Green Magnet’s New Outdoor Space Reflects STEAM Classroom Learning

Green Magnet’s New Outdoor Space Reflects STEAM Classroom Learning

During the pandemic, Green Magnet Academy Principal Jessica Holman expressed a need she saw for her school: a revitalized outdoor space that would match and support the high-quality STEAM education happening inside the classroom.

South-Doyle High graduate and The Boyd Foundation co-founder Randy Boyd jumped at the chance to support this endeavor. 

“We believe that health and play are incredibly important parts of a child’s education,” Boyd said. “We saw this as an opportunity to help make a difference in a school with the greatest need.”

The foundation generously donated $650,000 to support the project, a gift made in coordination with Knox Education Foundation

“I was blown away with the sheer generosity and genuine desire to help our school and community that he and his foundation had,” Holman said. 

When it came time to plan the space, the principal turned to the school community for input. Focus groups allowed students and stakeholders to give their voices to the design. 

The result was a beautiful three-quarter acre space with a play structure, swing sets, a full basketball court, a soccer field with full-sized goals, two running lanes, outdoor musical instruments, raised garden beds, and a shaded seating area. 

“I’m hopeful it’s the best playground in the county and maybe the state. These kids deserve it,” Boyd said. “I don’t know what part of the playground the children will like the most, but I’m excited for them to go and watch them choose for themselves.”

Holman’s favorite feature is not the play equipment, but the mural. 

“The detail of how the artist had woven in those STEAM elements into the illustrations and depictions of students that actually look like our students,” she said. “He was able to capture that sense of wonder and discovery that our students see every day in our classrooms having that STEAM-integrated learning.”

The mural paints such a realistic picture of the student body that a girl approached the artist during recess one day and asked, “Are you painting me? That looks like me.”

“That’s exactly what I want the kids to feel like and to know that they were the inspiration behind this,” Holman said.

KCS Receives National Recognition As A Supportive Employer To Reservists And Guardsmen

KCS Receives National Recognition As A Supportive Employer To Reservists And Guardsmen

This summer, KCS received news that the district has been chosen as a recipient of the U.S. DOD’s ESGR 2023 Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award

Representatives of KCS, including Superintendent Dr. Jon Rysewyk and Interim Assistant Superintendent of Business and Talent Jennifer Hemmelgarn, traveled to Washington, D.C. this week to be formally recognized and accept the award at the Pentagon. 

The individual who nominated KCS for the award is a Hardin Valley Academy social studies teacher and a Major in the Tennessee Army National Guard. 

Mjr. Michael Hicks has “taught for 10 years in Knox County Schools and have been placed on orders or had extensive drill weekends multiple times,” he said. “They have given me and my family 100% support while serving my country and are very deserving of Employer Support Freedom Award recognition.”

Dr. J.D. Faulconer, now the principal at Kelley Volunteer Academy, previously worked as a CTE specialist who oversaw the JROTC programs in the district. 

Faulconer believes that hiring military members is a mutually beneficial relationship. Reservists and Guardsmen receive support from the district, and the schools receive highly skilled teachers.

“They want to be a servant leader, they know how to work as a team, and they know what collaboration looks like,” he said. “They know what grit and determination and resiliency look like in the classroom, and right now that’s what our teachers need. I think that’s what Mjr. Hicks brings to the table, and I think that’s what a lot of our veterans bring to the table.”

The ESGR, or Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve office, states the Freedom Award is the highest recognition given by the U.S. government to employers for their support of Guardsmen and Reservists. 

Only 15 employers are chosen out of thousands of applicants each year, and KCS is the only school district to earn the distinction this year. 

“If we have veterans coming out of military service and looking to continue to make an impact and they are working for a school district that is now known to support Guard members and Reservists, I think it’s a win-win for being able to recruit,” Faulconer said. “And not only recruit but retain wonderful educators.”

Teacher Spotlight: Farragut MS’s McCallie Finds Real-World Connections For Students

Teacher Spotlight: Farragut MS’s McCallie Finds Real-World Connections For Students


As a young girl, Addie McCallie would often play “teacher,” mirroring what she saw her father do for almost 35 years. With both of her parents working in the school system, McCallie knew she wanted to follow in her dad’s footsteps and become an educator.

Now in the thirteenth year of her career and fresh off a move to Knoxville from Chattanooga, she is finding her footing as she starts her first year at KCS and at Farragut Middle School as a sixth-grade science teacher

One thing she hopes to continue from her previous school is providing meaningful partnerships with professionals in the field.

“In the past, I was fortunate enough to connect with UGA’s small satellite research lab. My students were able to develop and print 3D models of their own cube satellites,” she said. “I’m hoping to partner with the zoo in our current work with my students. They’re going to be creating products based on orangutans in Indonesia, so I would love for them to actually be able to display their work.”

Working with professionals and providing connections between classroom content and career fields is a large part of the 865 Academies’ goal of preparing students for life after high school. Introducing real-world professions to students in middle school is essential for students to begin thinking about post-secondary plans.

McCallie’s path to middle school science was full of twists that placed her exactly where she needed to be.

Initially planning to teach high school math, it was one of her college professors who guided her in a different direction. 

“He taught science instruction, so how to teach science to middle school. All of a sudden, everything just started clicking,” she said. “I remember learning those things in middle school, but it didn’t make sense until I realized this is how you teach it, and this is how you teach it well.”

She also has a soft spot for her sixth-grade students. McCallie pivoted to the middle school path after spending a weekend with students of that age at a church youth retreat, and she’s “never looked back.”

“Middle schoolers are the best,” she said. “I was surprised at how articulate and clever they were and fell in love with their eagerness to learn.”

McCallie recently reflected on why she chose this profession, and she narrowed it down to two main reasons.

“It really comes down to believing that all children should have access to free and high-quality education, and all of us, all of the adults, all of my colleagues, should be able to empower and encourage each other as we’re working together to make all of our students successful,” she said. “Finding places where I can get some rest and also encourage others is really where I find my energy.”

Knox County Schools is committed to ensuring there are Great Educators in Every School. Know someone who should be recognized for next month’s Teacher Spotlight? Reach out to Kaleigh Cortez at

Dine Out For Education Kicks Off 20th Year

Dine Out For Education Kicks Off 20th Year

The 20th annual Partners in Education Foundation’s (PIE) Dine Out for Education fundraiser will be held on Tuesday, Aug. 29 for members of the community to purchase meals from local participating restaurants to benefit Knox County Schools.

Eateries that have partnered with PIE for this fundraiser have pledged to donate 10% of their total food sales for the day which will fund school needs, such as technology, professional development, and playground equipment. 

“We want to be a good partner to these restaurants, who are giving 10% of the day’s take, and then be able to tell the public that we have no overhead at PIE. This is all voluntary, so it’s dollar-for-dollar,” said PIE President Adam Wilson. “Every dollar that comes in goes right back to the schools.”

This year, a new component to the fundraiser adds a little friendly competition with a chance to win $500 and a staff pizza party. 

Participants are encouraged to follow the Partners in Education’s Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter pages, share a photo dining out, tag PIE, and mention their school. The votes will be tallied to determine the two schools with the most votes, which will receive the prizes. 

“I think it brings out that fun, competitive spirit,” Wilson said.

Last year’s event pulled in around $20,000, and PIE was able to fund teacher morale programs, purchase gym equipment, and replace outdated handheld two-way radio sets. 

A full list of school needs that may be funded through Dine Out for Education can be found here, and more information on the fundraiser can be found here.

KCS would also like to thank the sponsors of this event: Graphic Creations, Knoxville TVA Employee Credit Union, First Horizon, Adam Wilson Realty, American Fidelity, and Mountain Commerce Bank.

Two New Preschools Open In Knox County

Two New Preschools Open In Knox County

Knox County Schools serves tens of thousands of students every year, from three years old in preschool to seniors in high school. This year, two new preschools have been established as standalone schools to help serve the youngest members of the KCS community. 

Separating a preschool from an elementary school means a preschool-specific principal is added to the staff, the number of classrooms available increases to serve more students, and the district is able to make a more targeted effort to support early learners.

Cedar Bluff Preschool, which used to be part of Cedar Bluff Elementary, is being led by principal April Partin. Jason Harris is overseeing Karns Preschool, formerly with Karns Elementary, as principal. Several elementary schools in the district also have preschools that are operated as a singular entity under one principal.

The new preschools are a step toward achieving Excellence in Foundational Skills, one of the district’s Four Priorities.

“I do have some early literacy background that when I was a teacher to learn and focus on literacy,” Partin said. “How the brain develops in its foundational years has always been important to me as a person, as a teacher, as a mom. There’s so many levels of that, that I feel this spotlight on literacy values all of those experiences with preschool.”

Introducing foundational literacy to students at this age is laying the groundwork as they prepare for kindergarten. 

Preschool supervisor Beth Lackey explained, “We are working on letters and letter sounds, and how sounds work together to make words, and answering questions, and building vocabulary, and learning to love books.” She continued, “All of those things set them up for success because if we want kids to read on grade level in third grade, we know we need to start early.”

The new preschools also aim to promote growth in other areas of students’ lives, including a behavior liaison who has been added to school staff to promote social-emotional growth in students. Preschool-aged children experience significant brain development and providing a space to learn social skills is essential.

“Going through these skills like working with kids on how to open this, how to ask for help, how to sit your bottom in the chair, how to be in a big group,” Harris said. “Everything we do here, the teachers are involved. They’re interacting with kids on the playground, in breakfast, in lunch, in small groups. No one’s left by themselves doing a worksheet.”

Preschool classrooms are designed to foster rich, social learning. Tables are arranged in groups, and “centers” house interactive materials to teach math and literacy. Brightly colored posters line the walls and stuffed chameleons accompany the Connect 4 Learning curriculum that has been adopted by the preschools.

“It is a STEM-based curriculum, so our students are learning how to think like scientists,” Lackey said. 

Being a brand-new school also means principals are looking for community partners to donate time or supplies and create a mutually beneficial relationship in the community. 

“We want to work together,” Harris said. “It truly does take a village.”

If you are interested in learning more about preschool at KCS or you are ready to register your student, email Beth Lackey at

More information can be found at

KCS is committed to Excellence in Foundational Skills and highlighting the people who do incredible work in our district. Know someone who should be featured in Hall Pass for their dedication to the district’s Four Priorities? Submit their name and story to