Bearden Student Aces
Entrance Exam ... Twice!Posted by JOSH FLORY on 10/29/2021
After earning a perfect composite score on the ACT exam, a Bearden High School student had an impressive encore -- a perfect score on the SAT!
Lydia Pulsinelli is a senior at Bearden, and stellar academic performance is only a part of her resume. She has also participated in theater, played on the Ultimate Frisbee team for four years, and serves as president of the Latin Club.
But her performance on the two college entrance exams puts her in rare company among high school students.
Pulsinelli said she took several practice tests to prepare, adding that when she takes a high-stakes test, “I just sort of go into a different mental zone, just really focused for those few hours. And then I come out of it and can barely remember what just happened.”
In her spare time, the senior enjoys hiking and gardening and said she is aiming for a career in agricultural science or a similar field. In the meantime, she is applying to colleges including the University of Wisconsin, the University of Vermont, Cornell University and the University of Washington.
Pulsinelli cited the influence of her teachers at Bearden, including Sandy Hughes, for Latin and Medieval Studies; Tonya Henke, for Environmental Science; Chris Taylor, for AP U.S. History; and Tim Vacek, for AP Seminar.
She said she particularly likes classes that combine learning and fun, adding that “In general, I enjoy school.”
Lighting Upgrade Saves Energy,
Helps Student-Athletes ShinePosted by JOSH FLORY on 10/7/2021
A project that aims to save energy and improve lighting for Knox County students is making a visible difference at high schools across the county.
Earlier this year, the Board of Education approved a proposal from Trane Technologies to convert school lighting to LED technology, using new and retrofitted fixtures. The $26.1 million project is fully self-funded through guaranteed utility and operational savings, and will replace existing lighting in classrooms, parking lots and other settings.
Perhaps the highest-profile change has come at athletic fields. Replacement lighting has now been installed at most of the district’s stadiums, and has not only resulted in improved visibility, but also provides additional features to promote school spirit.
Unlike traditional stadium lights which need to warm up, the LED system can be turned on and off immediately. The new system can also provide light-show style displays with multiple colors and patterns.
Clark Duncan, football coach and athletic director at South-Doyle High School, said the quality of the Trane system was immediately noticeable, especially compared to the previous system.
“There were times on our field that there were dark spots, at times it wasn’t lit well enough,” Duncan said. “We were told that the new system was going to be like daytime, and oh my gosh, it’s just like daytime. It’s like noon at nine o’clock. It’s amazing how well you can see.”
At South-Doyle, School Security Officer Michael Cain has worked with student leaders who asked to implement a light show after the third quarter of football games. With approval from administrators, students pick a song that is played as part of the display.
Cain said student attendance has risen this year, adding that “To me it makes Friday nights even better.”
Ultimately, of course, the lighting project is all about reducing energy consumption and providing savings for schools across the district -- even on the football field.
Zane Foraker, energy manager for Knox County Schools, said that instead of turning stadium lights on several hours before a game, coaches can now wait until they’re needed. After games, they can be automated to turn off at midnight. Most important, he said, is the cost savings from lower energy use.
“This is paid for with the energy savings. So over the term of the contract Knox County is not spending any money on these, they pay for themselves.”
Powell High Earns
Renaissance RecognitionPosted by JOSH FLORY on 10/5/2021
An effort to build positivity has resulted in national recognition for a Knox County high school.
Powell High School was recently designated a Platinum-level School of Distinction by the Jostens Renaissance program, which celebrates schools that are making a positive impact on their climate and culture.
Beth Mooney, a science teacher and Renaissance faculty sponsor, said PHS has participated in the Renaissance program for more than two decades, but has renewed its focus on the initiative recently.
Renaissance emphasizes six R-themed priorities: respect, recognize, reward, reinforce, relationships and results. To that end, Mooney said Powell sponsors a variety of activities, including pep rallies, positive messages and events such as Winter Wishes, in which every Powell student receives a holiday gift before Winter Break.
To earn the Platinum distinction, Powell met 14 benchmarks, in areas including social media messaging; recognition of students and faculty; and a commitment to graduation.
Mooney said PHS teachers and staff are focused on students, adding that “We want to make this an inclusive place and promote a family feel where everyone is welcome.”
Vision Team Makes
A Difference For StudentsPosted by JOSH FLORY on 10/5/2021
On a recent morning at Sterchi Elementary, Janet French took a one-page sheet of writing exercises and scanned them into her computer.
After making sure the worksheet was correct, she entered a command and a staccato noise like a miniature jackhammer rang out from a nearby printer, as embossed pages unfurled from the device.
Several minutes later, French retrieved a six-page sheet of double-spaced braille pages from the printer, ready for use by a student at the school.
While the KCS Vision Department is a relatively small portion of the district’s overall workforce, braillists like French -- along with KCS teachers of the visually impaired and orientation & mobility specialists -- have a huge impact for approximately 150 blind or low-vision students in Knox County.
Mandi Taylor, a teacher of the visually impaired, said those students can use a wide range of tools that vary in degrees of technological complexity.
At one end of the spectrum are simple magnifying tools, such as a half-sphere “dome magnifier” for books or a telescope-like monocular to assist with viewing material at a distance, such as writing on a classroom whiteboard.
Digital tools are also available, such as closed-circuit TV devices that can display written material or the image of a teacher on a digital screen.
Braille -- a tactile writing system of raised dots on paper -- is also an important resource. Sterchi is one of four district schools with dedicated braille stations, along with Farragut Middle, Carter High and South-Doyle High.
The braille system is utilized in a variety of ways. Students can use braille flashcards to practice math facts or other memorization tasks, and a tactical graphics kit can help teachers create materials by hand.
More advanced tools include the “Jaws” screen reader, which can read on-screen text out loud, and even a BrailleNote Touch tablet, in which braille dots pop up along a narrow strip at the bottom of the tablet as users scroll through material.
Learning to read braille can take two years, and Taylor said the tools used by students may change over time, especially as they get older and take on different challenges.
Lauren Switzer, a teacher and orientation / mobility specialist, said the department works to identify the right tool for each student’s particular needs and goals, adding that the overall objective is for students “to have enormous tool kits to pull from in the right situation.”
The Vision Department includes two braillists, nine itinerant specialists / teachers and a team of vision technicians who travel to schools and conduct vision assessments.
In many cases, the employees who work in the department were drawn to their jobs after an experience of working with a vision-impaired person. Taylor said she was an elementary teacher who worked with two children who had vision impairments, including one who was learning braille -- “It blew my mind, and I just became interested in the process,” she said.
Switzer was pursuing a career in physical therapy, but reconsidered after working with a woman who was blind. “I enjoyed how my brain had to work a little bit differently, I had to be more creative,” she said.
The work can also create a close bond with students. French, who creates braille materials, has even been invited to the weddings of former students.
Summer Tucker, special education supervisor for KCS, said the work is rewarding in part because its impact goes beyond the classroom.
“You are giving students skills that are going to help them in life,” she said.
Boyd Foundation Gift
Will Benefit Green MagnetPosted by JOSH FLORY on 9/23/2021
The Boyd Foundation announced Tuesday that it will provide a $650,000 gift to reimagine the outdoor learning space at Green Magnet Academy.
The gift was made in coordination with Knox Education Foundation and will allow several upgrades to the school’s existing 0.75-acre outdoor space, including:
-- An outdoor classroom;
-- A performance stage;
-- A maker space;
-- An 8-foot-wide asphalt track;
-- A playing surface for full-court basketball and four-square;
-- A play structure;
-- A shaded area; and
-- Seating options including benches and tables.
“The Boyd Foundation is excited to partner with Green Magnet and Principal Holman to reimagine the outdoor space for its students,” said Randy Boyd, president and co-founder of the Boyd Foundation. “Imaginative play, recess and outdoor learning are critical components to a child’s overall development. Promoting fun and a healthy lifestyle, we hope this new outdoor space is utilized by Green Magnet students for years to come.”
“Support from community partners plays an essential role in our educational mission,” said Superintendent Bob Thomas. “The Boyd Foundation and the Boyd family have been extremely generous to Knox County Schools for many years, and I am grateful for their passion about a new outdoor learning space at Green Magnet Academy.”
The project was designed by Hedstrom Landscape Architecture, and is expected to be completed by the Fall of 2022.
“I never would have imagined that a project like this was a possibility for our school,” said Green principal Jessica Holman. “Reimagining our outdoor space will be a huge blessing for our students, and I am very thankful for the Boyd family’s willingness to invest in the GMA school community.”
“We are thrilled that we were able to facilitate this incredible collaboration to transform the learning environment for students at Green Magnet,” said Knox Education Foundation CEO Chris Letsos. “The Boyd's investment will truly make a lasting impact at Green, and throughout our East Knoxville community.”
WWE Superstar Bianca Belair
Visits Austin-EastPosted by JOSH FLORY on 9/17/2021
Students from Austin-East Magnet High School enjoyed a celebrity visit to kick off Homecoming weekend.
At a school pep rally on Thursday, WWE Superstar and A-E graduate Bianca Belair made a surprise visit, in advance of her appearance at the Friday Night Smackdown event at Thompson-Boling Arena on Sept. 17.
Belair graduated from Austin-East in 2007 and went on to a standout career as a track athlete at the University of Tennessee before joining WWE in 2016. She has emerged as a star this year, winning WWE’s Royal Rumble event in January and the Smackdown Women’s Championship at WrestleMania 37 in April.
Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs, who performed with WWE as Kane, also made an appearance at Thursday’s pep rally, wearing blue-and-red socks in honor of the Roadrunners.
Belair told students that she loved being a student at Austin-East, and wouldn’t have achieved her success without the school.
In an interview, Belair said the thing she remembers most about her alma mater was the camaraderie, adding that “I always say I’m 2800 made” – a reference to the school’s address at 2800 Martin Luther King, Jr., Avenue.
“I’m really just pushing the message for (students), don’t forget where you come from, be proud of where you come from, but strive for greatness,” she said. “Because if you come from Austin-East, greatness lives inside of you.”
Adrian Burnett Elementary
Honors Former TeacherPosted by JOSH FLORY on 9/17/2021
Margrett Hunt was a passionate advocate for reading, and that legacy will be carried on at Adrian Burnett Elementary School.
This month, the school unveiled a rocking chair in honor of Hunt, who retired in 2017 and passed away in July after a struggle with Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease.
Teachers and former teachers from ABES raised money for the “reader rocker”, which will be part of the school library.
Dottie McComas, who retired from the school in 2016, said Hunt would often decorate the school library for reading celebrations, with themes including a medieval castle and a spaceship.
For the annual Read Across America Day, Hunt would dress as a book character, donning a Mary Poppins costume one year and another year appearing as “Thing 1”, from “The Cat in the Hat.”
“She loved reading and a lot of her children excelled in reading because of the enthusiasm that she inspired in them,” McComas said.
At a ceremony on Sept. 9, members of Hunt’s family came to celebrate the new rocking chair, including her husband, daughter, a niece and a grandson.
McComas said a group of retired ABES teachers meets once a month, and helped to raise money for the chair. They also helped raise money for the CJD Foundation, which supports patients and families affected by Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease and helps fund research.
Stephanie Prince, the principal of ABES, said Hunt had a passion for teaching that was contagious, and always kept the school staff on their toes: “Having this rocking chair in our library is the perfect way to honor her, and we are looking forward to taking it to our new building next year.”
District Breaks Ground
On New Elementary SchoolPosted by JOSH FLORY on 9/16/2021
Knox County Schools on Friday, Sept. 10, held a groundbreaking ceremony for a new elementary school in Northwest Knox County.
The 124,000-square-foot building will have capacity for approximately 1,200 students and is expected to be completed prior to the fall semester of 2023. It will include:
- 56 classrooms;
- 3 teacher work areas;
- 2 special education classrooms and support spaces;
- 2 music rooms;
- 2 art rooms;
- a library;
- a 6,700-square-foot gymnasium with a stage; and
- an ICC-500 compliant storm shelter that will house approximately 1,320 occupants.
“Hardin Valley and Karns are growing rapidly, and a new elementary school is an important investment for the families who live in these communities,” said Superintendent Bob Thomas. “This state-of-the-art school building will help students in northwest Knox County achieve academic success and support the work of our outstanding educators.”
“Knox County is committed to creating opportunities for everyone to thrive in an engaged and vibrant community,” said Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs. “One of the ways we do that is ensuring that every child has access to a great education in a great school. This project is much-needed in the Hardin Valley and Karns communities and I’m glad that it is finally underway.”
The new school is estimated to cost $24.2 million and will be located at 10515 Coward Mill Road. The Christman Company is the contractor and The Lewis Group Architects is the architect.
“This is such an exciting time for our growing community,” said 6th District Board of Education representative Betsy Henderson. “Building a new school for us has been one of my top priorities on the Board, and even more important is building an amazing school culture to ensure our kids have a warm, welcoming place to learn. I look forward to celebrating a ribbon-cutting when this school opens in 2023.”
Carter High Celebrates
New Welding LabPosted by JOSH FLORY on 8/26/2021
Students at Carter High School will have more opportunities for hands-on experience in a highly sought after career path, thanks to a new facility that opened this week.
On Aug. 26, Carter celebrated the ribbon-cutting on a 3,600-square-foot welding lab, a facility that includes:
-- 10 self-ventilating welding booths;
-- 10 multi-process welders that allow students to practice a variety of welding techniques;
-- one welder that is specific to aluminum welding;
-- and a plasma table with a 4-by-8-foot bed that allows students to create two-dimensional designs out of sheet steel or other metals.
In addition to those tools, students will have access to a variety of gas-powered cutting torches and other hand tools.
Carter principal Angie Messer said students are thrilled about the new lab, and that welding classes at the school always have a waiting list.
“Some of our students that are here will go into leadership in this industry, and some of them will be welders forever,” she said. “The beauty of the program is it provides pathways for all.”
The ribbon-cutting ceremony included comments from KCS Assistant Superintendent Jon Rysewyk; Director of Career and Technical Education Keith Wilson; Amy Nolan, Vice President of Regional Enhancement for the Knoxville Chamber; and Sharon Shanks, Director of Community Based Initiatives for Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs.
11th-grade student Kaleb Harper said he is currently planning to attend a four-year college, but has enjoyed the welding program as a break from traditional academic coursework.
“I do know there’s money to be made in welding, because there’s a lot of jobs available,” he added. “So I have a back-up plan.”
New Murals Aim To InspirePosted by Josh Flory on 8/13/2021
Students at two district schools were greeted with large-scale artwork when they returned to classes this week!
At Austin-East Magnet High, artist Eugenia Almeida used a technique in which concrete is applied with a trowel and covered with a non-reactive plaster, giving a textured look to a new mural in the school’s front lobby.
Almeida is the grandparent of a student at Austin-East, and she moved to the U.S. from Argentina 35 years ago. The artist said she learned English through friendships and being part of a community, and that she is grateful for the chance to give back.
The mural features students climbing a mountain, and is decorated with inspiring words, including the Spanish-language word for “family” and the word “Upendo”, which is Swahili for “Love.”
“I think the meaning is that we have to help each other to come to the top,” Almeida said. “It’s not one person, it’s a community.”
The mural’s installation coincides with the appointment of new Austin-East principal Tammi Campbell, who was named to that role this summer. Campbell said it was important for the mural to represent the school’s inclusiveness and resilience. “We all will have some challenges,” she said. “But at the end, we always rise. Roadrunners rise!”
At Beaumont Magnet Academy, meanwhile, teacher Daniel Adame created a mural called “Unspeakable Gift” that was unveiled at the school’s Meet The Teacher event.
The mural includes state symbols such as a mockingbird, an iris and a ladybug, and Adame said in an artist’s statement that the mural is “inspired by the wall’s scale, Tennessee’s geography, and the biology of the state.”