Members of the Knox County community gathered on Friday for a “Lunch and Learn” discussion at Pellissippi State Community College, a conversation that focused on awareness and advocacy of foundational literacy.
The Lunch and Learn series was initiated by KCS Board of Education Member Betsy Henderson in partnership with Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs, the Knox County Education Foundation, and tnAchieves, to focus on current themes in education, both locally and statewide.
“The issues we’re hearing a lot this year are focused on literacy and foundational literacy,” Henderson said. “We wanted to focus on that, especially with Dr. Rysewyk’s priority on foundational skills. That’s one thing that personally, as a mom, is important to me.”
Panelists for Friday’s event included Department of Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn, KCS Executive Director for Learning and Literacy Dr. Erin Phillips, and SCORE Chief K-12 Impact Officer Dr. Sharon Roberts.
Phillips addressed the technical side of how students can increase their knowledge to build literacy, saying it’s important for them to master the foundational skills that pave the way for understanding more complex material.
Schwinn emphasized the importance of the group effort that is needed for building literacy, that goes beyond the classroom and into the home.
“Really strong early literacy instruction is so engaging,” Schwinn said. “Part of early literacy, part of teaching is really that partnership between the child and his or her teacher, the partnership of his or her teacher and the parent, and how together, we can crack the code.”
The goal of the event is to be more than just a luncheon where attendees learn from the panelists, but also to challenge community members with specific action items.
“Read as much as you can on this topic,” Roberts said. “Become as knowledgeable as you can on this topic. Read to children. I would encourage us to read on varying topics to build their knowledge.”
The next Lunch and Learn will likely focus on teacher recruitment and retention, and all events are open to the public.
Read City USA kicked off its 2023 one million-hour reading challenge this week with a concert at the Historic Bijou Theater.
Read City, an initiative launched in 2018 by Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs in partnership with the Knox County Public Library to promote literacy, announced its theme for the year: “All Together Now.”
“I’m excited to bring this event to the community as a celebration of reading,” Jacobs said. “We’re working with groups, businesses, schools, and families to illustrate Knox County’s commitment to literacy.”
The concert featured the “Read City Band,” a group composed of UT jazz students performing big band standards, which was led by UT Professor of Music Keith Brown.
A dance team from Go! Contemporary Danceworks performed a classic jazz-style dance throughout the event, and even transformed into dancing elephants for a musical storytime with the mayor. Jacobs read The Elephant’s Music by Monika Filipina.
New York Times bestselling illustrator Daniel Wiseman also joined on stage for an art demonstration.
“The key to reading is to read a little every day – that’s discipline,” Jacobs said. “And finding books you love; that’s the other key.”
More information and resources about Read City 2023: All Together Now can be found here.
Bearden High School senior Vladimir Serov is the first student in Knox County Schools to receive four certifications from CompTIA, one of the IT industry’s top trade associations.
Bearden math and cybersecurity teacher Dr. Tim Cathcart affectionately calls these certifications the “Core Four,” which includes ITF+, A+, Network+, and Security+. The exams cover a range of IT, hardware, and software basics for those getting started in the field.
Serov took the first exam in the spring semester of 2022.
“I crammed about 40 hours’ worth of video into three or four days. The test was the day after that,” he said. “I passed with a significant margin, which was surprising.”
Serov went on to pass the remaining exams during the year. He completed a fifth test, Linux+, in December.
CTE specialist Chris Tucker, who helped implement the partnership with CompTIA, is proud that Serov’s hard work has paid off.
“I see a very bright future for Vlad, but if there are other students that see this, I’m hopeful that they are encouraged that it is doable,” Tucker said.
Serov echoed Tucker’s hopes, saying, “I had no experience, no skill, which means that anyone can do the same thing I did.”
Serov and other classmates who are also working toward certifications recommended signing up for a computer science class or joining a cyber club or a CyberPatriot team for students who may be interested in the field but are unsure of where to start.
The CTE department is working to add computer science classes to more high schools in the district in coming years to accommodate the growing interest in the field.
“Knox County and Chris Tucker are really doing a good job of getting the word out to individual schools,” Stephen Schneiter, CompTIA’s Instructor Network Program Manager, said. “Bearden is really taking the lead on it.”
Earning certifications in high school, no matter the industry, helps students find employment in a high-wage and in-demand profession post-graduation.
“These certifications give you a leg up on life, and they help you be able to maximize your potential as a contributing member of society,” Cathcart said. “They are hopefully getting a better start in life.”
Bearden’s success in this field could be attributed to Cathcart’s passion for his students and Tucker’s work to establish partnerships with organizations in the industry.
Andy Benson, a senior who has passed three exams and is working toward his fourth certification in the “Core Four,” is thankful for his teacher.
“I think what Dr. Cathcart is doing is amazing,” Benson said. “I didn’t even think of computer science as something I wanted to go into until last year. He’s such a great teacher that I think I might be doing this as a job in the future.”
Cathcart came to Bearden after 32 years in the Air Force. Following his retirement from the military, he began looking for an opportunity to continue to serve in his community.
This opportunity was found in the classroom.
Local industry partners have also volunteered their time in the classroom to “light a fire in those individuals,” Tucker said.
These partnerships have also provided grants and funding, vouchers for students’ exams, and testing spaces.
Two students from Beaumont Magnet Academy are sharing the stage this month, playing the role of Tiny Tim in The Christmas Carol at the Clarence Brown Theater.
These young actors, second grader Penny Peterson and third grader Golden Littlejohn, are no strangers to performing in front of crowds.
“I’ve done a pre-show in my dad’s play, The Little Prince,” Peterson said. “Before the show started, I played in the sand with the character toys.”
Her mother, Amelia, directed this year’s musical at the Clarence Brown Theater, and her father, Joshua, is the Founding Artistic Director for the River & Rail Theatre Company.
Littlejohn has performed in school plays at Beaumont. Most recently, the school presented a show called The Greatest Snowman, a spin-off to the 2017 musical film The Greatest Showman. The year before, he was in the ensemble for The Great Big Holiday Bake Off.
“While I was doing it I was a little nervous,” Littlejohn said of his audition, set up by Beaumont theater teacher Amanda Taylor. “When I’m nervous and singing or doing a monologue, I just go faster.”
Both students were offered the role and began rehearsing in October. The pair take turns starring in the 28 performances that run from November 23 through December 18.
“We have to stay up late for some of them. We have to miss school for some of them,” Peterson said. “My favorite scene I do is the Cratchit scene because that’s Tiny Tim, and that’s the main character I play.”
Outside of performing, the students are active in their school. Littlejohn participated in the school spelling bee and is a Beaumont Ambassador.
“The first person I escorted around the school was the Superintendent,” he said with a proud smile.
Both are thankful for the unique opportunities they have on and off the stage.
“It’s been a really good experience of learning, but also a fun theater experience that not a lot of kids get to do,” Littlejohn said.
As Knox County Schools works to strengthen ties between the district and local communities, a new initiative was launched this week to help foster engagement.
On Nov. 29 and 30, Superintendent Dr. Jon Rysewyk met with the newly created Superintendent’s Council on Accelerated Learning.
The committee includes teachers, administrators, families, business leaders, higher education partners, and nonprofit leaders. Their goal is to provide insight and guidance from diverse perspectives about the district’s operations, while also serving as champions and advocates for KCS.
In particular, council members will help develop action plans to implement the district’s four priorities:
Excellence in Foundational Skills;
Great Educators in Every School;
Career Empowerment and Preparation; and
Success for Every Student.
The goal of this committee is “to be purposeful” and identify opportunities and shortcomings in each priority and develop detailed action plans on how to improve the district within these categories, Rysewyk said.
The Council will continue to meet throughout the school year to consider major items in each priority.
“With the knowledge and context we’re going to provide for you, give us your input and ideas,” Rysewyk told Council members. “Educating kids is not just the school system’s job. We all have to figure out as a community how we’re going to do that.”
The Council is not the only new group formed to help advise on the future of Knox County Schools.
Teacher Councils and Family and Community Councils were also created in each region to provide information-sharing and consultation between families and district leaders around items that impact schools, communities, and students. A Principal Advisory Council and CEO Champions Council will also advise the Superintendent directly.
Beauford Delaney grew up in Knoxville and went on to achieve international acclaim as one of the great modernist painters of the 20th Century.
In many ways, his achievements were more widely recognized outside of Knoxville than they were locally. But a group of local activists and advocates is helping to make sure his legacy – and that of Joseph Delaney, his younger brother and fellow artist – are acknowledged and celebrated in his hometown.
Beauford Delaney was born in a house on Vine Street in 1901, one of 10 children born to Samuel and Delia Delaney. Rev. Reneé Kesler, president of the Beck Cultural Exchange Center, said he went on to attend “Knoxville Colored High School”, a successor to Austin High, and was encouraged in his artistic efforts by principal Charles Cansler.
Kesler said Delia Delaney was among the first to recognize her sons’ potential, adding that during church services, Beauford and Joseph would draw on Sunday School cards.
But Kesler also emphasized the importance of educators such as Cansler. “You can never underestimate the power of our teachers and of our educators,” she said. “We applaud them because they see things in the students that no one else can see … And I think it made the difference in the life of both Beauford and Joseph, of these educators who took a sincere interest in them.”
Beauford Delaney’s talent was later recognized by Knoxville painter Lloyd Branson, who served as a mentor and helped him attend art school in Boston. Delaney went on to live in New York and later in Paris, where he died in 1979.
David Butler, executive director of the Knoxville Museum of Art, said Delaney has a huge international reputation with a strong market for his work. “Black artists in general, their market has really risen dramatically in the last decade or so,” Butler said. “And we’re kind of rewriting our history, understanding it in a much more complete way. It’s a much more diverse story than we used to think, and a much more diverse cast of characters. Black artists like Beauford were overlooked and ignored in many cases just because of who they were.”
In 2020, KMA hosted a major exhibition of Delaney’s work called “Beauford Delaney and James Baldwin: Through the Unusual Door”, which focused on the artist’s relationship with Baldwin, the writer well-known for his books and essays about race in America.
Delaney’s work has also been in the spotlight nationally. In October, New York Times critic Roberta Smith reviewed an exhibition at the Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, in New York, and wrote in her review that Delaney’s work “is one of the signal achievements of 20th-century American art.”
And beyond the works themselves, local leaders have been working to ensure that the Delaney family’s legacy is remembered.
The Beck Center – which documents African-American history in Knoxville – in August held a groundbreaking for a new museum at 1935 Dandridge Avenue. The site is located next door to the Beck Center and includes a residence that was purchased by Samuel Emery Delaney – the older brother of Beauford and Joseph – and served as the family’s home after Beauford and Joseph had left Knoxville. The Beck Center purchased the property in 2015, and is planning to restore it.
Kesler, the Beck Center’s president, said that even after Beauford Delaney moved to Paris, he carried Knoxville in his heart.
“I think today he’s going to be a model for a lot of our students to say that we can embrace great talent,” she added. “And bringing his name here to Knoxville and showcasing him here, my hope is to inspire other young artists and creators and students that no matter what the odds, what the challenges, that your gift can be celebrated and encouraged.”