• Coaches, Principals Speak
    Out On Racial Justice

    Posted by JOSHUA FLORY on 6/30/2020


    Taking over a football program is always a challenge, but two head coaches who stepped into the spotlight this year are managing more than just X’s and O’s.

    Austin-East defensive coordinator Antonio Mays was recently named head coach of the Roadrunners, while Central defensive coordinator Nick Craney was tapped to lead the Bobcats.

    The new role has come with a heavier responsibility, as young people across the country wrestle with the killing of George Floyd and the calls for racial justice that came in its wake.

    In interviews, both coaches said football provides an opportunity to build unity.

    “The rest of society and the rest of the country and the rest of [our] communities, they could learn a lot by coming and watching a high school football team that is together and a family,” said Craney. “Because we really are trying to build our kids to end racial injustice and to end racism.”

    Floyd’s death sparked weeks of protests, many of which included students and young people.

    Mays, who also works as a College and Career Access Coach with Project Grad, said one of the most important things that young people can do is vote -- including his own son, who is a student at Tennessee State University.

    “He’s got to vote more than just in the presidential elections,” Mays said. “We have to educate our children on how important it is to have local turnout, to vote for these local leaders who represent our agendas well.”

    While student-athletes are among the first to return to campuses this summer, conversations about justice issues haven’t been limited to practice sessions.

    Some principals and students have spoken out about current events during commencement ceremonies, which were delayed until June because of COVID-19.

    At Central’s graduation, principal Andrew Brown cited the killings of Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor.

    “We are living in a pandemic that has taken over 100,000 American lives,” Brown told Central’s Class of 2020. “That is somewhat out of our control. What is in our control is how we treat others. The violence and killing has to stop, and it starts with you.”

    As school leaders prepare for the start of a new school year in August, that message of empowerment will likely be an ongoing theme.

    Austin-East principal Nathan Langlois said he’s been pleased to see peaceful protests and calls for justice, but added that the next step is to take actions that lead to long-term, systematic change.

    “I’m very hopeful, I’m very optimistic, I really have been empowered and like what I’m seeing,” Langlois said. “But again, you have 400 years that we’ve had these chances and we’ve failed. So I guess what I really want to say to this next generation is do what my generation couldn’t do. Solve the problems that my generation has not yet solved.”

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  • Farragut Alums Earn
    Fulbright Awards

    Posted by JOSH FLORY on 6/3/2020

    A pair of former KCS students were among the honorees last month when the University of Tennessee-Knoxville announced 17 recipients of a prestigious national fellowship.

    Farragut High School alumnae Kristi Phillips, who graduated from UTK this year, and Jaime Ragos, who graduated from UTK in 2019, were both offered the Fulbright Student award, which provides study, research and teaching opportunities in foreign countries.

    Phillips plans to work in Belarus during her fellowship, while Ragos will work in Taiwan, although the COVID-19 pandemic will delay their moving dates until at least January.Kristi Phillips

    Phillips, who majored in language and world business with a concentration in Russian studies at UTK, lived in Minsk last summer while teaching English. She didn’t meet a single American during her visit, and said the people she met were eager to learn about American culture.

    “I made a lot of good friends there and it was just a very welcoming learning environment,” she said.

    Phillips speaks Russian, and plans to eventually pursue a master’s degree in library science, with the goal of becoming an elementary school librarian. During her career at Farragut, she said Russian language teacher Anna Arapakos was a significant influence: “She was so enthusiastic and excited about Russian culture and languages, it was infectious almost.”

    Ragos majored in food science and technology; language and world business; and Latin American and Caribbean studies at UTK, and currently works as a researcher for a Chicago-based nonprofit called Stop Foodborne Illness.Jaime Ragos

    During her fellowship in Taiwan, she plans to study Taiwanese and Chinese cultural practices and beliefs, and how they affect health and safety. Her ultimate goal is to go to medical school and get a PhD in epidemiology, with a focus on preventing disease outbreaks.

    Besides her work, the fellowship will provide an opportunity to re-connect with family members:  Ragos is Filipino, and said her parents have already contacted relatives in the Philippines to tell them that “I’m spending the holidays with them.”

    Ragos said her mentors at Farragut included former chemistry teacher Debbie Fraser; Spanish teachers Irma Acevedo and Allison Maldonado; and social studies teacher Elizabeth Blankenship, who was also the Student Government Association advisor.

    For more information about the Fulbright Award, visit its website

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  • KCS Celebrates
    Field Day ... At Home!

    Posted by JOSH FLORY on 5/12/2020
    Students and teachers celebrate Field Day at Northshore Elementary in May, 2019.
    Students and teachers celebrate Field Day at Northshore Elementary in May, 2019.  

    It's Field Day Season, and KCS is working to helping families participate -- even during the extended closure!

    The first KCS@home Field Day will be held from May 18-22, with a list of more than 30 events -- including classic competitions like the sack race, dizzy-bat race and balloon stomp competition -- available on our website.

    Share pictures on social media using #KCSatHomeFieldDay, and don't forget to have fun!


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  • Nutrition Team Committed
    To "Heart Work"

    Posted by JOSH FLORY on 5/1/2020
    Nutrition employees at Halls High School prepare meals on April 29, 2020.
    Nutrition employees at Halls High School prepare meals on April 29, 2020.  

    As the cafeteria manager at Gibbs Middle School, Tami Benziger enjoys the chance to visit with hundreds of students every day when school is in session.

    It’s hard work, but Benziger said it’s also “heart work” -- “You've got to love what you do to be able to do it.”

    That’s even more true during the extended closure prompted by COVID-19. Across Knox County, nutrition workers have stepped up to make sandwiches, pack fruit and prepare meals for thousands of students who otherwise might go hungry.

    The scope of that operation was apparent on Wednesday at Halls High School, where a team of nutrition employees worked in the cafeteria to prepare meals that were delivered to the school’s drive-thru lane on carts, where they were distributed by teachers and administrators.

    Brett Foster, the district’s Executive Director of Nutrition, said one of the challenges has been making the transition to fully pre-packaged meals, rather than the typical process of giving students options to choose from.

    On this particular morning, Foster said employees at Halls had made 1,800 turkey, ham and cheese sandwiches by hand, adding that the extended closure has emphasized the dedication of Knox County’s school nutrition team.

    “I’ve always said that they're some of the hardest working people we have in this district, and it’s just being highlighted now,” she said.

    During the closure, KCS has been serving between 10,000 and 13,000 students on distribution days. Through May 20, two days of meals are provided on Mondays and three days of meals are provided on Wednesdays, which means that on busy days the team can distribute nearly 40,000 breakfast meals and another 40,000 lunch meals.

    Foster said the pandemic has affected some families who never thought they would need food, but are now struggling with the loss of a job or a reduction in their income.

    In fact, Benziger -- who is managing operations at Halls High during the closure -- said she recently spoke to a parent who was considering whether to participate, but didn’t want to take food that someone else needed.

    Benziger assured her that there was plenty, and said she hopes Knox County families don’t hesitate to pick up what they need.

    “I know we can’t help with their finances or with what's going on in their lives, but we can help to put a little food there for them,” she said, “so the money that they would spend on it could go toward something else.”


    Tami Benziger is coordinating meal distribution at Halls High School during the extended closure. When school is in session, Benziger is the cafeteria manager at Gibbs Middle School.
    Tami Benziger is coordinating meal distribution at Halls High School during the extended closure. When school is in session, Benziger is the cafeteria manager at Gibbs Middle School.  
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  • Halls Student Has
    A Heart For Animals

    Posted by JOSH FLORY on 3/11/2020
    Haley Grisham, a Halls High School junior, was one of 50 students from across the country to attend the FFA NextGen: Animal Systems conference last month in Kansas City.
    Haley Grisham, a Halls High School junior, was one of 50 students from across the country to attend the FFA "NextGen: Animal Systems" conference last month in Kansas City.  

    When the FFA hosted its “NextGen: Animal Systems” conference last month in Kansas City, only 50 students from across the country were chosen to participate.

    One of them was Haley Grisham, a Halls High School junior who is hoping her love for animals will lead to a career caring for them.

    “It was really encouraging because everyone was there to better their future,” she said. “They were all there to learn, to just absorb everything we could.”

    Participants were chosen by a selection committee, and learned about topics including emerging trends in animal systems; the use of big data; and regulatory issues related to the field.

    Grisham was one of three students from Tennessee who participated. She enjoyed the chance to hear from U.S. Department of Agriculture officials about the agency’s plan to build a National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility in Manhattan, Kan., and she got firsthand experience conducting pregnancy checks on cows.

    The event also provided an opportunity to meet students with similar interests, although growing up in the Knoxville area meant her background was different than some of her fellow attendees.

    “I can’t remember ever touching a cow (before), but 90% of the kids there raised cows,” she said.

    While Grisham didn’t grow up on a farm, she’s had plenty of exposure to animals. Her family owns a Jack Russell-Dachsund mix named “Pancake” and she has several birds, including a “sun conure” -- a type of parakeet -- named “Sunny D.” Grisham also volunteers at Hooves & Feathers, a farm animal rescue organization, and cares for classroom animals at Halls.

    After high school, she hopes to attend Middle Tennessee State University and study horse physiology, and she’s considering a career training and caring for wild horses in areas where their population has outgrown the available resources. In the long run, she said, she’d like to own a ranch.

    Grisham said she has a knack for communicating with creatures. “I can just go up to an animal, and they understand how I feel, I understand how they feel,” she said. “I just have that connection with them. … I love animals, they’re great.”

    Ultimately, attending the conference may help provide a focus for Grisham's existing interests. Patti Keep, an agriculture teacher at Halls, said Grisham is an excellent student, and that the NextGen conference helped her zero in on her interests: “She’s very dedicated to anything that she does,” Keep said.

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  • Program Offers Incentives
    For Special Ed Teachers

    Posted by JOSH FLORY on 3/11/2020
    KCS Superintendent Bob Thomas, Tennessee Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn, dean of the UTK College of Education, Health and Human Sciences Ellen McIntyre and interim UT System President Randy Boyd announced the Grow Your Own program on Monday, March 2, 2020.
    KCS Superintendent Bob Thomas, Tennessee Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn, dean of the UTK College of Education, Health and Human Sciences Ellen McIntyre and interim UT System President Randy Boyd announced the "Grow Your Own" program on Monday, March 2, 2020.  


    A new partnership between Knox County Schools, the University of Tennessee and the Tennessee Department of Education is working to boost the number of special education teachers in Knox County.

    On Monday, officials announced the “Grow Your Own” initiative, which offers incentives to UT students who aspire to special education as a career.

    The program would launch in the fall of 2020, with KCS hiring 10 to 15 UT students as paraprofessionals during their intern year. Students in that Aspiring Teacher cohort would receive a salary and health care, and earn years toward retirement.

    In addition, KCS would offer teaching jobs and signing bonuses in the 2021-22 school year, pending degree completion, licensure and good standing as a paraprofessional.

    At a news conference on Monday, Superintendent Bob Thomas joined Tennessee Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn; interim UT System President Randy Boyd; and Ellen McIntyre, dean of the UTK College of Education, Health and Human Sciences, to announce the program.

    Thomas said the announcement was a historic moment for Knox County Schools, and noted that the district starts every school year with teaching vacancies, particularly in special education.

    The Grow Your Own initiative, he said, “is going to provide a pipeline for us. It’s going to allow us to fill the (vacancies) that we have … as well as build a pipeline of well-prepared teachers.”

    The state Department of Education also announced that $1 million will be made available for teachers across the state to get a special education endorsement.

    The state will contract with educator preparation programs to offer the endorsement to current teachers, and the funds will pay for teacher tuition. Districts will be allowed to submit teachers to get the endorsement at no cost to them.

    Boyd, the interim UT president, on Monday recalled three teachers at Doyle High School who made a difference in his own academic journey, and noted that the percentage of college students who choose education as a major has dropped significantly in the last 40 years.

    “This program, this partnership will help us go a long way to solving that,” he said.


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  • "Good Night, Inskip" Promotes
    Literacy, Community

    Posted by JOSH FLORY on 2/25/2020


    Inskip Elementary School is using technology to put a new twist on the traditional bedtime story.

    Over the last two years, Inskip has launched a weekly gathering called “Good Night, Inskip,” in which teachers, principals and other school staff read a bedtime story that is videotaped.

    The videos are shared online every Wednesday night, and many of them feature school employees reading in their homes.

    Lalita Thompson has two daughters who attend the school, and said she learned about the program shortly after they enrolled.

    Thompson said her girls look forward to the videos, and their favorite so far was “The Very Hungry Caterpillar,” by Eric Carle. “We’ve been reading it to them since they were little,” she said.

    Inskip Principal Lynn Jacomen said the school is trying to promote a culture of reading, and to reach families in unconventional ways.

    As part of that effort, a teacher recently teamed up with a student to read a children’s book in two languages. “Now we’re really trying to reach out to our Spanish-speaking families more and see how can we also make sure that we’re reading the book in Spanish,” Jacomen said.

    Besides sharing popular books with students, “Good Night, Inskip” has also made an impression by showing a different side of teachers and school staff.

    Some teachers have worn pajamas in their videos, while others incorporate their pets as sidekicks. Kaelyn Martin, a 2nd-grade student, said those videos are fun because “the pet’s cute and it makes the people happy.”

    Martin said her favorite bedtime story was “Pete The Cat,” adding that the videos help her fall asleep.

    “Whenever they’re reading the stories, they’re not really going too fast,” she said. “And when they’re kind of going slow it makes me sleepy.”

    Kaelyn Martin, a 2nd-grade student at Inskip Elementary, says the school's bedtime story videos are fun, and help her fall asleep.
    Kaelyn Martin, a 2nd-grade student at Inskip Elementary, says the school's bedtime story videos are fun, and help her fall asleep.  


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  • KCS Celebrates
    Teachers Of The Year

    Posted by JOSH FLORY on 2/19/2020
    Northwest Middle School principal Bill Baldwin poses with teachers Tiffany Flood, Elisha Noe and Lisa Stalans at the Teacher of the Year banquet on Feb. 18, 2020.
    Northwest Middle School principal Bill Baldwin poses with teachers Tiffany Flood, Elisha Noe and Lisa Stalans at the KCS Teacher of the Year banquet on Feb. 18, 2020.  

    Educators were in the spotlight on Tuesday as Knox County Schools gathered to celebrate its Teachers of the Year.

    Nearly 200 teachers were honored during a banquet at the Knoxville Convention Center, in an event that included remarks from Superintendent Bob Thomas and Knox County Juvenile Court Judge Tim Irwin.

    The event also highlighted the three district-wide Teachers of the Year. To see video profiles of those winners, click on the links below:


    Courtney Payne, Bonny Kate Elementary

    Payne is a 4th-grade math teacher who believes an important part of growth is giving students space to struggle with a problem. Using manipulatives and modeling, she helps students move from inefficient thinking to efficient thinking.



    Kami Lunsford, Karns Middle

    Lunsford is a chorus teacher who is committed to building community among her students, and urging them to pursue big dreams. Her students are able to learn a wide variety of instruments, including guitars, ukuleles, drums and harmonicas.



    Scott Clark, Powell High

    Clark teaches Algebra 1 and works to provide a classroom environment where students feel safe to make mistakes and take ownership of their learning. He makes a point of greeting every student, every day when they come into the classroom, and has worked to create a welcoming environment for English Language Learners.


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  • Student Contest Highlights
    Women's Suffrage

    Posted by JOSH FLORY on 2/5/2020
    Farragut Intermediate School teachers Angie Maxey and Sarah Eddins pose in 1920s-style costumes to help promote awareness of the women's suffrage movement.
    Farragut Intermediate School teachers Angie Maxey and Sarah Eddins have been performing skits on the school's morning announcements to raise awareness of the women's suffrage movement.  


    It’s been nearly 100 years since American women won the right to vote, and Knox County students are marking the occasion with movies, essays and art.

    The Suffrage Coalition, a local nonprofit, is sponsoring a Centennial Celebration Contest to mark the Aug. 18, 1920 vote that approved the 19th Amendment.

    As part of the contest, students can submit entries in three categories: a literary category that includes a poem or essay, a visual arts category including several design types and a documentary category.

    Angie Maxey and Sarah Eddins, teachers at Farragut Intermediate School, are helping spearhead the contest and have been performing skits -- in costume -- on the school’s morning news program to raise awareness.

    While the state of Tennessee requires 5th-graders to learn about the suffrage movement, Eddins said most of them are not aware of the topic until hearing about it in school.

    Maxey said the goal of the contest is to get students involved in the centennial celebration. “We’re really excited to see what they come up with,” she added.

    Tennessee played a decisive role in the women’s suffrage movement. After Congress approved the 19th Amendment it went to the states for ratification, and Tennessee was the 36th state to vote in favor, providing the needed two-thirds majority of states.

    In fact, it was an East Tennessee lawmaker -- state Rep. Harry Burn, of McMinn County -- who switched his vote to break a tie in the House. Later, Burn credited his decision to a letter from his mother, Febb Burn, urging him to support suffrage.

    Knoxville attorney Wanda Sobieski is president of the Suffrage Coalition, and said that while it may be hard to believe now, the idea of allowing women to vote was “extraordinarily controversial” in 1920.

    Sobieski said the story of Harry Burn and Febb Burn is important because “it tells us not only every vote counts but every letter or phone call or telegram counts. And sometimes just one more person deciding to do the right, or trying to do the right thing, will make all the difference.”

    The deadline for contest entries is Feb. 14, 2020. For more information, visit the Farragut Intermediate School website.



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  • Maynard Principal Earns
    MLK Education Award

    Posted by JOSH FLORY on 1/22/2020
    Maynard Elementary Principal Dexter Murphy visits with a student on Jan. 17, 2020. Murphy recently received the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative Commission's Education Award.
    Maynard Elementary Principal Dexter Murphy visits with a student on Jan. 17, 2020. Murphy recently received the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative Commission's Education Award.  

    His musical talent brought Dexter Murphy to Knoxville and earned him acclaim, but Murphy’s second act -- as an educator -- was recognized this week during celebrations of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday.

    Murphy, the principal of Maynard Elementary School, received the Education Award during an MLK Memorial Tribute Service at Overcoming Believers Church.

    In a summary statement, the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative Commission said that while Murphy is not a native Knoxvillian, “his investment in the uplifting of this community has been consistent since first coming to East Tennessee.”

    A native of Bolivar, Tennessee, Murphy came to Knoxville after earning a scholarship to play trombone with the University of Tennessee’s Pride Of The Southland marching band.

    In an interview, he recalled the formative role of educators in his life: Ms. Helen Johnson was a teacher who combined warmth with high expectations, while his band director, Mr. Harrison, recognized his gift for music and pushed him to apply for competitions, while also making it possible to receive private instruction that he couldn’t otherwise afford.

    “He pushed me outside my limit,” Murphy said. “When I would learn all the 12 major scales he said, ‘Let’s learn the minor scales now.’”

    Equally important was the support of his mother, a single parent who never used that struggle as an excuse, and urged him to enroll at UT because it would give him a chance to understand a culture different than the one in which he grew up.

    After playing at UT for two years, Murphy was invited to rehearse with a band called Gran Torino, which was playing local venues and weekend shows in Chattanooga. The band eventually began to tour extensively and gained a measure of fame when its song “Moments With You” was featured on MTV’s “The Real World.”

    Murphy had left school to perform full-time but said a wake-up call came in 2002, when the band’s bus was driving in a rainstorm and was struck by a tractor-trailer that had hydroplaned. While Murphy wasn’t injured, he felt blessed to be alive and decided to go back to school to earn his bachelor’s degree in jazz piano, fulfilling a promise to his mother.

    After graduation he began working as the music program director for a non-profit called Tribe One, which used the arts to support urban youth. In that role, Murphy began offering free time in a recording studio to young people who would commit an equal amount of time toward preparing for their GED.

    As he got involved in the work of tutoring, Murphy’s wife, Nicie Murphy, recognized that he was well-equipped to work in a school setting. “She came over for lunch one day and saw me and said, ‘You’re a natural at this. You need to look into teaching,’” he said.

    After earning his elementary licensure from Lincoln Memorial University, Murphy did a teaching internship at Pond Gap Elementary and eventually became a full-time teacher at the school.

    He began calling his 5th-graders the “Murph Dogs”, an effort to build a family atmosphere that also helped students avoid negative behaviors.

    “We were like, ‘That’s not what Murph Dogs do,’ … We just created this culture in our classroom,” he said.

    From there, Murphy went on to work as a mentor teacher; an assistant principal at Vine Middle School and Sarah Moore Greene Magnet Academy; and principal of Green Magnet Academy.

    In 2017 he became dean of the upper school at Emerald Academy, and in 2018 became principal of Maynard Elementary.

    While his career as a professional musician may be in the past, the charisma of a performer is still evident, whether it’s in managing a school assembly, greeting a visiting dignitary or having a one-on-one meeting to encourage a student.

    Murphy said at Maynard he’s emphasizing the importance of courage, reminding students that choosing knowledge and doing the right thing will provide them with opportunities.

    “That’s what my Mom poured into me,” he recalled. “She would say, ‘I want you to get your education, you need to go back to school. I’m glad you guys are touring, but you need to go back and get your education because nobody can take that  from you.’ I feel like that’s my calling right now to inspire, motivate and be a role model for these kids, to see success that looks like them and understand it is possible.”


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