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.
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.”
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.
Students with disabilities and their families often face a similar issue: how to navigate life after high school.
This issue is one Melissa Callahan, Shelly Fordgrotkopt, and Michelle Pittman aim to answer. They work with the Transition School to Work (TSW) grant that provides pre-employment transition services to students with disabilities.
“This grant specifically focuses on students with disabilities, and we know that the adult world and navigating life are hard for anybody,” Pittman said. “These kinds of sessions are really key in helping individuals really figure out themselves and overcome their barriers.”
The team teaches skills in job exploration, workplace readiness, and self-advocacy. They host Transition Tuesdays to educate and provide valuable resources to families and staff for students preparing for life after high school, and a Transition Fair that brings together their community partners as a “one-stop shop” for resources.
“Being a resource is so important because their students are going to leave a system that’s taken care of them for a really long time,” Fordgrotkopt said. “We really see partnering with community resources as filling a gap for parents.”
Their dedication to their students and years of hard work received recognition from a well-known partner.
Knoxville’s disABILITY Resource Center awarded them the 2023 Spirit of ADA Community Service Provider Award.
“We’re so honored. It’s really nice to be recognized by your peers in the community,” Fordgrotkopt said. “I think that just makes us feel really appreciated.”
The recognition only serves as encouragement to do more for their students.
Callahan stated: “The affirmation and just knowing how important the resources are for the students and the parents and the collaboration just pushes us to continue to offer more of that to parents and students. It’s such an important piece of what we do.”
Angel Bowman, a KCS parent for 21 years and an active member of the Lonsdale community, received a phone call several months ago inviting her to give feedback about KCS Region 5.
“I have never been asked at the region level what I thought about anything,” Bowman said. “For the region to be asking makes me feel like they want to hear from the parents.”
Located in and around downtown Knoxville, Region 5 includes many historic schools with a strong educational legacy, but many students in this region also face unique challenges and obstacles to learning.
In December, KCS began work on a plan to strategically improve the 13 schools that comprise Region 5. This plan was built using community feedback from focus groups that included students, families, teachers, principals, and community leaders from different industries to create high-achieving goals and the action steps that are necessary to meet those goals.
“I feel like the goals are high, but they are attainable with a lot of intentionality, dedication, and work,” said Sarah Moore Greene Magnet Academy Principal Robin Curry. “It is the work that is needed for our kids.”
The Region 5 Way established four main themes the strategic plan aims to reach: holding high academic expectations for all students, recruiting and retaining elite educators, providing career and college pathways for K-12 students, and establishing systems to meet whole-child needs for academic success.
These major themes were divided into specific goals with ambitious and achievable actions, metrics, and milestones to meet the goals in the next five years.
The initiative is being led by Region 5 Director Dr. Dexter Murphy and Supervisor Sallee Reynolds.
Murphy said it is important for the district to match the potential and talent of students in Region 5 with a compelling action plan.
“By setting ambitious, tangible goals and carefully measuring our progress toward them, the Region 5 Way will be our community’s transformative call to action,” he said.
And for the parents like Angel Bowman, it’s exciting to be part of the broader effort to bring change.
“We have some of the best and brightest minds here in our communities. We are raising and helping to develop the next generation of geniuses, so we need to have high expectations from an early age,” Bowman said.
She added: “It feels like there is this group of people that are rallying around our kiddos and our community and our school. There feels like this overwhelming excitement of ‘we’re all going to do this together.’”
The Grateful Nation Project presented all KCS schools with a collection of Hero Cards on Friday at West High School.
Each Hero Card included the name and image of a fallen service member along with a brief part of their story and a number that links to a more detailed online tribute.
A set of cards will be donated to each KCS school for teachers and students to check out and use in the classroom.
“There’s a story behind every one of those names,” Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs said. “One of the wonderful things about these cards is that they drive that home. These were people. These were individuals with families, ordinary people, who were willing to sacrifice everything, including their lives.”
The card deck now features six new additions–all of which are originally from East Tennessee. The new additions include 1st Sgt. Milo Lemert, 1st Lt. Alexander Bonnyman Jr., Sgt. Thomas R. Hicks, 2nd Lt. Jane M. Blevins, Capt. Marcus Ray Alford Sr., and Staff Sgt. Ryan Knauss.
Retired Capt. Bill Robinson gave the keynote address. Robinson served in the Air Force and was captured and tortured during the Vietnam War. He was a prisoner of war for nearly seven and a half years, the longest time any U.S. military personnel has ever been held captive.
Read more about the Grateful Nation Project’s Hero Cards here.