted by JOSH FLORY on 12/12/2018
There’s not an actual bus, but for some KCS students an after-school program created by Knox County gives them an opportunity to travel together while also getting some exercise.
In recent years, several KCS elementary schools have begun participating in the Walking School Bus program, which is an initiative of the Knoxville-Knox County Safe Routes To School Partnership. Some schools have worked with the Knox County Health Department on the program, while a non-profit organization called Bike Walk Knoxville has also helped promote the effort.
The program offers students a chaperoned walk to their home or pickup point, with a teacher or volunteer leading the way and fluorescent safety vests provided to all participants.
On a recent afternoon at West View Elementary School, students took advantage of the program for the last day before it goes on hiatus for the winter.
Teaching assistant Cindy Poland led a group of students out of the school and down the steps toward Mingle Avenue, where they set off toward home.
Kindergarten teacher Wendy Markwood was part of the group, and said the walking bus is a great opportunity to interact with parents and community members who are out in the neighborhood.
Markwood said the daily walk also gives her a chance to visit with her students outside the classroom.
“They like to just talk to you,” Markwood said. “I don’t have time to do that in class it seems like as much as they want. They want to just have somebody listen to their stories.”
Besides West View, the Health Department leads the program at Beaumont, Belle Morris and Christenberry elementary schools. Bike Walk Knoxville implements a similar program at Dogwood Elementary.
At some schools, students walk directly to their homes, while at others they travel to an alternative pickup site to meet their parent or guardian.
Amber Ford, a public health educator with the Knox County Health Department, said the program has become part of the culture at participating schools, and that many teachers say it helps them feel connected to the community.
Another major goal is to help promote a healthy lifestyle for students. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control, higher physical activity and fitness levels are associated with improved cognitive performance among students.
But the agency says only 21.6% of 6- to 19-year-olds in the U.S. meet the goal of 60 minutes of physical activity per day, at least 5 days a week.
The Walking School Bus, Ford said, is “great physical activity that’s built in five days a week, for both the students and the teachers.”
As part of the program, the Health Department has created a list of pedestrian safety tips, including the importance of looking both ways at intersections, avoiding distractions and being careful around dogs.
Susan Martin, site resource coordinator at West View for the Great Schools Partnership, said walk leaders emphasize those safety tips, adding that a group of West High School students is being trained to act as safety mentors at West View next year.
Martin predicted that the involvement of older students will make West View’s children more engaged in the conversation about safety: “They’re high schoolers. They hang the moon!” she said with a laugh.
The Walking School Bus will resume on March 1, but the cold weather didn’t slow down West View’s students on their last walking day before winter.
Third-grader Nickia said she likes to walk because “We get to find new adventures,” while first-grader Aiden said he likes to bring home sticks, pebbles and other objects he finds along the way.
And what does he do with them? “I discover them and what they’re made out of,” he said.
Vine Middle Puts Focus
On Reading, CommunityPosted by JOSH FLORY on 12/10/2018
As an 8th-grader at Vine Middle Magnet School, Jameiyes Mills has done plenty of reading during his academic career.
This year, though, he read a novel by Jason Reynolds called “Long Way Down,” and said it was different. The story focuses on a teenager who is facing a tragedy, and Mills said the twists and turns of the story ensured that “you wouldn’t get bored.”
“His brother got shot and killed and he was trying to think if he wanted to go and get revenge or just let the court deal with it,” he added.
Mills isn’t the only student at Vine who enjoyed the novel. The entire 8th-grade class read “Long Way Down” as part of a broader initiative aimed at fostering community and connectedness.
This year, the school added a daily, 30-minute advisory period that focuses on a specific topic every day, including goal-setting and career exploration on Mondays; a class service project on Wednesdays called Golden Bear Good Works; and the “grade-wide reads” on Thursdays.
“We know that one of the biggest factors in the classroom is relationships with our students,” said Sarah Shanks, a behavior coach at Vine who helped create the advisory system. “We wanted to provide some time for teachers to build those relationships … Advisory mostly is about building relationships with kids, so that every student in the building has an adult that they feel safe with, and going to, if anything ever happened or if they ever needed anything.”
The advisory groups are small, with only about 12 students in each group, and have a laid-back feel that aims to make students comfortable sharing ideas and talking about their experiences.
On a recent morning, several students in teacher John Fornadel’s advisory class had traded their desks for a more casual perch along the back wall, while Fornadel led a free-flowing conversation about how to prevent bullying at Vine.
Across the campus, students in Sarah Lyle’s advisory period were measuring bulletin boards, the first step in a project to decorate them with new artwork and inspirational sayings.
Vine Principal Desiree Jones said promoting empathy was a major focus during the year’s first 9-week block, largely because students found the idea compelling. Jones said there has been a generational shift that has left many students less equipped to be empathetic, partly because they have fewer models.
“I attribute it maybe to screen time,” Jones said. “I was a kid in a book all the time, but I had to use my imagination and I had to empathize with the characters. There was no picture given to me.”
Shanks agreed, saying that as students spend time with digital devices, it’s easy to not think about the needs of people in the real world. “And the more screen time they’re getting, the less face-to-face time they’re talking to people, and getting ways to practice empathy that way.”
The grade-wide reads initiative -- which saw 6th-graders read “March,” a graphic novel by civil rights leader John Lewis, and 7th-graders read “Booked,” by Kwame Alexander -- also fits into a broader emphasis.
While KCS is a leader among Tennessee's urban school systems when it comes to literacy, one of the district’s top priorities is to increase the percentage of students who are reading on grade level.
Angela Roberts, a librarian at Vine who has coordinated the grade-wide reads program, said the school tried to identify books that would have high interest among students and also be accessible.
That strategy has paid off. Roberts said students will beg her for copies of the books or for other books by the same authors, and said sequels to the Lewis memoir have been checked out repeatedly.
“It’s helping us really create a culture of reading and literacy engagement in our school in a way that maybe hasn’t (been present) before,” she added.
The advisory curriculum was created by teachers at Vine, and Jones said it’s been exciting to see the school community buying in -- even if students don’t like to show it.
“As is the nature of middle schoolers they may not want to admit when they like something, but we can tell when they do like something,” she said. “And I think they like the community that is being created.”
Instruction Specialist Writes
A Book About Alzheimer'sPosted by JOSH FLORY on 12/7/2018
Paula Sarver’s job is all about helping students succeed. But in her role as a published author, she’s bringing that passion for supporting others to a new audience.
Sarver is a KCS specialist in the Response To Instruction and Intervention program, a state initiative also known as RTI² that aims to identify students’ learning needs, and to provide targeted help for them.
Last month she published her first book, a memoir about her mother’s struggle with Alzheimer’s called “An Introspective Journey.” Published by WordCrafts Press, the book was ranked by Amazon as the #1 new release in its subcategory this week.
Sarver’s goal in writing the book was to encourage other families who are caring for relatives with Alzheimer’s, which she said often causes people to “just sort of disappear” from society.
“People are afraid to talk about it and people don’t know where to get help,” she said. “So I felt like I had a way to help others, to encourage others to get help.”
“An Introspective Journey” traces the story of Sarver’s mother, Beverly Mire, who had relatives on both the maternal and paternal branches of her family who suffered from the disease. In fact, Mire was a caregiver for her parents when she first began noticing signs of her own memory loss.
She never talked about her own diagnosis with Alzheimer’s. But when Mire moved into a nursing home, Sarver began reading her journals and realized that as far back as 2000, her mother was beginning to fear that she was seeing the first signs of the disease.
“Through her journals she said, ‘I don’t want to be pitied, I want to live my life to the fullest,’” Sarver said. “And if she (spoke about Alzheimer’s) out loud, I think she thought that that was giving into it, and she didn’t want to give in to it. She fought to live as prosperous and productive a life as she could.”
Sarver said her mother was a strong and strong-willed woman, and as the disease progressed she would sometimes become angry or speak harshly to others. But she was also self-aware enough to sense when she had caused strain in a relationship, and would ask Sarver if she had done something to give offense.
“Sometimes she had, and sometimes she hadn’t,” Sarver recalled. “And she didn’t know, she honestly didn’t know if she had said or done anything, but she could feel it, that it wasn’t right.”
One coping strategy Sarver learned over the years was that distraction was sometimes the most effective way of caring.
More than once her father would call or text for help, saying he and her mother had gone out to run errands and, when they returned, her mother wouldn’t go back in the house because she didn’t recognize it.
“So I would call on the house phone, and he would go out and say, ‘Hey, Paula’s on the phone for you,’ and she’d say okay, and she came in.”
Sarver said writing a book was therapeutic, and grew out of reading her mother’s journals. “It was taking all these emotions that I didn’t know what to do with, and listening to her words helped me understand what she was going through,” she said. “And then for me, I started writing in response to her words as a therapeutic way to get through it myself.”
Sarver said her mother is now in hospice care, and her father visits three times a day to feed her, push her in a wheelchair and be present in her life.
And while the journey through Alzheimer’s has been deeply painful, Sarver said it’s given her insight into the suffering of others.
“The more I’ve gotten into this the more I realize how many people struggle with this, with family members and loved ones, and that you don’t realize what other people are going through,” she said. “A lot of people are touched by different forms of dementia, and it’s just not talked about.”
Are you a KCS employee who is caring for a family member, struggling with grief, or facing conflict in a relationship? If you participate in a KCS health plan, you’re eligible for the State of Tennessee’s Employee Assistance Program, which provides confidential counseling and other services. Find out more information at http://www.Here4TN.com or call 855-437-3486.