• A-E Teacher Leads 2019
    TeacherPreneur Class

    Posted by JOSH FLORY on 9/20/2019
    Laura Lee Thompson, an art teacher at Austin-East Magnet High School, celebrates her $15,000 TeacherPreneur grant on September 20, 2019.
    Laura Lee Thompson, an art teacher at Austin-East Magnet High School, celebrates her $15,000 TeacherPreneur grant on September 20, 2019. 

    Laura Lee Thompson’s students create plenty of art using traditional methods, but the teacher at Austin-East Magnet High School wants them to have digital expertise as well.

    Thanks to a grant from the Great Schools Partnership, she’ll soon have more tools to accomplish that goal.

    On Friday Thompson was surprised with a $15,000 check as part of the TeacherPreneur program, which is funded by the Great Schools Partnership and administered in conjunction with the KCS Office of Teaching and Learning.

    The celebration included a surprise greeting with confetti cannons, an appearance by Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs and hugs from A-E students.

    Thompson plans to buy 29 iPads, digital drawing tools and programs, and a projection system that incorporates Apple TV. The idea, she said, is that students will develop expertise that makes them more competitive in the visual art world and the job market, including skills used for building websites.

    “We make artwork using traditional tools, like pencils and paintbrushes and those types of things, but I want kids to make artwork with newer technology as well,” she said. “It becomes more marketable and it becomes a skill that they can use throughout their life, to create artwork in a new digital way.”

    Thompson’s grant was the largest awarded during this year’s round of TeacherPreneur grants. At a series of celebrations on Thursday and Friday, Great Schools officials recognized 17 teachers with grants totaling $101,570. The winners were chosen from a pool of 75 entries, and the program has awarded $643,000 to 85 teachers during the last six years.

    Austin-East students were pleased to see their teacher recognized. Freshman Keayuan Hawkins described herself as an artistic person and said she loves the creative work that happens in Thompson’s class, including a technique in which students used spiral shapes to draw the viewer’s attention to a piece of art.

    Senior LeShaun Blair said Thompson is interactive with all her students.

    “Even though 50 kids are yelling her name, she’s always there to help you no matter what’s going on,” he added.

    Laura Lee Thompson, an art teacher at Austin-East Magnet High School, is greeted with confetti at a news conference announcing her $15,000 TeacherPreneur grant.
    Laura Lee Thompson, an art teacher at Austin-East Magnet High School, is greeted with confetti at a news conference announcing her $15,000 TeacherPreneur grant. 

     

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  • Board Seat Gives Kelley
    A Voice On KCS Policy

    Posted by JOSH FLORY on 9/18/2019

     

    Noah Kelley has plenty of leadership experience.

    The senior at Karns High School has served as state president of the Tennessee Technology Student Association; Class President at Karns for multiple years; and drum major for the KHS marching band, not to mention recognition as an all-state performer on the bass clarinet and contra bass.

    But when his good friend, Hannah Selph, was appointed to the KCS Board of Education for the 2018-19 school year, Kelley was intrigued by the opportunity.

    “When she got the student representative role and I got an even closer look to the influence they have, I was like, ‘This is extraordinary, and if I passed up on this opportunity I’d be stupid,’” he recalled.

    This year, Kelley is following in his friend’s footsteps and serving as the Board’s student representative, a position that allows him to provide input on a wide range of policy issues and to exercise a leadership style that emphasizes open-mindedness, a willingness to listen and tactful communication.

    Jimbo Crawford, director of bands at Karns, said he got to know Kelley when Kelley was a middle-school student, saying that even as a 6th- and 7th-grader he left a positive impression.

    The band director added that as drum major, it’s important to find a student who has credibility with the adult leaders, but “he’s also got to have a pretty good rapport with the students. You can’t pick a kid that everybody hates.”

    The director said Kelley is nice, and smart in a way that’s not off-putting: “Students all know that he’s the guy that you could go to with a funny meme, and the same guy that you could go to to have help with your homework.”

    As a child, Kelley had a heart condition that prevented him from playing sports, and he says that limitation is what led him to embrace other leadership opportunities. It also shaped his goals after high school, which are currently focused on becoming a pediatrician or possibly a cardiologist.

    Kelley described his own cardiologist, Yvonne Bremer, as “the coolest woman in the world.” “She always makes my visits fun and it’s never anything miserable and she’s always super-excited to see me,” he said. “So (seeing) that kind of joy and the passion that she has for her career, I was like, ‘I want to do something like this.’”

    In one sense, Kelley’s high school career has also focused on fostering joy for students at Karns. He has worked closely with ProjectU, an initiative that aims to promote unity and inclusion, including activities such as “Break Down Your Wall Day”, which encouraged students to sit with new friends and ensure that no one sat alone during lunch.

    At another event, student leaders made a huge donut whose sprinkles were small pledge cards, signed by students who committed to showing kindness.

    Those lessons about inclusion and unity may also come in handy on the school board, where emotions and passions can sometimes run high. Kelley said he’s realized the importance of being able to adapt as a leader, and to respond appropriately whether he agrees or disagrees with a particular viewpoint.

    “Being able to relate with people and seeing their viewpoints and being forced to stay open-minded to all the different viewpoints of the county is kind of a cool thing to experience.”

     

    Karns High School senior Noah Kelley, who serves as the Student Representative on the Board of Education, discusses a project with classmates on August 28, 2019.
    Karns High School senior Noah Kelley, who serves as the Student Representative on the KCS Board of Education, discusses a project with classmates on August 28, 2019.
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  • KCS Food Show Helps
    Shape Cafeteria Menus

    Posted by JOSH FLORY on 9/12/2019
    Pyper Clevinger, a 4th-grader at Sterchi Elementary, samples a bite of Tangerine Chicken at the KCS Food Show on Sept. 12, 2019.
    Pyper Clevinger, a 4th-grader at Sterchi Elementary, samples a bite of Tangerine Chicken at the KCS Food Show on Sept. 12, 2019.

    It's not often that students get to hand out grades, but this week they participated in a taste test that will help KCS shape its cafeteria offerings.

    The 21st KCS Food Show took place on Sept. 12 at the Knoxville Expo Center, on Clinton Highway. More than 60 food manufacturers offered samples to 1,200-plus students, who carried around grading sheets to highlight the products they liked the best.

    Pyper Clevinger, a 4th-grader at Sterchi Elementary, stopped by a booth that offered a variety of Asian cuisine, including Tangerine Chicken bites on a toothpick. "It was really good," she said, after trying a bite. "It was really sweet, but not really hot."

    The food samples covered a broad spectrum, from breakfast sausage pizza to waffle bites on a stick to pieces of Salisbury Steak. Perhaps the most popular vendor was Mayfield Dairy, whose iconic cow statue loomed over the convention hall.

    While it's always possible to test new items at individual schools, KCS Nutrition Executive Director Brett Foster said the Food Show allows the district to get feedback on a large scale. Students were provided with a list of items before they came, and assigned stickers to the menu items that they liked.

    Foster said the feedback will sometimes lead directly to a new cafeteria item, while other times it will prompt the district to do additional testing on a food option. "It does drive the menu, and that's the main reason for it," she added.

    It doesn't hurt that the Food Show is a lot of fun for students and teachers. Sterchi 4th-graders Neko Yoder and Jake Owen hit several booths together, and Yoder tried snacks including the cheese bread sticks. "They were really good," he said.

     

     

    Neko Yoder, a 4th-grader at Sterchi Elementary, tries a sample at the KCS Food Show on Sept. 12, 2019, as Jake Owen looks on.
    Neko Yoder, a 4th-grader at Sterchi Elementary, tries a sample at the KCS Food Show on Sept. 12, 2019, as Jake Owen looks on.
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  • KCS Ombud A Resource
    For Families, Schools

    Posted by JOSH FLORY on 9/9/2019
    KCS ombudsman Tammi Campbell, left, and Special Education Parent Liaison Sue Ownby, right, provide assistance to students, families and schools.
    KCS Ombudsman Tammi Campbell, left, and Special Education Parent Liaison Sue Ownby, right, provide assistance to students, families and schools.

    Knox County Schools wants every student to fulfill their potential and every family to feel confident about their child’s school.

    But for a variety of reasons parents sometimes feel their voice isn’t being heard, whether it’s related to a discipline issue, a bullying concern or a conflict with a school employee.

    With that in mind, the district in recent years created the office of ombudsman, which aims to identify opportunities for improvement and to help KCS families and employees resolve issues through mediation and education.

    District Ombudsman Tammi Campbell has been a KCS educator for more than seventeen years, and previously worked as a Project Grad parent and Community Liaison and college access and support facilitator. She also has served as a school counselor and assistant principal at Hardin Valley Academy and Austin-East Magnet High School before taking on the Ombudsman position.

    Campbell is a native Knoxvillian and was educated in KCS. She is a parent of a son who received special education support services in KCS, and both are alumni of Austin-East.

    Campbell said her goal is to be a resource for students, families and staff. Sometimes that means helping with a simple issue -- such as identifying the right KCS employee to answer a particular question -- and sometimes it addresses more complicated issues, such as navigating a discipline appeal or understanding the district’s response to a bullying allegation.

    “We’re trying to be that neutral party or third party, to remain objective as we look at various concerns and perceptions that may have surrounded a particular issue,” Campbell said.

    The office of ombudsman includes Special Education Parent Liaison Sue Ownby, a former special education teacher and principal, who has also worked as an advocate with a non-profit agency that focused on the emotional and behavioral health of children.

    Ownby works primarily with the families of special education students, and said that often involves answering questions and raising awareness of issues that are unique to special education.

    “A lot of the special ed vocabulary is challenging for anyone to understand,” Ownby said. “I’ve found that a lot of times when we have disagreements, it’s more about communication. Parents are often asking for a lot of the same things that educators are, but sometimes it’s helpful to have somebody who can translate between the two groups.”

    The ombudsman office grew out of a recommendation from the district’s Disparities in Educational Outcomes Task Force, which was created in 2014. The task force aimed to address disparities in academic achievement and discipline that might be correlated with income, race, language and/or disability, and the ombudsman was intended as a liaison to help address those disparities.

    Parents or guardians can seek assistance from the ombudsman directly by submitting a service request. In other cases, the ombudsman gets involved in a situation at the request of a principal.

    Susan Dunlap, principal of Bearden Elementary, said Campbell assisted her school with a situation involving bus transportation and another related to an employee.

    “If it’s potentially contentious, it’s nice to have a third party who is looking at it from a different perspective and may be able to see some things that could make the situation better,” Dunlap said.

    Common issues involving the ombudsman include transfer requests, discipline outcomes and special education procedures. As an example, Ownby said parents often ask about why there are so many people in the room during a special education meeting.

    “We don’t always do a great job of explaining to parents that for legal reasons, we have people in the room from the special education department and regular ed so that they can look at that child from both places,” she said. “I have the time to have those conversations with parents so it’s not an us-against-them, it’s an effort to give parents as many resources as possible in that environment.”

    The ombudsman has also gotten involved in certain situations at middle and high schools where students have used discriminatory or inappropriate language. In those cases, Campbell said, school administrators have already taken steps to address the situation, but she was invited in to help foster a conversation.

    “Really we’re trying to approach it from a standpoint of awareness and understanding, but also policy, and knowing what policies our administrators are bound by when they address those types of behaviors,” she said.

    Besides reacting to situations that come up during the school year, the ombudsman’s office also works proactively to bring parents into the policy-making process.

    Campbell facilitates the work of the Family Advisory Council, which provides recommendations and feedback related to KCS policy and practices. Ownby does the same for the Special Education Parent Advisory Council, which provides a network for families and students with special needs and coordinates meetings with KCS representatives to discuss issues of concern for those families.

    And while not all of the ombudsman’s work involves conflict, both Ownby and Campbell said that listening and communication are a major part of their role.

    “I’ll often say to school employees, ‘I’m just wanting you to be aware of how this parent is feeling,’” Ownby said. “‘Whether you feel like this is an accurate description, this is how that parent is feeling.’ Sometimes people can really change the conversation just based on that information. We certainly do that with parents, too: ‘If someone had said this to you, how would you feel about that?’ Because I think that’s important for both of them to hear.”

    Ultimately, the goal of the office is to provide another avenue for KCS students, families and employees to feel heard.

    Seth Smith, the principal of Fulton High School, until recently served as principal at the Richard Yoakley Transition School. Yoakley aims to help students who have not succeeded at their base school be re-integrated into a traditional classroom, and Smith said parents and staff have reacted positively to the ombudsman’s work.

    “For a lot of parents it’s like, ‘Hey, this is somebody that’s in my corner and I can kind of go to … And for teachers, they feel like, ‘Hey, it’s also somebody that’s trying to help us all do the right thing.’”

    Tammi Campbell can be reached at (865) 594-1192 or tammi.campbell@knoxschools.org.

    Sue Ownby can be reached at (865) 594-1538 or sue.ownby@knoxschools.org.

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  • Bearden Grad Drives
    Toward Diesel Career

    Posted by JOSH FLORY on 8/27/2019
    Noah Teffeteller, right, points to the brake fluid reservoir in a 1967 Camaro that was built from parts by CTE students at Bearden High School. Bearden CTE teacher Robert Dyer, left, led students through the project.
    Noah Teffeteller, right, points to the brake fluid reservoir in a 1967 Camaro that CTE students at Bearden High School helped assemble. Bearden CTE teacher Robert Dyer, left, led students through the project.

    Noah Teffeteller recently moved to Nashville, and the roar of a ‘67 Camaro was the perfect send-off for the next phase of his academic career.

    Teffeteller graduated from Bearden High School last spring, after becoming the first Bearden student to earn designation as an ASE-certified auto technician.

    Last week, he started his first semester at Lincoln College of Technology, in East Nashville, where he is pursuing a 13-month program in Diesel Technology.

    The path from Bearden to Lincoln Tech is a great example of the opportunities that are available to Career Technical Education students within KCS.

    Rob Dyer, Teffeteller’s CTE teacher at Bearden, said the auto tech program brings students up to speed on a variety of state standards, including steering, brakes, suspension and underbody work.

    Much of that experience is hands-on learning, including the chance to work on a 1967 Camaro.

    Dyer is a former heavy equipment mechanic and service tech who describes himself as “a big gearhead.” On a recent morning outside the Bearden CTE building, Dyer started up the Camaro to demonstrate the aggressive rumble of the vehicle’s engine, and said he enjoys helping students learn about a career path that can lead to a good living -- while also working on projects they enjoy.

    “It gets the kids pumped up,” he said. “To see the smile on their faces when they do hands-on work with a hot rod or on a custom vehicle makes it all worthwhile.”

    The program can also pay dividends down the road. Dyer said that when Teffeteller graduates from Lincoln Tech, he’ll be in line to make as much as $25 an hour, and could earn a six-figure salary once he gets sufficient experience.

    Teffeteller said he was somewhat interested in auto mechanics before entering the CTE program, but that when he started at Bearden “I just really enjoyed it and wanted to make a career out of it.”

    Teffeteller’s experience has also come in handy outside the classroom. He is among the hundreds of KCS students who have participated in the Top Wrench competition, which is sponsored by a local non-profit. The annual event includes a Pit Crew challenge, a Custom Paint Contest and a Welding / Fabrication Contest, and this year’s competition will be held on Oct. 31 at Crown College.

    And earlier this month, he replaced the fuel filter in his 25-year-old F-150 pickup, a project he did on his own time.

    In achieving the Automotive Service Excellence designation, Teffeteller not only gained the knowledge necessary to pass the certification test, but also garnered a credential that will significantly enhance his resume.

    “It proves that he finishes what he starts, which is very important in this industry,” said Marc Bishop, an admissions representative for Lincoln Tech.

    Bishop said demand is high for diesel technicians right now, due to a shortage of qualified workers around the world. Teffeteller’s training, he said, will include a heavy emphasis on the computer systems that are included in backhoes and other diesel-powered equipment, adding that he will meet some 400 employers during his time in the program.

    “They’ll be fighting to have him work for them,” Bishop said.

     

    Bearden High School graduate Noah Teffeteller (center) is pictured in the Bearden CTE building with, from left, Maria Richardson, program director of the Top Wrench competition; Marc Bishop, admissions representative, Lincoln College of Technology; Rob Dyer, BHS CTE teacher; and Candace Greer, BHS assistant principal.
    Bearden High School graduate Noah Teffeteller (center) is pictured in the Bearden CTE building with, from left, Maria Richardson, program director of the Top Wrench competition; Marc Bishop, admissions representative, Lincoln College of Technology; Rob Dyer, BHS CTE teacher; and Candace Greer, BHS assistant principal.
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  • Improv Helps Farragut Students
    With Teamwork, Communication

    Posted by JOSH FLORY on 8/21/2019
    Bella Griffis, a student at Farragut High School, performs during an audition for the Improv Club on Aug. 14, 2019.
    Bella Griffis, a student at Farragut High School, performs during an audition for the Improv Club on Aug. 14, 2019.

    Making up answers on the fly isn’t a good classroom strategy, but for a group of Farragut students the ability to wing it is crucial for success on the stage.

    For more than 20 years Farragut High School has hosted an Improv Club, a student group that is devoted to the craft of improvisational comedy. The club sponsors three improv shows a semester, and gives students experience in an art form made famous by groups such as Chicago-based Second City and New York’s Upright Citizens Brigade.

    The club is sponsored by Farragut film teacher Lea McMahan and coached by Dillon Lambert, a substitute teacher and former Farragut student who was in McMahan’s first class at the school 17 years ago.

    McMahan attended the University of Tennessee on an acting scholarship, and performed briefly in a Knoxville improv troupe after college. She said the FHS club attracts a wide variety of students, and that the skills they develop aren’t just for fun.

    In the corporate world, improv experts are sometimes hired to train employees about listening and collaboration, and McMahan said the skill can open doors after high school.

    “I’ve had former students come back and say they’ve been on a job interview and they mentioned their improv experience, and it always creates conversation,” she said.

    At a recent audition, Lambert led students through a variety of drills that followed a similar pattern: the outline of a scene, unscripted interactions between the performers and then a curveball that forced a change of direction.

    In one, the performers were told they were on a football field at night. The audience counted down from five and as the scene began, the actors quickly started riffing on the stars above the football field.

    As the conversation gained speed, a voice interrupted with new instructions -- “Freeze! Political debate” -- and the actors had to quickly shift into a debate-style argument about which cluster of stars was better.

    Lambert, who did an improv writing program with Second City after high school and has a degree in Radio and TV Broadcasting, said the thing he enjoys about the form is that anyone can do it. He said that in an improv scene, the best moments are often about watching performers react to each other -- “it doesn’t matter if it’s funny or not, it’s seeing everybody on the same page,” he added.

    Asked what he emphasizes to students, Lambert said that for a high school club, the first key is to keep it clean.

    After that, he wants students to be willing to try out new characters while they’re on stage, rather than falling back on a character like themselves: “It’s so boring to watch a high school student be a high school student, when you can be anything.”

    Given the high-wire nature of improv, it also puts a premium on teamwork and the ability to trust your fellow performers. McMahan, the film teacher, said the secret to success is going with the scene, adding to it and “never denying your partners.”

    “If they say you’re a cat, then yeah, you’re a cat. And you don’t say, ‘No, I’m a dog.’”

    Not surprisingly, that unpredictability can lead to all manner of surreal situations. At the FHS audition, one sketch centered on a batch of rampaging peanuts at a peanut factory, while another sketch featured a Kazakh man who was married to Snooki, star of the former reality TV show “Jersey Shore.”

    One student who auditioned was Will Stevens, a Farragut senior who joined the Improv Club last year and has also performed at birthday parties and an Open Mic night.

    Stevens said improv gives him the chance “to express my emotions through comedy and make someone else laugh -- bringing joy to other people.”

    And what’s the hardest thing about comedy? Stevens said it’s finding humor in the sad parts of life -- “but if you can do it, you have a very, very good gift.” 

    Farragut High School students Caroline Butler and Will Stevens perform a scene during auditions for the school's Improv Club, on August 14, 2019.
    Farragut High School students Caroline Butler and Will Stevens perform a scene during auditions for the school's Improv Club, on August 14, 2019.
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  • Copper Ridge Classroom Raises
    Monarchs From Egg To Butterfly

    Posted by JOSH FLORY on 8/13/2019
    Copper Ridge Elementary teacher Natasha Patchen shows her kindergarten students sap from a milkweed plant.
    Copper Ridge Elementary teacher Natasha Patchen shows her kindergarten students sap from a milkweed plant.

    Conservation and education are working hand-in-hand at Copper Ridge Elementary School, thanks to a program that is aimed at supporting pollinators.

    In 2004, kindergarten teacher Natasha Patchen began raising monarch caterpillars in her classroom, illustrating lessons about the butterfly's life cycle.

    In the last decade, though, it became more difficult to find the eggs and caterpillars, so Patchen used the Copper Ridge garden to plant milkweed, which is the only food that a monarch caterpillar will eat.

    The teacher said this is the first year that the garden has attracted butterflies to lay their eggs, and she is now raising more than 20 monarchs in various stages of development. Patchen said that within the next two weeks as many as two dozen monarchs could emerge from the chrysalis stage, and her students will then release them into the wild.

    The idea is to help students understand the monarch's journey: the eggs hatch tiny caterpillars that shed their skin as they grow, before entering the chrysalis stage, where the caterpillar is protected by a hanging shell as it changes into a butterfly.

    "It teaches students about the life cycle," Patchen said. "It's important that they know that we've got to care for the Earth."

    According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the monarch population has decreased significantly in the last 20 years, thanks to factors including habitat loss throughout their range and the use of chemicals that can destroy milkweed.

    Besides providing milkweed for caterpillars, the Copper Ridge garden is also home to plants that support monarch butterflies themselves, including goldenrod and zinnias.

    Patchen recently began her 27th year as a teacher, and her 17th year at Copper Ridge. And like any good kindergarten teacher, she balances the serious business of science with a healthy dose of fun. She pointed out, for example, that monarchs have 6 pairs of eyes but poor vision, and that if humans grew at the rate of a monarch caterpillar, they would be 30 feet tall in two weeks.

    Sometimes, of course, it's the little things that leave a big impression. Kindergartener Hayden Terry should get to see the butterflies soon, but in the meantime he already thinks the monarch caterpillars are cool -- "because they eat leaves."

     

    Copper Ridge Elementary teacher Natasha Patchen displays a monarch caterpillar in her class on Aug. 9, 2019.
    Copper Ridge Elementary teacher Natasha Patchen displays a monarch caterpillar in her class on Aug. 9, 2019.
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  • Inskip Elementary Celebrates
    Expansion, Renovation

    Posted by JOSH FLORY on 8/5/2019
    Students, teachers and staff at Inskip Elementary joined Superintendent Bob Thomas, Board of Education District 2 Representative Jennifer Owen and other local dignitaries on Aug. 2, 2019, to celebrate a ribbon-cutting for the school's expansion and renovation.
    Students, teachers and staff at Inskip Elementary joined Superintendent Bob Thomas, Board of Education District 2 Representative Jennifer Owen and other local dignitaries on Aug. 2, 2019, to celebrate a ribbon-cutting for the school's expansion and renovation.

    The back-to-school season was more exciting than usual this year for students, teachers and staff at Inskip Elementary School.

    On Friday, Inskip held a ribbon-cutting for a $6.5 million expansion and renovation project that was recently completed.

    The project added a 29,000-square foot wing to the existing school building, including 12 classrooms; an administrative office suite; a media center; an art room; a music room; a teacher work area; and an expansion of the cafeteria.

    Safety and traffic improvements were also completed, including an upgrade of the fire alarm system; installation of a fire sprinkler system throughout the facility; addition of a canopy for car drop-offs in front of the building; an increase in parking spaces; and a modification of site traffic flow to separate car and bus traffic.

    The ribbon-cutting on Aug. 2 included remarks from KCS Superintendent Bob Thomas and District 2 Board of Education Representative Jennifer Owen, and coincided with a Back-To-School Bash for students and families. After helping to cut the ceremonial ribbon, excited students toured the new facility and learned more about their upcoming school year.

    Principal Lynn Jacomen cited the history and tradition of the Inskip community, and highlighted the two-fold benefits of the renovation project.

    “Any time we can make students safer and make it easier for them to learn, that's a great achievement,” she said.

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  • New Departments Aim To Help
    Support All KCS Students

    Posted by JOSH FLORY on 7/29/2019

    Knox County Schools is always preparing for new challenges and opportunities, and with that in mind the district recently implemented a reorganization which aims to ensure that all students are equipped for success.

    The reorganization includes the creation of two new departments, which will be led by former KCS principals.

    Janice Cook Janice Cook, formerly the principal of Paul Kelley Volunteer Academy, in July began working as KCS Director of School Culture.

    In that position, she will focus on supporting initiatives that can have a significant impact on students’ academic performance, including disparities in education, restorative discipline, absenteeism and social-emotional learning.

    Former Bearden High School principal Jason Myers was appointed as Executive Director of Student Supports. In that role, he will focus on areas including special education, English-language learners and health services.

    Jason Myers Previously, these responsibilities were all part of the Department of Student Support Services. The director of that department, Melissa Drinnon, left KCS earlier this year as part of an early retirement incentive offered to employees.

    Jon Rysewyk, Assistant Superintendent and Chief Academic Officer at KCS, said Drinnon’s departure was an opportunity to re-evaluate how the district can provide focused attention in areas that have become increasingly important.

    The federal government is closely involved in the oversight of special education, with an increased emphasis on ensuring special education students are able to learn in the least restrictive environment.

    The number of English-Language Learners within KCS is also increasing, and research is providing new insights into the best ways to support those learners.

    At the same time, school culture has become a priority for policymakers and community advocates both nationally and locally in recent years.

    In 2014, KCS created a Disparities in Educational Outcomes Task Force, which aims to address disproportions in academic achievement and discipline outcomes that might be correlated with income, race, language and/or disability.

    The district has also worked to implement best practices for students who may be struggling with behavioral or emotional challenges, which are often related to trauma they have experienced outside the classroom.

    Rysewyk said the decision to appoint separate leaders for those policy areas reflects a more intentional focus on topics that “have risen to the level where we need to provide concentrated effort to them.”

    “Sometimes if you have too many balls in the air, it’s hard to really focus on making a dent,” he added.

    Both Cook and Myers have significant on-the-ground experience with the policy areas that they will oversee.

    Cook was principal at the Dr. Paul L. Kelley Volunteer Academy, a high school that provides intensive academic services for students who have fallen behind at their zoned school and are at risk of dropping out.

    Prior to that role, she was principal of the Knoxville Adaptive Education Center, or KAEC, a special day school for students with mental health needs.

    Cook also has experience in program development at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital where she was the coordinator of EMBRACE, a program to serve children with complex diagnostic needs, including mental health and educational issues.

    “Students need a way to feel connected,” she said. “And as a district, this reorganization is one way we can pay more attention to how we support students.”

    Myers was the principal at Bearden High School and previously worked as a special education teacher and as the principal of KAEC.

    He said the opportunity to affect policy from a district-wide perspective was appealing. He also cited the district’s recently adopted strategic plan, which emphasizes increasing student achievement, eliminating disparities and building a positive culture.

    The district can’t achieve those goals without a focus on students with special needs, he said. “It’s pretty evident that without making sure we have quality programming in place for those populations, we’re simply not going to be able to promote those priorities to every student.”

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  • "Book Battles" Promote
    Summer Reading

    Posted by JOSH FLORY on 7/17/2019
    Contestants in a 'Book Battle' at Rocky Hill Elementary School discuss their answer as Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs, the game's host looks on.
    Contestants in a 'Book Battle' at Rocky Hill Elementary School discuss a question as the game's host, Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs, waits for their answer.

    There’s nothing like a friendly competition to help prevent summer learning loss, and Knox County Schools has teamed up with several community partners to make that happen.

    This summer, KCS librarians are working with organizations including the YMCA, the Girl Scouts, the Boys and Girls Club and Freedom Schools to host “Book Battles,” quiz show-style competitions that are based on summer reading.

    On Tuesday, Rocky Hill Elementary hosted a book battle that included students who participate in the YMCA and that featured a celebrity guest: Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs.

    The mayor has made summer reading a top priority through the Read City USA initiative, which has challenged the community to spend 250,000 hours reading this summer. At Rocky Hill, Jacobs read the contest questions while two teams -- “Master Librarians” and “Team Fire” -- competed to provide the right answers.

    Sally Brady, a librarian at Bearden Elementary School, said students are competitive and want their team to win, but that competitive spirit has other benefits.

    “It gets them thinking about books and talking about answers and working together as a team, and also it gets them to read new books and books maybe out of their comfort zone,” she said.

    Literacy is a point of emphasis for KCS and Superintendent Bob Thomas and this spring the mayor’s office, KCS and the Knox County Public Library system teamed up to distribute more than 6,800 library cards to students at 17 elementary and middle schools.

    The district has also enlisted community partners in the effort to boost reading engagement, including the YMCA.

    Lori Humphreys, Vice President of Child Care Services for that organization, said the Book Battles are a practical way for kids to put their reading to good use, adding that the enthusiasm doesn’t just show up during the Battles.

    “They’ve been reading on the bus, they’ve been reading on field trips,” she said. “Wherever we see them, they have a book in their hand.”

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