A Knox County educator was in the spotlight after earning a national award, a $50,000 prize and an appearance on a daytime talk show!
On Tuesday, Melody Hawkins, an assistant administrator at Austin-East Magnet High, was recognized as National University’s Teacher of the Year. Hawkins previously served as a teacher at Vine Middle Magnet School, before joining A-E as an administrator last fall.
The announcement was made on “The Drew Barrymore Show”, and Hawkins was able to celebrate with her students after watching the episode in a classroom at A-E.
In the televised interview, Hawkins talked about her passion for teaching, the lasting impact of a former student, and the influence of educators in her own life – including her mother, who was also a teacher.
During the celebration at Austin-East, Hawkins showed students the replica $50,000 check that she received, and highlighted a scholarship to pursue a doctoral degree which is part of the award.
Lazaire Nance, a 9th-grader at A-E who was previously one of Hawkins’ science students at Vine Middle, said she wants to pursue a career as a doctor and a biochemist, adding that Hawkins has played a big role in her life: “She really inspired me to be who I want to be and let me know I could do it.”
Students also talked about Hawkins’ encouragement to pursue academic achievements in fields like science, where women of color are often underrepresented.
Hawkins said Tuesday that she was happy to see students have been listening to that message: “I encourage them to be themselves unapologetically, without question, without shame,” she said. “Be who you are, show up as who you are and everything else will take care of itself.”
Beauford Delaney grew up in Knoxville and went on to achieve international acclaim as one of the great modernist painters of the 20th Century.
In many ways, his achievements were more widely recognized outside of Knoxville than they were locally. But a group of local activists and advocates is helping to make sure his legacy – and that of Joseph Delaney, his younger brother and fellow artist – are acknowledged and celebrated in his hometown.
Beauford Delaney was born in a house on Vine Street in 1901, one of 10 children born to Samuel and Delia Delaney. Rev. Reneé Kesler, president of the Beck Cultural Exchange Center, said he went on to attend “Knoxville Colored High School”, a successor to Austin High, and was encouraged in his artistic efforts by principal Charles Cansler.
Kesler said Delia Delaney was among the first to recognize her sons’ potential, adding that during church services, Beauford and Joseph would draw on Sunday School cards.
But Kesler also emphasized the importance of educators such as Cansler. “You can never underestimate the power of our teachers and of our educators,” she said. “We applaud them because they see things in the students that no one else can see … And I think it made the difference in the life of both Beauford and Joseph, of these educators who took a sincere interest in them.”
Beauford Delaney’s talent was later recognized by Knoxville painter Lloyd Branson, who served as a mentor and helped him attend art school in Boston. Delaney went on to live in New York and later in Paris, where he died in 1979.
David Butler, executive director of the Knoxville Museum of Art, said Delaney has a huge international reputation with a strong market for his work. “Black artists in general, their market has really risen dramatically in the last decade or so,” Butler said. “And we’re kind of rewriting our history, understanding it in a much more complete way. It’s a much more diverse story than we used to think, and a much more diverse cast of characters. Black artists like Beauford were overlooked and ignored in many cases just because of who they were.”
In 2020, KMA hosted a major exhibition of Delaney’s work called “Beauford Delaney and James Baldwin: Through the Unusual Door”, which focused on the artist’s relationship with Baldwin, the writer well-known for his books and essays about race in America.
Delaney’s work has also been in the spotlight nationally. In October, New York Times critic Roberta Smith reviewed an exhibition at the Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, in New York, and wrote in her review that Delaney’s work “is one of the signal achievements of 20th-century American art.”
And beyond the works themselves, local leaders have been working to ensure that the Delaney family’s legacy is remembered.
The Beck Center – which documents African-American history in Knoxville – in August held a groundbreaking for a new museum at 1935 Dandridge Avenue. The site is located next door to the Beck Center and includes a residence that was purchased by Samuel Emery Delaney – the older brother of Beauford and Joseph – and served as the family’s home after Beauford and Joseph had left Knoxville. The Beck Center purchased the property in 2015, and is planning to restore it.
Kesler, the Beck Center’s president, said that even after Beauford Delaney moved to Paris, he carried Knoxville in his heart.
“I think today he’s going to be a model for a lot of our students to say that we can embrace great talent,” she added. “And bringing his name here to Knoxville and showcasing him here, my hope is to inspire other young artists and creators and students that no matter what the odds, what the challenges, that your gift can be celebrated and encouraged.”
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.
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.”
Three seniors from Austin-East Magnet High School saw their academic efforts pay off in a big way this week, thanks to a scholarship program from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville.
During a surprise celebration at the school on Wednesday, UT’s Redrick Taylor III made admissions offers to Zakoyous Houston, Anndrena Downs and Mariusi Irankunda.
The offers are part of the university’s Flagship Scholarship, which is available for students at A-E, Fulton and Central high schools. When combined with the HOPE Scholarship, the Flagship program covers a student’s tuition and mandatory fees for up to eight semesters.
The offers were made during a ceremony in the school’s performing arts auditorium, with friends and family members looking on.
Lashaundra Lenoir said Houston, her stepson, has been checking the mailbox for weeks hoping to find an acceptance letter, because UT is his top choice.
“He’s the oldest of four brothers in my household and he’s a leader,” she added. “He’s leading by example so it’s very exciting for his younger brothers to see him getting accepted to his top pick.”
For Downs, who has maintained a 4.0 GPA during her time at A-E, the acceptance into one of her top college choices is a first step toward pursuing a dream of majoring in biology, while honing the leadership skills she began to develop in high school.
Asked what it means to be a Roadrunner, Downs said it’s a family — “having people in your reach at all times who will do whatever for you when it comes down to it.”
Recent Stories: Knox County Schools Hall Pass Blog