Bearden Student First to Earn Four CompTIA Certifications

Bearden Student First to Earn Four CompTIA Certifications

Dr. Tim Cathcart and Vlad Serov in Bearden’s cyber lab.

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.

HVA Teacher Receives National Guard Promotion

HVA Teacher Receives National Guard Promotion

Lt. Matthew Riddle with his wife, Jillian, at his graduation from Officer Candidate School in August 2022.

Earlier this year, Hardin Valley Academy math teacher 2nd Lt. Matthew Riddle celebrated a promotion to an officer in the Tennessee Army National Guard following a year and a half in Officer Candidate School (OCS).

Riddle joined the National Guard three years ago as an 09 Sierra, with the intention of becoming an officer. 

The lieutenant said he has always felt the calling to join the military. He was a part of Carson-Newman’s ROTC program and was ready to commit when his plans were abruptly put on hold.

“My younger brother got diagnosed with lymphoma in his brain,” Riddle said. “I felt like joining the Army and my brother, not knowing what was going to happen there, was not a great time to join up and possibly get deployed somewhere.”

Riddle then finished college, began teaching high school math, and got married before once again pursuing the military and OCS.

“The year and a half of OCS was probably the hardest thing I’ve had to accomplish,” he said.

Officer candidates attend monthly sessions throughout the program and two sessions of field operations training during the summers.

“It’s two and half weeks of miserable,” Riddle said. “And every single month, being able to mentally prepare yourself and stay physically fit and injury-free, it’s just very taxing.”

Riddle earned his commission as a second lieutenant in the Tennessee Army National Guard during a ceremony on August 13.

As difficult as the path to become an officer has been, leadership has always been a driving force for Riddle. He has adopted leadership positions in other areas of his life as an athletic coach and math teacher.

“I think it’s really a passion of mine as somebody that wants to lead, to be able to grow other people,” he said. “I like being able to push those that are younger to reach whatever their potential is.”

One way he leads his students is by educating them on the military and its benefits, so they consider it as a potential postgraduate pathway.

“KCS is pushing for this movement that not every kid has to attend a four-year university, and that’s okay,” Riddle said. “We need those trade schools, and we need those people that are willing to join the military.”

Riddle now looks ahead to a 16-week Basic Officer Leadership Course to further his career as a military intelligence officer. He is also pursuing a doctoral degree in mathematical education.

“I don’t know how I’ll introduce myself,” he joked. “At that time, it’ll be Dr. 1st Lt. Matthew Riddle.”

“Grow Your Own” Program Offers Path To Licensure

“Grow Your Own” Program Offers Path To Licensure

The Tennessee “Grow Your Own” program helps teaching assistants like Monica Angelelli gain certification as licensed teachers, through financial assistance and a flexible schedule for additional training.

When Monica Angelelli first considered becoming a licensed teacher, the goal seemed out of reach.

Angelelli had been a stay-at-home mother for 14 years before becoming a substitute teacher and then a teaching assistant at Farragut Intermediate School. 

The thought of earning a teaching certification, she recalled, “was something that I didn’t know I wanted until I got here. And when it came up I thought, ‘No, I cannot do this. I have four children of my own at home, I’m very busy, I can’t do grad school, I can’t do work at the same time.’”

But her friend and co-worker, Karol Harper, urged Angelelli to consider Tennessee’s “Grow Your Own” teacher apprenticeship, which provides financial assistance and a flexible schedule for TA’s who want to become full-fledged teachers.

Now, Angelelli is on track to earn her license in December of 2023 and a master’s degree from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville in 2024.

“I would not have been able to do it … if I had to quit and not have an income,” she said. “If I would have had to pay for it myself, there’s no way. So it has really changed my life completely.”

Earlier this year, Tennessee became the first state to receive federal approval for a permanent teacher apprentice program. Along with that approval came a federal grant that allows participants to earn their master’s degree at no cost, while also keeping their job and benefits with the district.

The University of Tennessee is accepting applications for next year’s program until Nov. 14. For more information and an application, visit growyourown.tennessee.edu or the UTK College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences website.

Alex Moseman, executive director of talent acquisition for Knox County Schools, said the program allows TA’s who are already doing great work with students to take the next step.

“The ability to have that pathway, where they’re able to continue to work, have classes that are structured around their work schedule, experiences that are embedded in their work day, at no cost to the employee is really really important,” he said. “This program is going to open up a lot of opportunities for folks who really have a heart for giving back to the students in Knox County but might not have had the opportunity, or the barriers were just too great at one point in time.”

As school districts across the country work to attract and retain high-quality teachers – including those in high-need areas such as special education and English Language Learners – the apprenticeship is an innovative approach to identifying talented educators.

Karol Harper, a colleague of Angelelli at Farragut Intermediate, is also participating in the apprenticeship. Harper has an older brother with special needs and said that working in special education was a natural fit for her.

She learned about the apprenticeship program when another participant came to her school for an interview, and said she was excited and relieved to hear about the opportunity.

Asked what she would say to another KCS educator who is considering the program, Harper was emphatic: “Go for it. Don’t hesitate, just sign up and everything will fall into place.”

New Incentives Bring Retired Teachers Back To Class

New Incentives Bring Retired Teachers Back To Class

Vicke Pyles returned to the classroom this year as a teacher at Holston Middle School. New state incentives allow eligible teachers to continue receiving retirement benefits while working full-time.

When Vicke Pyles signed her retirement papers in 2019, the veteran educator’s hands were shaking. 

After teaching for more than 30 years, she felt that the financial advantages of retirement were too good to pass up – but leaving the classroom was difficult. That fall, Pyles went to Charlotte with her grandson during the week that teachers returned to school, because she knew that being away from the classroom would be painful. 

But after reading a lot of books and realizing that “you can only clean the house so much”, she got a call from a friend who said West Valley Middle School needed a supply teacher. 

That temporary assignment was followed by others, and earlier this year Pyles began researching options for a full-time return. In the process, she learned about a new state incentive program that allows eligible teacher retirees to benefit from two new options:

  • Returning to the classroom at a 100% salary level, while still receiving 70% of their retirement benefits; or
  • Returning to the classroom in a hard-to-staff area at an 85% salary level, while receiving 100% of their retirement benefits.

With that in mind, Pyles chose the second option and returned to the classroom this fall as a math teacher at Holston Middle School.

In an interview, she said that “going back has been awesome”, adding that “A lot of my friends thought I was crazy for going back, but I said, ‘This is me.’”

The incentive program is aimed at addressing a teacher shortage across the state, and fits with the Knox County Schools priority of “Great Educators In Every School.”

In addition to the new pathways, retired KCS teachers have the option of returning to part-time positions (of 120 days or less) while still receiving 100% of their retirement benefits.

Jennifer Hemmelgarn, assistant superintendent of business and talent for KCS, said the district is thinking creatively to meet classroom staffing needs.

“Veteran educators are a tremendous resource and we value their skills and experience,” she said. “Our hope is that these incentives will eliminate barriers for retired teachers who miss the classroom and want to continue making a difference in the lives of students.”