Career-Themed Academies Revealed For First Cohort Of The 865 Academies

Career-Themed Academies Revealed For First Cohort Of The 865 Academies

Photo Credit: John Valentine

The first cohort of The 865 Academies revealed their new career-themed Academies at a celebration hosted by Central High School on Thursday.

The 865 Academies initiative launched in the fall of 2022, and is designed to transform the high school experience in Knox County. The goal is for every KCS graduate to be prepared for enrolling in postsecondary studies; enlisting in service to their country; or finding employment in a high-wage, high-skill, and in-demand profession, with an entrepreneurial mindset.

By establishing career-themed academies, the initiative will create small learning communities within larger schools, allowing students to participate in career exploration activities and take a deep dive into areas of interest while also building strong connections with teachers and other students.

“We’ve got to prepare students, and school systems are uniquely positioned to do that,” said Superintendent Dr. Jon Rysewyk. “Our job is to have students prepared for when they graduate.”

The celebration was attended by community leaders and industry partners, including Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs, who said 865Ready graduates will ultimately benefit Knox County and East Tennessee. 

“This is just wonderful to see a really intentional, strategic effort to in some ways customize the student experience,” Jacobs said. “They get the tools and the skills that they need to excel in areas that they’re either naturally drawn to or things that they love.”

Gordon Heins, the president and chairman of the A.G. Heins Company, said industry partnerships positively impact both organizations and students. By working together, KCS students are provided valuable opportunities for work-based learning and career exploration.

“As an employer, we want students to come to us looking for good-paying jobs, and that they’re prepared, and they have the tools,” he said.

Central High School is in the first cohort of The 865 Academies, and Principal Dr. Andrew Brown said student performance in Algebra I has improved, while discipline referrals are down.”

Brown credited Freshman Seminar, a new class that focuses on helping 9th-graders identify interests, aptitudes and professional skills, adding that “we are already beginning to see great results out of that work.

CHS senior Justus Hayes was involved in the early stages of launching the Academies initiative, and is also an entrepreneur. He started his own business, Blended Clothing, and during the ceremony presented shirts to several local leaders. 

“Entrepreneurship is a very important thing to me. I love creating, and bringing new apparel and things to our generation,” Hayes said. “It has been my honor to help build and show my support for something that will impact our current and future generations.”

Student Ambassadors from each school presented their new Academies alongside their principals. Below are the Academies for the first cohort.

Carter High School and South-Doyle High School will be joining The 865 Academies as the second cohort in the fall.

For more information on The 865 Academies, visit

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.

Powell High Student Earns Perfect Score on ACT

Powell High Student Earns Perfect Score on ACT

Zach Carter, a senior at Powell High who recently earned a perfect score on the ACT, hopes to become a roller-coaster engineer.

Zach Carter made history for Powell High School as one of the few students in the country to make a perfect score on the ACT.

Carter took the test during the spring semester of his junior year and waited a week longer than his peers to receive his score. 

“I was pretty relieved,” Carter said. “They called me down to the guidance counseling office to surprise me. It was pretty special.”

To make the accomplishment even more impressive, Carter has dealt with vision problems all his life. He was born with motor nystagmus, an involuntary movement of the eyes, and said he “didn’t really have sight until a few months into my childhood.”

The Powell High senior received training and assistance through Knox County Schools to “help me work at a comparable standard to everyone else around me,” he said.

His mother, Stephanie Carter, said she is proud of her son and how he overcomes his obstacles.

“He’s never let his vision hold him back from what he wants to do,” she said. “He just pushes through it and finds a different way of accomplishing it.”

Principal Dr. Chad Smith believes Carter sets an example for younger students.

“When you let school work for you, look what it can do,” he said. “There should be no excuses. I think that’s the true testament.”

Carter credits his ACT success to teacher Micaiah Smoker’s ACT prep “boot camp.” PHS students of all ages are invited to attend a three-hour, Saturday morning course for test-taking tips, practice tests, and goal-setting. Smoker said students who attend generally see a two- to three-point increase in their score.

“Professionally, it made me feel like the work has been put in,” Smoker said, regarding Carter’s achievement following the boot camp. “It’s a monumental thing for him and Powell High School.”

What’s the next step for this soon-to-be graduate? Carter recently toured Ohio State University and the University of Tennessee, taking particular interest in their marching band and engineering programs. 

He said he hopes to continue participating in the band while working towards his dream career of becoming a roller coaster engineer. 

Regardless of where Carter decides to continue his education, he will be remembered at Powell High School.

“That accomplishment is something we’ll still be talking about long after Zach’s moved on, to show that it can be done with extra hard work, determination, and the right attitude,” Smith said. 

Digital Upgrades Improve Accessibility For ELL Families

Digital Upgrades Improve Accessibility For ELL Families

Several new features on the KCS website and YouTube channel will make it easier for students and families to receive updates, find information and learn about their school.

Earlier this month, “Translate” buttons in Spanish, Arabic, Chinese and Swahili were added in the upper left-hand corner of, as well as on school websites. This enhancement makes it easier for users to access those languages, while a drop-down menu with dozens of additional languages continues to be provided.

In addition, KCS recently launched, a condensed version of the district website that highlights areas of high importance, including:

  • Enrollment;
  • The Family Portal;
  • District governance; and
  • School zone maps.

The district has also launched a series of videos on YouTube that highlight Spanish-speaking students and families; profile Spanish-speaking employees; and provide updates about important topics.

“It is very important that all families have access to important information about their child’s education, even if they are still learning English,” said Superintendent Bob Thomas. “This enhancement of our website will make it easier for families to stay informed, and I am grateful that we are able to implement these changes.”

More than 5,400 students within KCS are from families where these languages are spoken at home:

  • Spanish – 4,740
  • Arabic – 326
  • Chinese – 204
  • Swahili – 186
KCS Community Gives, Receives During Holidays

KCS Community Gives, Receives During Holidays

Across Knox County, KCS employees and students take time during the holidays to assist those in need. Skikila Smith, an ELA teacher at Austin-East Magnet High, organizes an annual holiday shoe drive for Roadrunner students.

As district schools prepared for Winter Break this month, final exams and end-of-semester activities weren’t the only items on the calendar. Across Knox County, students, families and school employees took time to give — and receive — gestures of kindness in the holiday spirit.

At Austin-East Magnet High School, ELA teacher Skikila Smith — known to her students as “Ms. Sky” — has been coordinating an informal holiday shoe drive since joining the Roadrunner family as an intern in 2017.

Smith said that when she lost her children’s father at the age of 21, her family benefited from local Angel Tree programs that provided holiday gifts, and she is also grateful for all the people who supported her when she got her master’s degree at the age of 42.

The shoe drive is a way to give back and help students in need put their best foot forward, and Smith said A-E teachers help to identify potential recipients.

“It would not be possible without a teacher that is looking to cultivate the entire human, and uplift the entire family,” she added.

Organizers of the Farragut Giving Tree program provided gift bags to families in need.

In some cases, the effort to assist families in need has been adjusted because of COVID-19. LeighAnna Colgrove, a Farragut High School parent, coordinates a Giving Tree program that supports families at four schools in that community.

Colgrove said that in the past, the program would provide a clothing gift bag to families and give them a chance to pick a donated toy. Because of COVID, organizers last year adjusted the campaign to a drive-up event in which gift cards were provided.

Colgrove said the feedback they received was positive, not only because of the additional privacy of the drive-up format but also because it allowed families to shop for their own Christmas gifts.

This year, she said, organizers did shop for a handful of families who had transportation or medical challenges, but gift cards were mostly provided. In addition, because donations exceeded expectations, they were also able to provide coats and shoes, while private donors provided school hoodies, a Walmart gift card and a food box.

“We were just overwhelmed by the generosity this year,” Colgrove said.

KCS students have also benefited from the generosity of outside organizations, including East Tennessee Children’s Hospital.

Shelli Eberle, principal of Fort Sanders Educational Development Center, said Children’s does an annual Christmas tree drive at the school in honor of a former patient who passed away.

The drive has grown so significantly that this year, ETCH was able to provide 125 mini-trees – one for each student.

Eberle said students have enjoyed the chance to take home an individual tree, and that the drive has been a bright spot of the holiday season.

“Seeing the joy on each child’s face as they picked out their very own tree to take home was an important reminder to look for the magic of the holiday season,” she said.  “We are so grateful to have ETCH as such an incredible Partner in Education.”

East Tennessee Children’s Hospital provided 125 mini-trees for children at Fort Sanders Educational Development Center.
Vision Team Makes A Difference For Students

Vision Team Makes A Difference For Students

Vision Team Makes 
A Difference For Students
Janet French creates academic materials in braille for students who are blind or vision-impaired. (Photo credit / Mandi Taylor)

On a recent morning at Sterchi Elementary, Janet French took a one-page sheet of writing exercises and scanned them into her computer.

After making sure the worksheet was correct, she entered a command and a staccato noise like a miniature jackhammer rang out from a nearby printer, as embossed pages unfurled from the device.

Several minutes later, French retrieved a six-page sheet of double-spaced braille pages from the printer, ready for use by a student at the school.

While the KCS Vision Department is a relatively small portion of the district’s overall workforce, braillists like French — along with KCS teachers of the visually impaired and orientation & mobility specialists — have a huge impact for approximately 150 blind or low-vision students in Knox County.

Mandi Taylor, a teacher of the visually impaired, said those students can use a wide range of tools that vary in degrees of technological complexity.

At one end of the spectrum are simple magnifying tools, such as a half-sphere “dome magnifier” for books or a telescope-like monocular to assist with viewing material at a distance, such as writing on a classroom whiteboard.

Digital tools are also available, such as closed-circuit TV devices that can display written material or the image of a teacher on a digital screen.

Braille — a tactile writing system of raised dots on paper —  is also an important resource. Sterchi is one of four district schools with dedicated braille stations, along with Farragut Middle, Carter High and South-Doyle High.

The braille system is utilized in a variety of ways. Students can use braille flashcards to practice math facts or other memorization tasks, and a tactical graphics kit can help teachers create materials by hand.

More advanced tools include the “Jaws” screen reader, which can read on-screen text out loud, and even a BrailleNote Touch tablet, in which braille dots pop up along a narrow strip at the bottom of the tablet as users scroll through material.

Learning to read braille can take two years, and Taylor said the tools used by students may change over time, especially as they get older and take on different challenges.

Lauren Switzer, a teacher and orientation / mobility specialist, said the department works to identify the right tool for each student’s particular needs and goals, adding that the overall objective is for students “to have enormous tool kits to pull from in the right situation.”

The Vision Department includes two braillists, nine itinerant specialists / teachers and a team of vision technicians who travel to schools and conduct vision assessments.

In many cases, the employees who work in the department were drawn to their jobs after an experience of working with a vision-impaired person. Taylor said she was an elementary teacher who worked with two children who had vision impairments, including one who was learning braille — “It blew my mind, and I just became interested in the process,” she said.

Switzer was pursuing a career in physical therapy, but reconsidered after working with a woman who was blind. “I enjoyed how my brain had to work a little bit differently, I had to be more creative,” she said.

The work can also create a close bond with students. French, who creates braille materials, has even been invited to the weddings of former students.

Summer Tucker, special education supervisor for KCS, said the work is rewarding in part because its impact goes beyond the classroom.

“You are giving students skills that are going to help them in life,” she said.