When Kacy Helton left the banking industry to become a business teacher at Fulton High School, the Falcons were already committed to career-oriented small learning communities.

So when Helton got an opportunity to help launch the 865 Academies at Carter High School, she jumped at the chance.

“Academies give so many opportunities for kids to do some really cool things,” Helton said. “I can literally go to Fulton kids that I’ve taught over the past four years and say ‘What are you doing now, what are the skills that you learned in high school that impacted you?’, and they can tell me.”

Last year, Helton returned to Carter, her alma mater, as a marketing teacher, and she now serves as the school’s Academy coach. Carter launched its Freshman Academy this year and will announce its career-oriented Academies and pathways in the coming months.

Academy coaches play a key role in the implementation of the initiative. They lead student ambassadors, coordinate campus and workplace visits, and serve as the school’s liaison to business and community partners.

For Helton, bridging the gap between classroom instruction and workplace success was a natural fit, given her journey as a self-described “non-educator educator.”

After graduating from Carter, she attended Walters State, Pellissippi State, and the University of Tennessee, eventually leaving school to get her real estate license in 2007. The financial crisis of 2008 nudged her out of real estate and into a position as a teller at Knoxville TVA Employees Credit Union, where she went on to become a corporate trainer.

In that role, she also worked with schools and students, including a project to help Carter set up a school store. She also resumed her college coursework, eventually earning a bachelor’s degree in Talent Development, before shifting gears to become a teacher and earning a master’s in education. 

Helton said she’s a firm believer in allowing students to get career and college experiences at an early age and said the Carter community has been excited and supportive about the Academies initiative. As the Hornets launch that journey, Helton has been busy with the transition from planning to implementation – shaping academy proposals, building student ambassador teams, advocating for CTE teachers, and more.

But in the midst of project management, her inspiration comes from opening doors for students: “I’m excited about giving these kids opportunities, that is my go-to … And I see so many potential experiences and opportunities coming out of Academies. My daughter is a freshman this year and I’m really excited that she’s at the beginning of this process.”

Want to support the work of the 865 Academies as a business or community partner? Visit knoxschools.org/academies to learn more!


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