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.
On a recent Wednesday morning, students from Karns High School gathered in the school’s commercial kitchen as teacher Jacob Neblett gave a countdown: “Your time starts NOW!”
With that cue, a flurry of activity began as two groups of students opened packets of military-style MREs and rushed through the kitchen to gather additional ingredients.
The occasion was an Iron Chef-style competition at Karns, which was sponsored by the Tennessee Army National Guard and that offered hands-on training for students in the Culinary and A/V Production programs.
Students were challenged to transform the MREs – or “meals-ready-to-eat” – into a culinary creation by using the secret ingredients in the packets along with fresh ingredients from the kitchen. As they worked, Neblett offered advice and guidance, at one point reminding them to “Always be tasting, always be plating!”
At the same time, students from teacher Chris Wade’s A/V Production class gathered video, photos and interviews, which will be used in digital media content promoting the school.
The competition also served as a recruiting tool for 9th-grade students from the KHS Freshman Seminar, who watched from one end of the kitchen and got a pitch from Neblett that emphasized the hands-on, high-energy vibe in his classes.
The event parallels the goals of the district’s “865 Academies” initiative, which aims to provide strong connections between classroom knowledge and workplace success. Launched with support from Knox Education Foundation, the initiative’s ultimate goal is to make students “865 Ready” for college enrollment, enlistment in service to their country, or employment in a high-wage, high-demand field.
Julie Langley, the academy coach at Karns, said the culinary program aims to give students a vision for entrepreneurial career options, including work as chefs, restaurateurs or caterers.
“We want students to be able to imagine themselves in a high-paying, high-demand field,” said Langley. “We’re not trying to turn out food-service workers, we’re trying to emphasize the ‘art’ in Culinary Arts, or the entrepreneurship of Culinary Arts.”
As participants energetically stirred sauces, shot video and chopped vegetables, the appeal of a hands-on class was apparent. And when the winning dish was announced — taquitos with homemade tortillas, and fried churros with chili chocolate sauce — the room erupted in cheers.
Haley Matthews, a 9th-grader who observed the competition during her Freshman Seminar, said she enjoyed watching students work together as a team, adding that she thinks culinary arts “would be a cool class in high school.”
The event had the frenzied feel of a cooking competition on the Food Network, and Wade said his long-term goal is for A/V Production students to produce a full-length show similar to “Iron Chef” or “Chopped”.
In the meantime, the content they produce is providing valuable experience. The video production industry has a robust presence in East Tennessee, and Wade said there is strong demand for employees including production assistants, camera operators and lighting directors.
And even before they graduate, the participation in dynamic, work-based learning helps to promote student engagement.
“Getting to see the advanced students do all that cool stuff, that’s just a great way to get younger students excited about coming to school,” Wade added.
Jeanne and Emily Seibel grew up singing together in church, they’ve performed in musical theater productions together at Karns High School and in the fall they’ll attend Freed-Hardeman University together.
But before starting the next chapter of their lives, the fraternal twins will be honored together as co-valedictorians of the Karns High Class of 2022!
The achievement caps a stellar academic career for the sisters, who said they have always been best friends even though they aren’t exactly alike.
Emily Seibel has an aptitude for math and plans to major in the subject at Freed-Hardeman, while Jeanne Seibel was more inclined toward science and plans to pursue a career in physical therapy.
And while both are efficient, they agreed that Emily’s highly organized approach to tasks – “I’m a total perfectionist” – is a contrast to Jeanne’s more laid-back style.
“We help to bring out each other’s strengths and we complement each other in a lot of ways,” Jeanne said.
“Hopefully we cover up each others’ weaknesses too when we can,” Emily added.
Karns principal Brad Corum said that while the sisters are competitive they also cheer for each other, and described them as good ambassadors for their school.
“They’ve always been very good students and more importantly than that, they’re great people,” Corum said.
Journalism students at Karns High School are using a new platform to help their classmates stay informed.
This fall, ELA teacher Rachel Monday’s class launched “Dispatches From The Dam”, an interview-style podcast that highlights students, school leaders and local celebrities with a Karns connection.
Senior Caleb Jarreau is the show host, and got his start by working as a sportswriter for the school newspaper. Jarreau said that when he first was approached about the new role, he was concerned about the challenges that were involved.
“Now I realize that it’s not easy, but it’s definitely not impossible,” he said. “And I didn’t realize how much fun I would have doing it.”
Jarreau’s interview subjects have included fellow students, KHS principal Brad Corum and WBIR anchors Leslie Ackerson and Heather Waliga, who are Karns alumni.
Jarreau said that before launching the project, he mostly listened to sports podcasts, but more recently his listening consumption has broadened. Since creating his own show, he also hears professional podcasts with a greater attention to detail.
“It’s kind of like I’m thinking of it from an analytical standpoint,” he said. “Yeah, they’re talking about a current event but I also understand what’s going on in the production, or if they played a newsclip I know how they did that. It’s kind of cool to think about now, understanding it from basically behind the scenes.”
The project was made possible by a $500 grant from the Junior League. Monday, who also facilitates the school newspaper, said she enjoys listening to podcasts while commuting or working around the house, and was excited to explore a new media trend. “This gives them something that, really, if they had $500, they could do a podcast on their own,” she said of her students. “You don’t have to necessarily be hired at the News Sentinel to be covering news in your backyard.”
“Dispatches From The Dam” – whose name refers to the school mascot, the Beavers – is available on Apple and Spotify, and can also be found on the website of The Karns Chronicle. The most recent episode included interviews with Monday and other KHS Teachers of the Year.
While Jarreau will be graduating in the spring, other students are ready to take the reins next year, including junior Emily Moore and sophomore Violet Whitson.
Moore writes the entertainment column for The Chronicle, but said she’s excited to try a different medium.
“A podcast is so different, it’s just having a conversation that you then put out to the world, and it gives the creator a place to be creative and it gives the person they’re interviewing a pulpit to give their two cents from,” she said. “And I think especially with the school that we have, there’s a lot of people that deserve a pulpit.”
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