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.”
On a recent morning, a group of students at Hardin Valley Academy gathered in the auditorium for a meeting about postsecondary opportunities and the college application process.
It’s a common topic, but in this case there was a twist. As she discussed issues like dual enrollment and financial aid, a guest speaker from Centro Hispano seamlessly shifted from English to Spanish and back again.
The meeting was hosted by HVA’s Latino Student Alliance, which has more than 80 members, and aims to provide Hispanic students a place to belong and share their cultural heritage within the broader Hawk family.
“I feel like it helps you feel welcomed in the school, and you see a little bit of yourself in it, your culture,” said club president Grace Rodriguez.
The club was founded six years ago by ELL teacher Veronica Calderon-Speed, who said that as the school’s Latino student population grew, she saw a need to help those students feel part of their school, make connections and showcase their talents.
She added that at one time, students would feel anxious about speaking Spanish in the hallways, “but since we’ve created this group that has gone away.”
One of the group’s key projects is Orgullo Latino, a cultural celebration that takes place during Hispanic Heritage Month from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15.
Brisa Villatoro, a junior at HVA, participated in a merengue performance during last year’s Orgullo Latino, and said the Alliance gives students a place to represent their culture within a diverse student body.
At the same time, she said club members also benefit by learning about each other. “Because we’re all from different backgrounds and different ethnicities,” she said. “And it’s just really cool to learn about different countries and stuff like that.”
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