Knox County Schools serves tens of thousands of students every year, from three years old in preschool to seniors in high school. This year, two new preschools have been established as standalone schools to help serve the youngest members of the KCS community. 

Separating a preschool from an elementary school means a preschool-specific principal is added to the staff, the number of classrooms available increases to serve more students, and the district is able to make a more targeted effort to support early learners.

Cedar Bluff Preschool, which used to be part of Cedar Bluff Elementary, is being led by principal April Partin. Jason Harris is overseeing Karns Preschool, formerly with Karns Elementary, as principal. Several elementary schools in the district also have preschools that are operated as a singular entity under one principal.

The new preschools are a step toward achieving Excellence in Foundational Skills, one of the district’s Four Priorities.

“I do have some early literacy background that when I was a teacher to learn and focus on literacy,” Partin said. “How the brain develops in its foundational years has always been important to me as a person, as a teacher, as a mom. There’s so many levels of that, that I feel this spotlight on literacy values all of those experiences with preschool.”

Introducing foundational literacy to students at this age is laying the groundwork as they prepare for kindergarten. 

Preschool supervisor Beth Lackey explained, “We are working on letters and letter sounds, and how sounds work together to make words, and answering questions, and building vocabulary, and learning to love books.” She continued, “All of those things set them up for success because if we want kids to read on grade level in third grade, we know we need to start early.”

The new preschools also aim to promote growth in other areas of students’ lives, including a behavior liaison who has been added to school staff to promote social-emotional growth in students. Preschool-aged children experience significant brain development and providing a space to learn social skills is essential.

“Going through these skills like working with kids on how to open this, how to ask for help, how to sit your bottom in the chair, how to be in a big group,” Harris said. “Everything we do here, the teachers are involved. They’re interacting with kids on the playground, in breakfast, in lunch, in small groups. No one’s left by themselves doing a worksheet.”

Preschool classrooms are designed to foster rich, social learning. Tables are arranged in groups, and “centers” house interactive materials to teach math and literacy. Brightly colored posters line the walls and stuffed chameleons accompany the Connect 4 Learning curriculum that has been adopted by the preschools.

“It is a STEM-based curriculum, so our students are learning how to think like scientists,” Lackey said. 

Being a brand-new school also means principals are looking for community partners to donate time or supplies and create a mutually beneficial relationship in the community. 

“We want to work together,” Harris said. “It truly does take a village.”

If you are interested in learning more about preschool at KCS or you are ready to register your student, email Beth Lackey at

More information can be found at

KCS is committed to Excellence in Foundational Skills and highlighting the people who do incredible work in our district. Know someone who should be featured in Hall Pass for their dedication to the district’s Four Priorities? Submit their name and story to

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