Holston Show Choir Prepares For Summer Performance

Holston Show Choir Prepares For Summer Performance

Following a successful run of Moana Jr., the Holston Middle School Show Choir has begun rehearsals for their first summer performance of Matilda the Musical, a show made possible by a Tennessee Arts Commission grant.

Natalee Elkins, the HMS choral director and Show Choir director, and Taylor Branson, an HMS school counselor and Show Choir production coordinator, applied for the grant last year, and after a months-long application and interview process, they were finally able to bring their vision to life.

“We’ve had the rights for this show for three years. It was supposed to happen pre-COVID,” Elkins said. “We knew that if it was to come to fruition, we were going to need some outside funding. We applied for the grant last year, and, honestly, I don’t think we ever thought anything was going to come of it.”

With the additional funding from TAC, the Show Choir directors were able to open auditions to students, teachers, and even professors from across the county. Most of the cast attend schools in the KCS Regions Four and Five, including Holston, Beaumont, Belle Morris, Central, Fulton, Gibbs, Gresham, Shannondale, and Sterchi.

“We did what they call ‘non-traditional casting,’ which is where we are basically looking to not cast based on physical or ethnic traits. We are casting based on who we felt is best for the part,” Elkins said. “We have a diverse cast of kids coming from everywhere which is really fun.”

This unique opportunity has also allowed educators to grace the stage. Elkins and Branson have roles of their own in the musical, Holston Middle Principal Katie Lutton will play the beloved Ms. Honey, and even University of Tennessee math professor Jack Sturm joined the cast. 

“Something really neat about Jack – he’s the UT professor – he teaches math now, but he originally was going to be a theater major,” Branson said. “We’re going to use him as that college and career piece, like ‘Look, he has this other job, but he is still able to do this,’ which also ties into the 865 Academies.”

The Holston Show Choir has been performing for over 15 years, and its repertoire includes several condensed versions of popular Disney films. Prior to this season’s Moana Jr. performance, the group staged Into the Woods, Beauty and the Beast, Frozen, Aladdin, and The Little Mermaid, to name a few. 

Elkins and Branson are always brainstorming for the next show, but for now, all the focus is on Matilda. 

Tickets for Matilda the Musical are on sale now for July 7 – 9. Buy tickets here.

NEA Recognizes West Haven TA With ‘ESP Of The Year’ Award

NEA Recognizes West Haven TA With ‘ESP Of The Year’ Award

A West Haven Elementary staff member is earning time in the spotlight as the Tennessee Educational Support Professional (ESP) of the Year and will attend the National Education Association’s ESP Conference.

Patricia Jackson has been an ESP at West Haven for 23 years and has a heart for her students.

“I get really close to a lot of my kids,” Jackson said. “I’ve got kids in their 20s and 30s that still call me. I think it’s because I try to get really involved with the students that are the most needy. Those that just don’t have it anywhere else.”

Jackson initially applied to West Haven to be a secretary, but the then-principal offered her a TA position instead. As a former Big Sister for Big Brothers, Big Sisters and volunteer for her church’s kids’ ministry, she was happy to accept a position to work more closely with the students.

“I think they know I love them, and that’s very important,” she said. “Being a TA, I can do that more than the teacher. The teacher has a whole class. All of us TAs, we have that freedom to reach out a little more personally to these kids.”

Jackson also serves on the executive board of the KCEA as a classified staff member. She uses this platform to build up other TAs personally and professionally.

“I do try to get people involved because the more involved the TAs get, the more we have to work with,” Jackson said. “I’m trying to be a cheerleader for them.”

She hopes fellow ESPs recognize the importance of their jobs. 

“To other TAs everywhere, my advice would be to never, ever say, ‘my opinions aren’t important, I’m just the peon,’” she said. “Be proud of what you can be to your teachers and the students and look at it like, ‘Wow. They couldn’t do it without me.’”

Jackson travels to Seattle for the NEA ESP Conference from March 23-26 where she will attend workshops and networking events. The national ESP of the Year will be announced at a banquet for the state winners on Saturday.

Teachers Take The Plunge For The Special Olympics

Teachers Take The Plunge For The Special Olympics

Brave teachers and students leapt into frigid waters last Saturday to raise money for their peers – local Special Olympics athletes. 

The annual Polar Plunge is a fundraising event hosted by the Knoxville Special Olympics, a chapter of the worldwide sports organization that provides competitions for children and adults with intellectual and physical disabilities. 

Kelly Metz, a special educator from Karns Elementary, has participated in the Polar Plunge fundraiser for the last four years.

“Karns Elementary has been doing the Polar Plunge longer than I’ve been a part of it, but I saw an opportunity when I first started at this school to be a part of the craziness and the fun,” Metz said. “It’s a really good time, and I just wanted to be a part of it.”

Schools and businesses created teams and competed against one another to raise the most money for the cause. 

Individuals who raised at least $75 took the plunge, jumping with their team into the pool at the West Side YMCA. Metz and the Karns Elementary group dressed in costumes, as did many other teams in attendance. 

The Knoxville chapter raised over $40,000, surpassing its goal by more than $5,000. 

Special educator Kenny Johnston from Powell High School said the schools keep 50 percent of the funds for their special education programs. The Knoxville Special Olympics will receive 25 percent, and the remaining 25 percent will be sent to the Special Olympics of Tennessee. 

Riley Clark is a Special Olympics athlete from Powell High and looks forward to participating in the games every year. She competes in bowling, bocce, and basketball.

“It makes me feel happy because I get to do stuff that normally not a whole lot of people get to do,” Clark said. “I have more fun when I get to do that.”

Metz said the Special Olympics is an exciting time for the students, and tear-jerking for the staff.

“We do a Hall of Champions at the school where the entire school lines the hallways and we play something that’s pumping them up,” she said. “The kids just cheer, they make signs, and they cheer them on as we’re all walking to the buses. It’s emotional and overwhelming. The kids are beaming and the adults are crying.”

The next Special Olympic Games will be held at Powell High School starting April 17 with track and field competitions.

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 knoxschools.org/academies.

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 www.knoxschools.org, 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 www.knoxschools.org/espanol, 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