Jaxon Alford has always enjoyed working with cars, and the guidance of a teacher at Central High School has given him a head start on a career in the automotive industry.
Alford is a senior at Central, but during his sophomore year he enrolled in Maintenance and Light Repair, the first in a series of classes taught by Tracy Kelly.
Alford said the class helped sharpen his skills in auto repair, and he enjoyed the chance to work with his hands.
“It’s pretty rewarding when you find a problem, take it apart and get it back together and it’s running perfect,” he said.
But Alford’s repair work isn’t just for school credit. Central had an existing partnership with North Knox Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram, which offers apprenticeships to talented students. Alford began working at the dealership’s service department a year ago, and has already obtained his Level 1 certification as a technician.
Josh DeHart, of North Knox Chrysler, said Alford is “the model candidate” for the apprenticeship program, and that he will be equipped to work as a full-time technician when he graduates from high school.
He is also on track to achieve additional certifications from Chrysler, which will provide skills that are in high demand throughout the industry.
DeHart said the apprenticeship has been beneficial for the dealership, not only because of the quality of Alford’s work but also because students bring a different perspective to the shop.
“He asks a lot of questions, he’s very inquisitive,” said DeHart. “So it changes the way our managers and supervisors present things because he’s asking questions … It’s definitely caused us to look at how we’re doing things and how do we attract students like him to get into this business?”
The partnership also reflects The 865 Academies initiative, which was launched by Knox County Schools last year and will create career-themed academies in district high schools. The goal is to prepare students for success after high school, whether that means enrolling in college or trade school, enlisting in service to their country, or finding employment in a high-wage career with an entrepreneurial mindset.
Next week, eight schools in the initiative’s first cohort – including Central – will announce the academies to be offered in the coming years.
Alford said it has made a big difference to learn from a teacher who had previous experience in the automotive industry, and who enjoys sharing that knowledge – “I don’t think I could ask for a better instructor.”
The Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative Commission has honored Austin-East junior Tylan Baker with the 2023 Knoxville Youth Award.
The group recognizes individuals annually, and this is the first year the Youth Award has been presented to a member of the Knoxville community.
“I think it’s an honor,” assistant principal Rukiya Foster said. “It’s the first youth to ever get the award, so that’s very special. He has set the precedent and the path for youth to come.”
The MLK Commission chose to honor Baker and others based on “their commitment to continuing the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,” according to their website.
“I think it’s one of the many awards he’ll be getting,” Jeff Black, another Austin-East assistant principal, said of Baker. “I think he’s driven, and he’s a great leader.”
Baker works with a number of local organizations to volunteer around his community.
“I honestly believe that I earned the award just for the service I’ve done in the community,” he said. “It was really a surprise. I didn’t know I was getting it. I just know it’s big.”
The 17-year-old is a member of the Mayor’s Youth Council, Youth Leadership Knoxville, the Urban League’s National Achievers Honor Society, National Honor Society, 100 Black Men, Young Life, Project GRAD, and the Austin-East Roadrunners football team. All of these groups allow Baker to give back in different ways.
“It’s just wanting to see the best for everybody, wanting a better community,” Baker said. “As we look to the future, the people that’s coming behind me might want to do the same thing I’m doing. I want to set a good example for them.”
AE’s head football coach, Antonio Mays, also gives credit to Baker’s parents for his success. “I know the supportive structure that they have put in place for him,” Mays said.
The Austin-East administration thinks highly of the junior, describing him with words like mentor, intelligent, powerful, empathetic, responsible, focused, gentle giant, conscientious, well-rounded, Roadrunner.
“I think it’s a manifestation of the legacy that those have laid before him, and he just picked up the torch to continue the tradition of excellence and high achievement,” said Kamau Kenyatta, an assistant principal. Visit the MLK Commission website to see the other award recipients.
As Knox County Schools works to strengthen ties between the district and local communities, a new initiative was launched this week to help foster engagement.
On Nov. 29 and 30, Superintendent Dr. Jon Rysewyk met with the newly created Superintendent’s Council on Accelerated Learning.
The committee includes teachers, administrators, families, business leaders, higher education partners, and nonprofit leaders. Their goal is to provide insight and guidance from diverse perspectives about the district’s operations, while also serving as champions and advocates for KCS.
In particular, council members will help develop action plans to implement the district’s four priorities:
Excellence in Foundational Skills;
Great Educators in Every School;
Career Empowerment and Preparation; and
Success for Every Student.
The goal of this committee is “to be purposeful” and identify opportunities and shortcomings in each priority and develop detailed action plans on how to improve the district within these categories, Rysewyk said.
The Council will continue to meet throughout the school year to consider major items in each priority.
“With the knowledge and context we’re going to provide for you, give us your input and ideas,” Rysewyk told Council members. “Educating kids is not just the school system’s job. We all have to figure out as a community how we’re going to do that.”
The Council is not the only new group formed to help advise on the future of Knox County Schools.
Teacher Councils and Family and Community Councils were also created in each region to provide information-sharing and consultation between families and district leaders around items that impact schools, communities, and students. A Principal Advisory Council and CEO Champions Council will also advise the Superintendent directly.
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