The Knox County Principal for a Day event is a time-honored tradition, where school administrators open their doors to community leaders to experience a day in the life of a KCS principal and create partnerships with area leaders.
Over the course of the day, guests may have visited classrooms to observe high-quality teaching and learning, sit in on staff meetings to become immersed in the school culture, or speak to students about their industry experiences.
“We had a great time with our guests highlighting the amazing work that my staff and students do on a daily basis,” said New Hopewell ElementaryPrincipalSarah Mercer.
A local business professional and an individual running for office spent the day in the South Knoxville school learning from the teachers and providing their expertise.
“We spoke to our partners regarding some of New Hopewell’s current needs, and it was great to hear their perspectives,” Mercer said.
The needs of KCS schools are all different, but many lack volunteers for service projects, funding for positive behavior incentives, or staff to fill support positions. Some needs – like new equipment for gym class or bringing lunch for teachers – can be easily accomplished with the help of a generous person, while others – like a building expansion – take an entire community working together with a conscious effort to make change for their local kids.
Savannah Price, a real estate agent, said she couldn’t wait to form this partnership with NHES, as her own children will one day attend the school.
“I really want to focus on the whole ‘bloom where you’re planted’ concept,” Price said. “I’m already thinking of all the things I can do in this partnership, like encouraging people to participate in a drive for supplies, or we could sponsor a program, or get the community to rally around our schools, which is a really big deal.”
Following a day at school, principals and their guests attended a luncheon and feedback session where attendees were encouraged to share insights from their visits.
For many, this was the first time they’d been back in a school building since their own high school graduation. For all, the experience was eye-opening.
“The one thing that stood out to me the most was that we’re reaching all of our students,” said Carlos Lopez, the Spanish Voice of the Vols. “That’s really important because, if you’re like me, you’re still trying to find that place where you belong. At Career Magnet Academy, they are giving those students the opportunity to explore many things under the same roof.
The Partners in Education president, Adam Wilson, also announced a new membership program to encourage business professionals to become more involved in supporting KCS schools.
“I am most excited about the immediate and far-reaching impact the Partners In Education Membership Program will produce,” Wilson said. “PIE exists to make a difference and we designed this program to be the best way we can impact every student at every school in KCS.”
Organizations can learn more about the PIE Membership Program here, and view a list of KCS school needs here.
Students at schools in Farragut call her Miss Patty, the lady who drives the big yellow school bus.
Patty Braden, a retiree who followed her daughter, son-in-law, and grandsons to Tennessee from California, decided two years ago that she wanted to return to work. Her daughter suggested becoming a school bus driver.
“I thought, ‘Could I drive a school bus?’ Well, I knew I love kids,” she said. “I interviewed, got the job, went to school, and here I am. I love it!”
She especially loves connecting with different age groups and getting to know the names of all 60+ kids each year. She tells them “Happy Birthday” and decorates the bus with holiday decorations. Students sing songs together and share stories on the PA system.
“We have a diverse group of children,” Braden said. “Last year, we learned to count to ten in Chinese, Polish, French, Russian, and Spanish. We just have fun!”
As much fun as she and her passengers have each day, she stresses safety for a tragic reason. Braden lost a young family member due to a car failing to follow school bus laws.
Morgan was crossing the street to get on a bus that was stopped with flashing lights and an extended stop sign. An oncoming car sped past the bus and struck her.
It is for this reason Braden, like so many others, emphasizes the importance of safety, especially during National School Bus Safety Week.
In her bus, she ensures cars from all directions are at a complete stop before opening the doors to let students off.
“I’m probably a little extra cautious when my kids are getting on and off the bus,” Braden said. “We all have busy lives, but people in vehicles have to stop.”
In addition to advocating for school bus safety, she also encourages more people to become bus drivers. Drivers have hours of free time between runs, days off when students are off, and work with amazing students each day.
“This is giving back to the kids of our futures. We need drivers just like the schools need aids,” Braden said. “Come do a ride-along on a bus to see if you’d like it. We’ll show you what we do. It’s not that bad; it’s actually that good!”
Learn more about how to be a safe driver around school buses here, and find more information about how to become a driver here!
Current UT System President Randy Boyd owns the Tennessee Smokies, founded tnAchieves and a number of other businesses. Most importantly to us, he’s a KCS Legacy.
Hall Pass sat down with Boyd to discuss his time in KCS schools, learn about his life since he graduated, and ask for advice he’s share with current KCS students.
Note: Responses have been lightly edited for length or clarity.
Where did you go to school?
I started off at Anderson Elementary School and stayed for first, second, and third grade. Then in fourth grade, I moved to New Hopewell Elementary and was there through seventh grade. From there, I went to Doyle Middle School. I was in the first graduating class from Doyle Middle School, this new open classroom environment. From there, I went to Doyle High School, now South-Doyle, and graduated in 1976.
Did you ever have a teacher who made an impact on your life?
I had so many teachers, and I feel like it is my obligation to give back to Knox County Schools because of how much it gave to me. I wouldn’t be the person I am today if it wasn’t for the teachers that I had.
I’ll say Mrs. Bragg in third grade loved me, took very good care of me, and paid a lot of attention to me. Mrs. Brabson in sixth grade believed in me a lot and gave me a lot of support and encouragement. I had a great experience with her. In high school, Mrs. Jones, my algebra teacher, was always somebody who would go the extra mile for me and make sure that I got the extra tutoring support that I needed. I would have a fit if I made a B, and she would console me and make sure that I understood that it wasn’t the end of the world. I set high expectations for myself, but she always helped moderate those a little bit. Mr. Rector, my English teacher in high school, helped me in so many ways. At one time, I thought I was going to be a writer. He helped me with my composition and gave me redos on occasion when he knew I didn’t do my best work. In that process, I also discovered that my writing skills weren’t good enough to be a really successful writer, so I decided to pursue something else. Then maybe I’ll finish with Mr. Kennedy, who was my political science and geography teacher in high school. He helped sponsor us when we decided to create something called the Political Involvement Group, or PIG. We were an active little group trying to do research on how to make education better, and we sometimes broke a few rules, and he was always there to defend and support us.
That’s just a few that come to the top of my mind. I could think about so many others, but I had so many great teachers who made such a positive difference in my life.
So, working to improve education isn’t really a new venture for you. You’ve been doing it since high school.
I was a Boy Scout, and in Boy Scouts, we always were taught to leave the world a better place than we found it. That’s been kind of embedded in me for a long time, and I’ve tried to teach that to other Scouts that I was the Scout Master for later. But as I’ve thought about it, trying to leave the world a better place, I feel like education is the inflection point of everything. If you really want to make a difference, make a difference in education. That’s where you can have the most profound impact.
Do you have a favorite memory from your time in school?
It would have been my last year of high school. I graduated high school in three years, so my last year of high school was my junior year. We didn’t have a great football team, but we did play Oak Ridge, who was at the time number one in the state. We played them at Oak Ridge, an away game, and beat them in a last-second field goal. Our field goal kicker, I think it was the only field goal he ever completed, kicked the winning field goal, and that was a pretty exciting time. I think we finished 3-7 that year, so we weren’t that great, but to beat the number one team in the last second was pretty thrilling.
Did you play any other sports in high school?
I actually lettered in five sports. I used to say that I was mediocre at more sports than most people knew how to play. I wasn’t great at anything. In football, I was a defensive back. When the coach would give me a chance, I wanted to play split end. I also returned kickoffs and punts. I enjoyed it. I wish I had listened to the coach and run up the field rather than trying to dodge and get a touchdown on every touch.
What is the greatest obstacle you’ve overcome?
The first five years of starting my third company, which was Radio Systems. Just getting that off the ground. I was probably sleeping three hours a night trying to manage cash flow and all the challenges that come with the startup. It was a five-year marathon. It was a struggle, but we were able to overcome the challenges and be successful.
What advice would you give to the students at your alma mater?
First and foremost, go to college. You absolutely need to get something beyond a high school diploma if you’re going to be successful. Now, that could be a technical college like TCAT or a community college, which are both free of tuition and fees for all Tennesseans; and, if your household income is less than $75,000, which is true for two-thirds of the state, you can go to any UT campus free of tuition and fees. You will not graduate with a lot of debt. That’s a myth. 50% of the students that go to UT will graduate with zero debt, so it’s affordable. With the new UT Promise and the Tennessee Promise, it’s even more affordable. If you get a four-year college degree, you’re going to make $1.5 million more in your lifetime. If you go to a community college and get an associate’s degree, you’ll make $400,000 more in your lifetime. That’s why going to college would be the first thing.Then outside of school, I would just say persist. Everybody’s going to have a struggle. I’ve never met anybody that was successful and didn’t have some obstacles. The difference between the people who are successful and the people who aren’t is that people who are successful overcame those obstacles and persisted. When I think about the keys to success, there are so many different attributes one could have, but the most important thing—and I think the most essential thing—is persistence. You’re going to have obstacles. Just persist.
A famous KCS grad made a significant impact at a local school on Friday by presenting music teacher Tom Walsh with the first Music Teacher of Note award and donating $20,000 to the school’s music program to buy new instruments!
The Morgan Wallen Foundation’s Program Director, Lesli Wallen, taught at Adrian-Burnett Elementary for most of her career, where she met and worked with Walsh.
He is a longtime music teacher, and he is known to rummage around yard sales on weekends to find inexpensive musical instruments for his classroom.
“In all my years of teaching, I have never come in contact with a music teacher like he is,” Wallen said. “I have been so impacted by his love of teaching and his love for the kids.”
She waited weeks to tell her former coworker he’s “not going to have to go to any more yard sales.”
The award and donation were kept under wraps until Friday, when Morgan Wallen spoke to the group in a video congratulating Walsh and thanking him for his years of service to his students.
“I know he gives 100%, is always getting there early in the morning to make sure y’all are getting to practice, and does anything he can to make y’all better,” said Wallen.
Walsh was short in his speech, taking in the sounds of the excited students and his moment on stage: “Honestly, I had no idea about this, and I’m already thinking about what I’m doing to do with this,” he said.
Before the morning bell on Wednesday, a group of Green Magnet students gathered in the library to see what a new group was about.
A towering man introduced himself as Mr. C and welcomed everyone to the first meeting of Real Talk the school had held in years.
Real Talk, a mentoring program for elementary and middle school students, started over a dozen years ago at Vine Middle with only four students. The group now serves over 375 students weekly in eight schools across the district, and they hope to add five more before the end of the year.
“I started the program because I didn’t want kids to go through some of the things that I was going through at that time in life,” said Real Talk Founder and KCS Talent Acquisition Specialist Clarence Swearengen.
Years ago, he walked a path full of “dark days,” and one day almost lost his life. He then vowed to make a change – not only for him, but also for the young people in his community.
Steering students away from a criminal lifestyle, Real Talk focuses on positive role models and eye-opening experiences.
“Some speakers are pastors that were once gang members who have transformed their lives into productive citizens doing really, really good stuff for our community,” he said. “They decide to pour into our youth.”
The program curriculum aligns with the district’s Four Priorities, especially in career empowerment and preparation. Real Talk hits the road to go on college tours, explore military bases, and visit job sites to expose the group to as many positive opportunities as possible.
Swearengen said he witnesses the power of the program when former students return to Real Talk as guest speakers.
“When you see that transformation, you know your program is successful,” he said.
United Way sponsors the program, but groups interested in providing additional support can visit realtalkmp.org.
College Application Month is a great time to build excitement and educating students of all ages about life after high school.
tnAchieves is jumping in to do just that for seniors at Fulton High School by connecting students with representatives from local community colleges, four-year universities, and trade schools who can help them complete applications while also answering any of their questions – big or small.
“It’s about bringing the community inside Fulton to encourage the students and help normalize college. It really eases a lot of the intimidation that often lies within the students about going to college,” said tnAchieves President and CEO Krissy DeAlejandro. “Fulton is so excited. The leadership team and counselors there have been so amazing.”
Last year, every Fulton senior completed a college application, DeAlejandro said, which likely played a role in the school’s increased college-going rate.
In it’s second year, the College Application Blitz has grown from 45 volunteers from schools and organizations to more than 80 this year.
“When I put the call-to-action out, everybody raised their hands and wanted to be there,” DeAlejandro said. “I think there’s a lot of momentum around the 70% by 2024 effort, and people are eager to know what they can do to be helpful.”
Students can apply here for the TN Promise scholarship – which helps them attend any community or technical college in Tennessee, tuition free for two years. The deadline to apply is November 1.