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.”
Dr. David Belew’s parents bought their pharmacy in the 1960’s, and Belew Pharmacy is a staple of the North Knoxville community. David Belew – now the president of the chain – said some patients have been coming to it for more than four decades.
“I have people that will still come in and say, ‘I remember the day you were born,’” he said.
Those deep roots in the community have also led the company to partner with two KCS schools – Fulton High and Hardin Valley Academy – to offer students work-based learning opportunities.
Belew said the relationship began five or six years ago with Fulton’s health science program, and that one of those students is still working for Belew as their marketing director.
“It’s more than shadowing, because we do get them involved to any extent we can,” he said. “I want them to see everything that pharmacy can offer … From technicians to marketing to going on and advancing your education and getting a professional pharmacy degree.”
Nathan Fawver is a senior at Hardin Valley who is part of the school’s pharmacy pathway. He is hoping to become a physician, but his work as an intern at Belew has prepared him to take a pharmacy technician certification exam later this year.
Fawver said he has worked closely with Dr. Jamie Price, the pharmacy manager at Belew’s Broadway store, and has seen her establish relationships with the store’s customers.
“Whenever Jamie gets a medication, she always likes to quiz me on them,” he added. “So that kind of helps me learn about all the different medications.”
The KCS 865 Academies initiative aims to foster partnerships between local industries and district high schools, including opportunities for job shadowing and career exposure.
A Hardin Valley Academy junior will be living in Taiwan this summer thanks to a full scholarship through the U.S. Department of State’s National Security Language Initiative (NSLI).
Samson Brown has been taking Chinese language courses at HVA since his freshman year. Now in AP Chinese, he hopes this immersive experience will strengthen his Mandarin.
“That is a very crucial part of language learning,” Brown said. “If you have the opportunity to experience an immersion experience like that, it’ll really improve your language skills.”
He will take four hours of language classes and one hour of culture class a day at the Wenzao Ursuline University of Languages in Gushan.
After class, he looks forward to eating the local food, as Asian cuisine has been a longtime favorite of Brown and his father.
While he will be living in on-campus housing during the week, he will stay with a host family during his time in Taiwan.
“I can’t wait to be part of a host family, and maybe have a little sibling from across the world,” he said.
Brown was encouraged by HVA Chinese teacher Dr. Frank Chen to apply. While he knew the competition would be fierce among the other applicants, he said he had help with the application from a friend and role model, HVA salutatorian and NSLI alumni Eli Johnson.
Brown initially became interested in learning languages because of his grandparent’s history of travel.
“They traveled almost everywhere, all over the world. I always was fascinated by it,” he said. “I might have seen learning a language as a gateway to traveling and exploring. If I want to continue pursuing this in my career, traveling is probably part of it.”
This experience will open many doors for Brown. If he enjoys this summer’s study-abroad trip, he might consider a full academic year in Taiwan through NSLI before enrolling in the military or a college. Following his education, he hopes to become a diplomat.
“Definitely going to be a lot of traveling in my future,” Brown said. “I’m not going to stay in one place.”
Brown’s piece of advice for other students: “Shoot your shot because I didn’t know I was going to get this scholarship, and what do you know? I got it.”
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.
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.”