"Good Night, Inskip" Promotes
Literacy, CommunityPosted 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.”
Teachers Of The YearPosted by JOSH FLORY on 2/19/2020
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:
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.
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.
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.
Student Contest Highlights
Women's SuffragePosted by JOSH FLORY on 2/5/2020
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.
Maynard Principal Earns
MLK Education AwardPosted by JOSH FLORY on 1/22/2020
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.”
South-Doyle "ACT Academy"
Boosts Student SuccessPosted by JOSH FLORY on 1/22/2020
Being sent to the principal’s office isn’t always a positive outcome, but when three principals of South-Doyle High School knocked on the door of Kailey Garrison’s home, they came with good news -- and a cookie cake.
That’s because Garrison was the newest member of the “30-Plus Club”, an honor for South-Doyle students who score a 30 or higher on the ACT.
On a recent afternoon, Principal Tim Berry and Assistant Principals Denise McGaha and Michael Carter presented Garrison and her parents with the cake and a yard sign commemorating Garrison’s score of 31 on the national standardized test.
Garrison, a junior, is a member of the South-Doyle robotics team and plans to study engineering after high school. Her favorite subjects are the STEM classes -- focused on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math -- and she said biology teacher Kimberley Nixon has been particularly influential: “She was a really awesome teacher overall and helped me like and want to go further into the science categories.”
High schools across Knox County are working to improve ACT scores, which have a significant impact on post-secondary options and scholarship opportunities for students.
At South-Doyle, the 30-Plus Club is part of a multi-faceted push to boost achievement, including an ACT Academy that targets motivated students with the potential for improvement. The Academy includes a practice test, which leads to tutoring tailored to areas where each student needs to get better.
Carter, an assistant principal at South-Doyle, said the Academy meets for 7-8 weeks on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and also includes steps aimed at removing practical barriers to success.
At the beginning of the Academy, school officials make sure that students have completed their registration, and they prepare a notebook with entrance tickets for each student in case they forget their ticket on test day.
They also provide extra calculators for students who don’t have their own. Carter said that after a recent test, one student commented that it was the first time he had used a calculator on the ACT.
Steve Mosadegh, whose daughter Ava scored a 34 on the ACT, said she attended the Wednesday and Saturday sessions of South-Doyle’s Academy, and said it’s important to target instruction toward areas where a student is less prepared.
“It’s so smart, because kids these days don’t have big attention spans,” said Mosadegh, himself a teacher at South-Doyle Middle School. “If they see something redundant or something they already know, they’re going to lose interest in it.”
School officials have also worked to build awareness of student success. Besides the 30-Plus Club, South-Doyle has a trophy case that highlights every student who improved their score after taking the test multiple times.
Carter said steps like the display case and recognition on social media have generated strong interest in the ACT Academy.
“We didn’t have to recruit nearly as hard the second time around, it kind of sold itself,” he said. “It’s like having a sports team that starts winning. People want to go be a part of it, you don’t have to recruit nearly as hard.”
For the Garrison family, the 30-Plus Club is affirmation of the success that Kailey has achieved.
Her father, Andy Garrison, is a mentor for the robotics team and her mother, Chrissy Garrison, said South-Doyle has brought out the best in her daughter.
“I’m more than proud,” said Chrissy Garrison. “She has worked very, very hard for it. It’s all her and I see nothing but a huge, bright future in whatever she wants to do.”
Education A Family Legacy
For KCS EmployeesPosted by JOSH FLORY on 1/14/2020
When Linda Norris was growing up, she would spend part of her summers playing at Adams Elementary School, in Hamilton, Ohio, where her grandfather was the principal.
“The new textbooks for the following year were housed on the stage,” she recalled. “So I would spend time there while he was working. There were no teachers or students in the building, but I would play school on the stage with the new textbooks.”
Given that history, it’s not surprising that Norris -- now the principal at Bonny Kate Elementary School -- chose a career in education. But that family legacy has also extended to another generation.
Besides having four grandchildren who attend Bonny Kate as students, Norris’ son, Anthony Norris, is a first-year principal at South-Doyle Middle School.
Anthony Norris said his first passion was coaching, which led to his career as a teacher. He praised his mother’s steadiness, and her willingness to go back to school after having kids, in order to pursue a teaching career.
“She just works hard and she cares about it,” he said. “She’s going to do her best every day.”
The work of teaching and learning runs deep in the Norris family, but they’re not the only ones. Across Knox County there are multiple examples of families whose service to students spans generations.
Bearden Elementary Principal Susan Dunlap began her KCS career as a kindergarten teacher at White Elementary, which is now closed. Her father was a professor and an academic dean at Johnson University, and Dunlap said his influence shaped her career decision.
“I used to gather the neighborhood children in the basement of my house and have school,” she said. “I always wanted to be a teacher and my parents of course encouraged it, and they provided me a space in my house when I was a young as probably 4th grade.”
Dunlap’s daughter, Jennie Scott, recalled that because her mother was a teacher and administrator, she would be recognized whenever the family went out. “I just remember as a child thinking, ‘Wow, she’s really making a difference.’ Not only for people, the kids that she taught, but for a community.”
Scott worked at a day care facility while trying to figure out her career path after high school. That experience, she said, steered her toward education as a calling, as she realized “that’s what God wanted me to do, that’s where I’m supposed to spend my life and invest in kids and that I had a talent and I would be wasting it if I did something different. And clearly it’s in my blood.”
Scott became a teacher and is now an assistant principal at Christenberry Elementary. In fact, her husband, David Scott, is a social studies teacher and coach at South-Doyle High School.
Jennie Scott said one of the biggest things she learned from her mother is the importance of treating students as if they were her own children. “I tell my parents, ‘I treat your child no differently from my own.’ And I think my mom had a lot to do with that. She never said that, it was just her actions that proved it.”
Last year, the paths of mother and daughter converged when both Christenberry and Bearden Elementary were designated as Reward Schools by the State of Tennessee. And for her part, Dunlap became emotional when talking about her daughter’s journey.
“She knew it was hard work, but she knew the rewards,” Dunlap said. “It’s so rewarding.”
For some families, the path to the classroom was unconventional. Cynthia Lynn worked as a nurse for 15 years before becoming a teacher.
After several years teaching at Gibbs High School, Lynn left to teach at Carson-Newman University and later at King University, but in 2017 she returned to Gibbs and started a Certified Nursing Assistant program.
Lynn’s daughter, Julia Loy, also became a nurse but more recently began working as a health science teacher at South-Doyle High School, while her son, Nathan Lynn, is the assistant principal at Halls Elementary.
Both had their mother as a teacher -- Loy at Carson-Newman, and Nathan Lynn at Gibbs High School.
Julia Loy said her mother provided health care to people who were experiencing homelessness, and that helped shape her own approach to people.
“That’s what I learned from my mom -- you treat everyone the same,” said Julia Loy, who still works as a nurse on weekends and during summers.
While Nathan Lynn never worked in health care, he learned from his mother about the value of listening, a lesson that has shaped his approach to working as a school administrator.
“If you just listen to (school employees), we can get them where they want to be to make an impact,” he said. “And as far as parents and the community, they’re going to tell you what they want and how they want their kids to grow … Then you can formulate that vision for your school if you just listen really well and hold those high standards.”
For her part, Cynthia Lynn said she’s glad that her children chose to stay in the KCS family, because “I just love Knox County … I think they did well by choosing Knox County to use their gifts.”
Student Leaders Pitch In
On Vaping PreventionPosted by JOSH FLORY on 1/10/2020
As Knox County middle school students gathered for a vaping prevention summit on Thursday, an unexpected crisis interrupted.
Trainers from CADCA, a non-profit group that promotes drug-free communities, rushed in to announce that an army of zombies had invaded the building and would soon be in the room.
As students laughed, they were told that if they didn’t come up with a plan, the zombies would arrive to eat their brains.
The exercise may have been fictional, but it reinforced a serious idea: Student leadership is important, and ideas from students are needed to address the very real dangers of vaping.
The summit -- attended by middle school students on Thursday and high school students on Friday -- was organized by the KCS Coordinated School Health Program, with support from CADCA, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, the Knox County Health Department and the Tennessee Department of Health.
Ramona Dew, Coordinated School Health specialist for KCS, said the event exceeded her expectations, and that she was struck by the number of students who returned to their schools with insightful ideas to prevent vaping.
“They’re thinking at the student level,” she said. “They’re seeing things with student eyes, and I think it’s very important as leaders that they are able to actually get out there and work with their classmates and be voices for them with the information that they heard.”
The summit featured a wide variety of informational sessions and activities. In addition to presentations about the dangers of addiction and the marketing strategies of vaping companies, students were also asked to identify “hot spots” at their schools, answering the question “WHO is doing WHAT WHERE?”
Donovan Washington, an 8th-grader at Holston Middle School, said he was struck by the fact that 1 Juul pod contains the same amount of nicotine as 20 cigarettes.
It’s important for students to lead, he said, “because they connect better to the school community. Because they’re younger and they actually know what’s going on, they can help more.”
According to the federal Centers for Disease Control, more than 2,600 cases of EVALI -- a lung disease linked to vaping -- have been reported as of this month, and 57 deaths have been confirmed.
In an effort to prevent vaping, KCS has implemented new protocols that go into effect on Jan. 13, including a two-day out-of-school suspension for a first offense. In addition, any vaping that contains THC will result in a mandatory 180-day out-of-school suspension.
The district is also working to promote education and awareness around the issue, including a contest to develop Public Service Announcements on the topic.
The summit aimed to equip students with the information and tools they need to make a difference in their schools, and Hardin Valley Middle School 7th-grader Abigail Smighelschi said it helped her understand the scope of the problem.
And what message would she bring back to her fellow students? “We should make smarter choices and just understand that vaping is bad for us, and it’s not cool to do it,” she said. “It’s cool not to do bad stuff and to be a role model to younger kids.”
Board Chair Shares Recipe
For Shortbread CookiesPosted by JOSH FLORY on 12/20/2019
As chair of the Knox County Board of Education, Susan Horn spends plenty of time visiting schools, leading board meetings and shaping policy for the school district.
But when she needs to unwind, Horn sometimes turns to a different kind of work. “I’m not the best cook in the world, but I can bake. It’s kind of a nice stress reliever. You have the science of baking and you end up with pretty predictable results, which I like.”
In preparation for the holidays, Hall Pass asked Horn to share one of her favorite recipes: Glazed Raspberry Almond Shortbread Cookies.
She said the recipe is a favorite of her mother-in-law, who makes the cookies for Christmas.
“I love the almond flavoring ... Anything that I bake, it never looks perfect,” Horn said. “So I love that these have the icing, because you can hide a lot of sins with a little bit of icing.”
2/3 cup sugar
1 cup butter
½ tsp. almond extract
2 cups all purpose flour
½ cup raspberry jam
1 cup confectioner sugar
½ tsp. almond extract
2-3 tsp. water
Combine sugar, butter and almond extract.
Beat at medium speed until creamy (2-3 minutes).
Reduce speed to low and add flour.
Beat until well mixed.
Cover and chill at least one hour.
Shape dough into 1” balls.
Place balls on cookie sheet 2” apart.
Make an indentation in center of each cookie.
Fill with about 1/8 tsp. jam.
Bake at 350 for 14-18 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. Let cookies cool completely.
Stir ingredients together with whisk.
Drizzle over cookies.
Makes about 3½ dozen
Karns Middle Students
To Perform With Chris BluePosted by JOSH FLORY on 12/18/2019
Musicians from Karns Middle School will perform for a good cause on Thursday night -- and in the process, they’ll share the stage with a pop star.
In September, the Songbirds Foundation provided 25 free guitars and accessories to Karns Middle, as part of a program that also provided guitars to five other Knox County schools.
In connection with that gift, the foundation sent Knoxville singer Chris Blue -- famous for winning Season 12 of “The Voice” -- to Karns Middle, where he performed and spoke to students from Chorus teacher Kami Lunsford’s class.
Not long after, Lunsford got a call from Blue’s manager, who had an exciting request: The singer wanted students to perform with him during a benefit concert at the Bijou Theatre on December 19.
Recalling the conversation later, Lunsford said she was standing in the hallway during a class change, and was so shocked that “it felt like all the noise in the hallway quit buzzing.”
“And I said as calmly as I could, ‘Sure, we would love to do that. I will take care of this.’ And then I hung up the phone and danced all the way back into the classroom. The kids didn’t know what was going on, they thought I lost my mind.”
The Bijou concert will raise money for the Songbirds Foundation “Guitars For Kids” program, and will feature music from Blue’s new album “Fresh Start.” On at least one of the songs, 25 students from Karns are scheduled to perform -- 15 as backup singers, and 10 as guitarists.
Evelyn McNeeley, an 8th-grader at Karns, will be one of the backup singers. During Blue’s visit to the school, she got to sing a solo -- a portion of the Ariana Grande song “Santa Tell Me” -- and McNeeley said Blue talked about the importance of following his dreams.
“I just feel like he has such confidence,” McNeeley said. “So I need to take some of that confidence that he has and put it in my own self and have confidence in what I do.”
The chance to perform at a venue like the Bijou should be a confidence-booster, for McNeeley and her classmates.
Noah Johnson, a 6th-grader at Karns, said he’s excited about the opportunity and also nervous, “because I’ve never really performed for such a big audience.”
Asked what advice he’s gotten from Ms. Lunsford, Johnson said “Practice a lot, make sure you have it right and stay calm.”
For her part, Lunsford is excited about the chance to support a program that has already benefited Karns, and she’s confident in her students.
“My kids are amazing,” she said. “They work really hard, they’re not afraid to do things, to put themselves out there and of course they love this whole thing.”
English Students Take On
Urban Planning ProjectPosted by JOSH FLORY on 12/11/2019
For a group of English 3 students at Central High School, a groundbreaking play was the gateway to a real-world project examining issues of community development and urban planning.
The catalyst for the project was “Raisin In The Sun,” which traces the journey of an African-American family in mid-20th-Century Chicago as they seek to move into an all-white neighborhood.
English teacher Andrea Menendez said the play focused on issues including racial segregation and that after reading it, she wanted students to think about how they could improve and support local neighborhoods and places.
With that in mind, students were asked to identify a local site that could be reorganized to improve the environment, promote community or combat segregation. While none of the projects focused specifically on race, Menendez said they did look at how to provide services to residents or attract new residents.
After researching the site, students presented detailed improvement strategies, including master plans, projected budgets and a written rationale.
“I just wanted to get students connected to their own communities,” Menendez said. “So much of the time in the classroom we get stuck with a certain text or with certain skills and objectives required by standardized testing, and this was a chance for them to make something that was relevant to them and that they could share with community members.”
On Friday, groups of students gathered in the library to present their proposals to an audience that included local government officials. The event included initiatives to renovate Fountain City’s Adair Park; redesign a shopping center on Merchant Drive; and revamp World’s Fair Park in downtown Knoxville.
11th-grader Lily Ewers was part of a group that focused on the creation of “Crossroads Park,” an eco-friendly space near the Knoxville Botanical Garden.
The site would include a playground with equipment made from recycled tires; rubber mulch; a new sidewalk and crosswalk; and the addition of plants and foliage.
Ewers said the park would strengthen the community, because “kids could play with each other, meet new friends, and it would connect them to nature and teach them about things they probably don’t know about.”
The group that focused on Adair Park recommended the installation of a vegetation buffer, which would improve water quality; reduce the impact of invasive aquatic plants; and attract bees and other pollinators.
George Sanger, an 11th-grader who was part of that group, said he learned about the workflow involved in such a project, with steps including researching the problem, identifying a solution and crafting a budget.
Sanger said he initially was skeptical about an urban planning project in English class, but that he ended up enjoying the chance to be creative. “I just had a really good time brainstorming and designing something that I think is really good and could do good in our community,” he said.
For her part, Menendez said the projects had a heavy element of research and writing, which made them a good fit for English students.
At the same time, the exposure to urban design may plant seeds for future careers. Dawn Michelle Foster, the City of Knoxville’s Director of Redevelopment, attended the event and came away impressed, saying the students could one day be future leaders in the city.
“They really researched well and they had a lot of ideas of creating sustainability measures and being environmentally sensitive and very eco-friendly for the city,” she said. “We need that to continue, and these are the young people that would do that for us.”