April 17, 2018
As the original founders of the Project GRAD Knoxville partnership with Knox County Schools, we want to thank the Knox County School Board for delaying its vote on the FY18 budget and for its consideration of restoring full funding to KCS’s partnership with Project GRAD.
For some who may not know the history, when Project GRAD (Graduation Really Achieves Dreams) started in 2001, it was the first major public-private partnership with Knox County Schools. What led to this partnership was the fact that our inner-city schools, filled predominantly with low-income students, were failing miserably with graduation rates that were less than 50 percent. As a result, college-attendance and post-secondary success by these students were almost non-existent, and at least one of our 14 inner-city schools (Maynard Elementary) was slated to be closed by the State of Tennessee. At that time, our community came together to address the specific needs of Knox County’s most vulnerable children and to turn these dismal stats around.
The School System and Project GRAD Knoxville jointly agreed to measurable goals from the very beginning: 1) Move graduation rates at our inner-city schools from 50 percent to more than 80 percent; 2) Push our college (and other postsecondary education) going rate to more than 50 percent of those high school graduates; and 3) Continuously improve our post-secondary completion rate. Working together, we jointly met these measurable goals by 2012, and have met or exceeded the goals almost every year since.
Because of the success of the Project GRAD joint effort, the Great Schools Partnership was formed to work on other partnerships with the school system, such as Community Schools, the Parents-as-Teachers Birth-to-Kindergarten program, and Leaders for Readers. Again jointly, the partners agreed to a goal of becoming the Best School System in the South; and Project GRAD Knoxville agreed to become a permanently linked supporting organization of the Great Schools Partnership to make sure there is full programmatic and financial alignment.
Project GRAD has been funded as a public-private partnership from its beginning. The highest costs to implement Project GRAD were in the first 5 years. Private donors agreed to cover more than 75 percent of those up-front costs and the school system agreed to cover the majority of annual costs in subsequent continuing years. In recent years, Knox County School’s $1 million annual investment in Project GRAD has leveraged an additional $1.5 million each year in private and other funding— funding that would be at great risk if the school board chooses to end its partnership with Project GRAD. All-in-all in nearly 18 years, the School System’s $18 million in funding has leveraged over $32 million in private and other support for the Project Grad partnership.
Project GRAD has become a symbol of hope and opportunity in our community, as everyone could see through the massive grassroots’ turnout to the April 9th Knox County School Board Workshop of more than 1,000 citizens from all walks of life—students, graduates, teachers, principals, parents, clergy, and neighborhood, business, non-profit and government leaders. Just as importantly, current 9th graders at Fulton and Austin-East have already been promised and signed four-year scholarship contracts; have been promised on-campus summer academies at Pellissippi State, the University of Tennessee and the Tennessee College of Applied Technologies; and have been promised robust family, social service, funding, college, and career supports. To end this partnership abruptly without fulfilling those promises is unacceptable.
It is difficult to fathom that our school board would reject the advances of the past 18 years, and unilaterally tear down the partnership bridges that have been built to increase the success rates of our most under-privileged children, with nothing proposed of relevance to replace the current joint effort. This community has made promises that need to be fulfilled to these children. In addition, the school board’s decision will impact continued and future public-private partnerships of all kinds for many years to come. We, the undersigned below, strongly urge the school board to focus on these concerns and we appreciate the school board’s action to take the time to thoughtfully consider a better resolution.
Sincerely, Project GRAD’s founding partners
(Please see the following page for the names of all who have signed in support of this statement.)
2001 Knox County Schools’ Partners
• Sam Anderson, former KCS School Board representative
• Jerry Hodges, founding executive director of Project GRAD
• Montina Jones, former KCS Vine principal
• Marion Quinn, former KCS Austin-East principal
• Michael Reynolds, former KCS Fulton principal
• Dr. Sharon Roberts, former KCS elementary principal
2001 Community Partners
• Gloria Deathridge, current KCS School Board
• Steve Diggs
• Takisha Fitzgerald
• Rev. Joseph Smith
• LeRoy Thompson
• Pam Trainor
• Dr. John Turner
2001 Business/Foundation Partners
• Chrisi Haretos (Bollinger)
• Governor Bill Haslam, who served as Project GRAD chair until he took office as governor in 2010
• Rodney Lawler
• Larry Martin, former COO of First TN Financial Services
• Larry Mauldin
• Kelly Milam
• Lila Pfleger, Executive Director of Lucille S. Thompson Family Foundation
• Bob Talbott
• Laurens Tullock
2001 Partnering Organizations
• Terrence Carter
• Dr. Allen Edwards, former Pellissippi State president
• Dr. Robert Levy, former University of Tennessee executive
• Alvin Nance
• Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero and former director of Knoxville’s Promise – The Alliance of Youth
• Vaughn Smith

TN(still not)Ready

Once again, the Tennessee Department of Education has both failed to deliver a usable achievement test and refused to accept responsibility. The email from Commissioner McQueen to Directors of Schools makes it clear that they are blaming everything EXCEPT the department’s continued failures:

Sent: Monday, April 16, 2018 3:07 PM
Subject: RE: Update on Nextera


Let me first express my appreciation at your patience and flexibility with the issue this morning. The issue earlier today was not related to either volume of student testers or a server issue. It was also not a problem with the test delivery system – Nextera – any network or broadband performance, nor any district action. It was not a “crash.” Our understanding from Questar is the issue was related to a conflict between the Classroom Assessment Builder (CAB) and the test delivery system, which previously shared the same log-in system. This conflict immediately caused unacceptable log-in delays for some students. That issue has been resolved, and we feel good going into testing tomorrow.

More than 20,000 test sessions have been started and/or completed since the fix was applied at 10:30 a.m., and the platform worked as anticipated in maintaining students’ progress and allowing students to complete their test despite the log-in issues.

We understand many of you suspended testing today, and we apologize for the unanticipated scheduling changes this issue may have caused. Our hope is that all testing is completed within the three-week testing window and that subpart 1 for English language arts and U.S. history is completed this week. If you believe you will need additional time, please reach out to However, timeliness is very important to ensuring that score reports and raw scores are delivered on the original timeline.

Finally, we know many of you have experienced long wait times with Questar customer service. We have escalated this issue with them.

Please continue to reach out. Thanks for your coordination with us today.



Candice McQueen, Ph.D. | Commissioner

Andrew Johnson Tower, 9th Floor 

710 James Robertson Parkway, Nashville, TN 37243

p: 615-741-5158 


We haven’t been given any indication of what the Department of Education considers to be a “state-wide” issue, but this list of outages, compiled from Facebook posts and personal contacts, looks pretty far-reaching:

Lake County
Maryville City
Milan SSD

Support for ProjectGRAD & Magnet Programs

For several weeks, the Knox County Board of Education has been receiving email in support of ProjectGRAD and our Magnet Schools programs. Where names are included, I have spoken with those persons, regarding publishing their full letters. (If your letter is included here and you DO NOT want your information redacted, please let me know and I will add it back in.) Otherwise, personal information has been redacted.

From Jennifer Owen to the Knox County Schools Administration:

I taught in a ProjectGRAD school for 10 years. Our GRAD facilitator/Campus Manager was highly and uniquely qualified to help the students in our school. She knew the families, the extended families, and their circumstances. When a student’s behavior was a little “off” and a teacher wasn’t sure what was going on, we could call Allison. Students trusted her and would tell her exactly what was going on – even if they didn’t realize it was bothering them. This is exactly the kind of counselor/social worker we keep lamenting we WISH we had for our most struggling students. This is exactly the kind of counselor /social worker our STUDENTS have told us they WANT and NEED (during strategic plan meetings). Yet, these are exactly the counselors and social workers we are considering eliminating, based on current budget recommendations.

In this budget, we are considering removing programs that have been in place and have become VERY important to the community. The sudden demise of a SUPPORT program like ProjectGRAD, that has become part of the IDENTITY of a school community, is a serious and unnecessary trauma for our families.  This is an entire community of students, parents, and staff, losing an entire community of people who have loved and supported them for 17 years.

We cannot both embrace a community focus and ignore the community

I encourage you to read the emails from students, staff, parents, and alumni, compiled below, and notice that they are not about one person or focused on anyone’s convenience. They are very different from our usual high-volume emails. Nobody gave out talking points or a template. Each is a unique personal experience. None of these are just about losing jobs or positions, but they are all about loss.

If we don’t understand how this is different from past cuts, I don’t think we understand what a community is or what we are doing to ours.  

Jennifer Owen
Knox County Board of Education, District 2

Rob Speas
Executive Principal
Fulton High School

March 5th, 2018

Dear Knox County School Board Members,
I writing to you today in support of the partnership between Knox County Schools and ProjectGRAD Knoxville (PGK). PGK is an integral part of how we support our students at Fulton High School. I have worked with PGK since its inception in 2001 when I served as a science teacher at Austin-East High School.

Over the years the focus of PGK has shifted from comprehensive school support model for urban schools to an organization with a narrower focus of helping to prepare students for their post-secondary educational opportunities. I believe that ProjectGRAD Knoxville brings significant value to the lives of our students by exposing students to post-secondary opportunities, navigating students through the college access pathway, and providing wrap-around services to remove barriers for students and their families.

Many students from poverty have a limited viewpoint of what opportunities lie before them. Students may lack role models that have an understanding of the importance of furthering their education in order to better their personal situations. PGK provides students with opportunities through summer institutes at Pellissippi State, the University of Tennessee, and Tennessee College of Applied Technology. Getting students out of their neighborhood and into a college setting shows them that they do belong in college and they can be successful there. Many of our students think college is for “other people.” The summer institute experience helps to distill this myth for them.

The latest enrichment opportunity which GRAD is providing, the Hands on the Future paid internships program, places our students in real world work-based experiences that allow them to make meaningful connections with mentors as well as giving them job readiness skills. Again, our students don’t have these experiences without PGK to provide them. ProjectGRAD Knoxville provides the hope of a different future to many of our kids.

The college access pathway is a maze filled with insider information and hidden curriculum. At-risk students, many of them first generation college attendees, just don’t have the resources to maneuver this route effectively. PGK unlocks the secrets to college access for both our students and parents. They walk students through building a college ready resume, applying to schools, preparing personal statements, guiding them through the FAFSA process, and researching scholarships. This work takes a significant amount of time as we have to track our students down and stay on them in order to get the process completed. PGK College Access also provides ACT preparation resources including after school tutoring and support of our ACT Prep classes. PGK encourages and incentivizes students to excel on Advanced Placement Exams.

All of these services help to move our students from graduates to Ready Graduates as defined by the state of Tennessee. In most high schools, the school guidance counselor takes on much of the college access work. Due to PG K’s work in college access, the counseling team is able to focus on meeting students’ academic and socio-emotional needs.

While this effect is not measured directly by analysis, I cannot overstate how important this is for our students. Our counselors are able to be proactive to support our large at-risk population of kids rather than being reactive. The services we provide to kids suffers greatly without ProjectGRAD Knoxville.

In addition to providing exposure and college access coaching for students, PGK supports students through wrap around services with Student and Family Support coaching (SFS). This position is an enhanced social worker who works to eliminate barriers that keep kids from accessing a high-level education. When students have needs around housing, clothing, food, or other basic supplies the SFS Coach steps in to connect the family with resources.

Students who are in mental health crisis, working through various DCS situations, or seeking shelter from an abusive family member lean on our SFS Coach to help.

The work of the SFS Coach cannot be separated from the work of the College Access Coaches. Students cannot focus on their education when dealing with crisis. Once these basic needs are met through the SFS Coach, they are able to replace their attention to getting ready for their post-secondary plans. The work of the two structures are integrated and necessary.

In closing, I would like to implore you to continue the partnership between ProjectGRAD Knoxville and Knox County Schools. The work that PGK does is essential to providing our students with an opportunity to better themselves and their situations. A better student grows into a better North Knoxville community. A stronger North Knoxville community strengthens all of Knox County.

Providing resources to our city center students through ProjectGRAD is an investment in the future of all of Knox County.

Thank you and Go Falcons,
Rob Speas
Executive Principal
Fulton High School



The following group of emails represents some of what was received by Wednesday morning, April 11, 2018

Dear Board Members,

I was among the 100+ people who could not even get into the “overflow” area Monday at the City-County Building. I think it is clear from the turnout and from the statements made that the budget as proposed by the Superintendent is a non-starter.

Please send the budget back to the administration for substantive re-working. If painful cuts must be made to staff and programs, they must be equitably distributed.

If the County Commission and Mayor must be told that revenue must be increased, no matter what was previously said, then that’s what they must be told.

I cannot tell you line by line what is needed. I can assure you that the budget as proposed does not meet the needs of the community and is an invitation to expensive and losing civil rights litigation.


Note from J. Owen:
The Board of Education is required to vote for a budget request to send to the Knox County Commission by April 15th. Any revisions to the current budget request must be voted on in the scheduled and noticed voting session that will take place tonight. The budget may be revised AFTER County Commission approves the total funding, but it will not increase after that.

My name is {redacted student name} I attend Career Magnet Academy in Strawberry Plains. I sincerely disagree with the proposed budget cutting. At my school, English and Math may not be the central focus, but there is so much more happening past that. From our first day of freshman year, we take dual credit classes that count as both high school and college classes. Over the course of that year, we learn about each one: Advanced Manufacturing, Sustainable Living, Homeland Security, and Teaching as a Profession. 

Now in my sophomore year as a Teaching as a Profession student, I have already taken multiple college classes. Friday, April 9th all the students in my pathway had the opportunity to teach elementary classrooms and observe the teachers. We will be going again this Friday and the next, to get actual experience in the classroom. The magnet funding made this experience possible for all scholars while only a sophomore in high school. 

On April 14, this Saturday, I am taking the ACT as a requirement to take classes upstairs in Pellissippi; this test is paid for with the magnet funding, and I would struggle to pay for it otherwise. I have met the requirements for both English tests and the Math test on the Accuplacer to already qualify for college classes both next year and twelfth grade.

To see what our magnet funding is truly for, please attend our showcase this Thursday at 5:30-7:00 pm and learn firsthand from students and teachers what we achieve at Career Magnet Academy.

Magnet funding does not buy higher test scores, and that does not mean these schools are not working. Magnet funding buys equal opportunities that would otherwise never be possible.





Board Members,

As I spend hours preparing a presentation to co-present a session at the upcoming national Magnet Schools of America conference, I find it rather ironic that the very program that a national organization recognizes as a quality magnet program worthy of five years of sessions presented by its Magnet Facilitator at their annual conference is in eminent danger of being stripped from our school.  You may be unaware that Knox County Schools has had the honor of having some of its Magnet Facilitators, teachers, and administrators chosen as representatives of KCS to present for many years at this prestigious conference with attendees from around the country. Just last year, I had the privilege of co-presenting two sessions at the MSA conference with my fellow elementary facilitators, {redacted names},  I’ve attached a photograph of the three of us after one of our two successful presentations, “Collaboration vs. Competition:  Growing a District Magnet Program with a Culture of Collaboration”.  Clearly, we are giving quality presentations that attendees are able to learn from about our stellar magnet programs.  We wouldn’t continue to be asked back year after year if that was not the case.

On the topic of recognition outside of our district, while we have not yet been named a  STEM School of Designation (no schools have to date as this is the first year for the designation and the announcement has yet to be made), for the past several years Green Magnet Academy’s STEAM program has earned state recognition.  The Tennessee STEM Innovation Network (TSIN) has chosen to bring their Innovative Leaders Institute (ILI) cohorts to GMA  for the past several years.  From the TSIN website, after the year-long institute, participants will leave with:

  • A clear framework of leadership at an innovative school
  • Increased capacity to promote innovative, rigorous and relevant instructional practices across the curriculum
  • Specific, tested strategies to improve staff effectiveness, learning and teaching in an innovative school
  • The foundation you need to open an innovative or STEM school

The TSIN and ILI state leaders choose Green Magnet Academy as a model and a place of learning for their participants.   Again, so very ironic, and incredibly sad, that GMA’s innovative STEAM magnet program is recognized at both the state and national level, but not within its own district.

I am bothered by the quote from Patti Bounds regarding the purpose of magnet programs, as it directly conflicts with what was explained to the board by Dr. Odom on Monday night.  As quoted from the WBIR story, “Bounds said the magnet programs began with the idea of increasing literacy and reading comprehension, and the programs were meant to support student achievement in those areas.”  This is in no form or fashion what Dr. Odom said, which is deeply concerning.  Board members appear to be unaware of the purpose of magnet programs in general (even after having had it explained less than 24 hours prior) as well as completely uninformed about the magnet programs in KCS.

In addition to Dr. Odom’s very clear explanation of the purpose of magnet schools, here is information directly from the Magnet Schools of America website:

Why Magnet Schools?

Excellence in academic enrichment is the key to successful college admission as well as to career accomplishments. Magnet schools, however, also enrich students in ways that create a positive effect on the community at large.

Through a more harmonious and healthy interaction to various cultures and socio-economic backgrounds, to developing a deeper understanding of community that comes from hands-on interaction with corporations, non-profits, cultural and academic institutions, students are exposed to a microcosm of the world at large, learning skills of interaction, team building and cooperation.

This positive integration imparts life skills that reach well beyond the classroom. Students of every learning level end up using these experiences in their future pursuits of higher learning and in their work life. Magnet schools close the achievement gap, improve racial harmony and empower all students to reach their individual potential.

I pose this question to you, what would the scores look like without the STEAM program?  I would venture to say that they would be even lower.  There is more than one way to look at data — growth tells a very important story.  The STEAM program excites our children about learning, it’s that hook that grabs them, fosters a curiosity and desire to learn.   It would be difficult for one reading specialist to achieve that same effect.  It’s going to take time.  The majority of the children who walk through our door come to us with years of deficits in addition to their daily struggles of poverty.

I want to say loud and clear, in NO WAY does the magnet program take away from literacy in our building, it enhances it.  Every staff member and every volunteer at GMA works to incredibly hard to help our students learn to read. Our literacy coach recently remarked that our first grade students are scoring higher than any other first grade cohort since she has been here over the past five years.  Ironically, this is after we made the decision for our major magnet focus to be to integrate the science and reading standards.  We began that very hard work last year, and have refined it this year and our expectation is that we will continue to see growth with our children in literacy.  

On the other hand, a large indicator of academic achievement is consistent leadership at a school.  I find it curious that when statistics are being tossed around that it is never mentioned the number of administration changes and staff turnover rates due to those administration changes.  I’ve been at Green Magnet Academy for six years.  In those six years, I’ve worked under FOUR principals and numerous assistant principals.  {redacted name} is the longest lasting administrator at five years since I have been at GMA.  The majority of our students have little or no consistency at home and they don’t have it at school, either.  

The very first step in education children is to create relationships.  Just as those relationships are forming, the administration changes yet again.  Put that together with the deficits that are present when the students walk through the door on the first day of their school career, and it’s no wonder it’s so difficult to gain traction on our student achievement.

I have dedicated my career for the past six years and poured my heart into building this program and want to be afforded the opportunity to allow it to continue to grow. Since I began working at KCS almost 19 years ago I have been involved with the magnet programs.  I started my KCS career at Beaumont Magnet Academy and my son is an alumnus of Beaumont. I am broken hearted for our children that their STEAM program is in danger of being taken away from them.  I, along with the GMA staff, am also absolutely dumbfounded and incredibly hurt  that this was presented to the board with absolutely no communication from the superintendent to our principal, that the elimination of our program was even being considered, let alone recommended.   

For other initiatives/changes (rezoning and standards based report cards, for example) numerous meetings are held with district and school level personnel prior to release to discuss planning, pros and cons, and HOW to deliver the information to the public.  At this point, parent informational and/or input meetings are held before decisions are made.  Magnet program elimination and funding reduction was not afforded that luxury.  Why?

 I could talk for days about our STEAM program, but I want to give you a list of a just few facts and what we stand to lose if this budget passes as is:

  • our transfer applications (“parent demand”) has increased every year since transitioning from a Math and Science Academy to a STEAM Academy six years ago
  • community business professionals (Bush Brothers CEO and Denso engineers, for example) are consistently beyond impressed with what our children are doing as a result of our STEAM programming — commenting that THIS is what they need from a high quality education for future employees
  • principals and teachers from around the state visit and learn from our STEAM program, and I personally have visited other schools who have implemented pieces and parts of what they have learned from us
  • STEAM Studies are a valuable part of our program — we have partnered with local businesses who have made the time to design a program and to allow our students to visit to see STEAM in the real world allowing the students to make connections to what they are learning on a daily basis (a few examples are Kindergarten visiting Krispie Kreme to see the science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics involved in making doughnuts; fifth grade students visit Bush Brothers museum and canning facility in Dandridge where high level employees speak to our students about how each of the STEAM silos are an integral part of their business; third grade students go to Threds where they visit the business offices, the art department, shipping department, and watch t-shirts designed by one of our own students being printed…and each leaves with their own t-shirt donated by Threds) — these will cease if the budget passes as is
  • STEAM Studies expose our students to job and career opportunities that they would never know exist otherwise — this opportunity will cease if this budget passes as is
  • our entire student body (K-5)  receives code and robotics instruction every week ($40,000 of code/robotics and virtual reality equipment will sit unused if this budget passes as is — this would be one of the positions cut)
  • the Design Lab is beloved by our children — when they walk through the doors, they are engineers fully engaged in the Engineering Design Process using  collaboration, critical thinking, problem solving, and creativity (this lab will cease to exist if the budget passes as is — this would be one of the positions cut)
  • there are currently hundreds of families in suspense, waiting, hoping, that their child “gets in” to GMA or another KCS magnet program 
  • we are gaining students for the 2018-2019 school year due to rezoning, yet we stand to lose six staff members in trade for one reading specialist — I don’t see how anyone thinks this will help us meet our students’ needs
  • the STEAM magnet program is who we are, it is our identity, we are proud of this identity and it is a positive part of this community — and we are in danger of being stripped of this identity by individuals who are not fully educated on magnet programs in general, and specifically, our STEAM program

I am asking you to reconsider the proposed budget and to include funding for our magnet program as well as the other magnet programs in the district.  Our children are worth the investment.  I can be contacted at 865-384-2198 and would welcome the chance for a conversation.  I would greatly appreciate acknowledgement that this email has been read before the vote tonight.  Thank you for your time.

Open Letter To Knox County School Board

School Board Members:

It deeply saddens me to be compelled to write this type of letter to you. I have spent all my adult life in service to our country and being a public servant. As a retired 28 year, highly decorated Commissioned and Non-Commissioned Officer in the United States Air Force and now a Senior Pastor in a local church, I am appalled at the disingenuous presentation of the proposed budget for the upcoming school year, by some of these elected public officials. Allow me to remind you that, public officials are elected to serve the needs of the people, not their own self-serving ideologies, ideals or interests.

I must commend Jennifer Owen, Gloria Deathridge, Susan Horn, and Lynne Fugate, who presented the budget with integrity and highlighted it’s severe shortcomings. I believe the public appreciated and respected their candor and honesty that, we expect from all of our elected officials. However, the remaining board members’ {redacted identification} deportment can be characterized from “apathy to appalling.”

The board chair, Patti Bounds did not display the needed leadership to ensure the condescending and “supremacy” disposition displayed by some of the board members where in kept in check. I believe she could have easily facilitated this forum in a more professional manner and displayed more sensitivity to the concerns of the constituents. She should of redirected and clarified some of the misguided presentations made by other board members, instead of being complicit in their gross misapplication of the data. The School Board Chair, could have easily made a wise leadership decision after a few presentations from the “Public Forum,” because the mere overwhelming presence of citizens from KNOX County, demonstrated loudly and clearly what “The People” wanted this school board to accomplish with this budget. I am confident, the good-will citizens of KNOX County would have relented from making further presentations, if the school board demonstrated they understood, cared about, and was willing to seek a solution to what “The People” wanted to happen with their tax dollars. This meeting revealed the glaring and grave leadership failure on this board that, needs to be immediately corrected.

Note from J.Owen:
Based on Board policy regarding public forum and prior decisions of the body, it would have been out of order for the Chair to attempt to halt the discussion. 

Board member Amber Roundtree, inaccurately conflated “literacy data,” with rationale to cut funding from Project GRAD and from the Magnet Programs at Green and Sarah Moore Green Schools, were shameful. Her conflated presentation of the data was an insult to people with common sense and especially those who have expertise in this area; who fully knew that, one had absolutely nothing to do with the other. This is why many citizens during the “Public Forum” refuted and rebuked her disingenuous and ill-fated attempt to conflate “literacy data” with rationale to cut funding from Project GRAD and Magnet Programs at Green and Sarah Moore Green Schools.

The most appalling, despicable, disingenuous, disgraceful, biased, and even bigoted presentation during this meeting was by board member Terry Hill. I must admit it is painful to replay her arrogant, insensitive and what I believe to be a racist presentation: Terry Hill’s presentation suggested that, to continue to fund the programs targeted for budgetary cuts would be a waste of financial resources. In essence, she was sending a clear and unsubstantiated message that, these programs were not beneficial to mostly black children in the underserved impoverished schools and communities of East Knoxville. Her assumptions were severely flawed and made without the due diligence needed to make such an assessment. “Leadership 101  demands that, if you are evaluating the worth of a program, you need to understand the program in context. It is evident that, several school board members do not understand the programs they decided to cut. It was a sad commentary when only two board members stood, when a “Public Forum” presenter asked, “Which school board members visited the schools they were cutting programs from?” Enough Said!

Note From J.Owen: It was out of order for the two of us to stand. Board policy does not allow interaction during public forum. Others who may have been to the school may have realized this more quickly than the two who stood. Additionally, this school is in the district served by Mrs. Deathridge and we may not have been able to see her, due to the size of the video.

Terry Hill’s presentation of the financial support per student from various schools in different districts, were woefully misleading and disingenuous. She disgracefully ignored and omitted a plethora of critical factors, to explain why a student in a District 1, underserved impoverished school, required more financial support per student, than a student in District 6, or other more affluent school districts. Her shameful and incomplete presentation in this area, was rebuked and refuted throughout the meeting by many knowledgeable “Public Forum” presenters.

The most diabolically disturbing thing of the entire meeting was Terry Hill’s presentation, in which she without impunity suggested that, an “A” from Austin East, is somehow inferior to an “A” from another school outside of District 1 (I don’t recall the exact school…you have the tape). I believe this was the most unfounded, insensitive, bigoted, and even racially charged remark anyone can suggest in private, much less in a public forum. This speaks in my opinion, to her arrogance, “White Supremacy,” and downright unapologetic racist tendency.

There was nearly a collective gasp in the audience, when she suggested this. Needless to say, this was offensive on so many levels! After this statement was made, many of the student presenters from Austin East and District 1 schools, throughout the meeting made a special emphasis, to denounce this derogatory and racist comment, by giving concrete examples how their “A” was real and just as worthy as an “A” from one of the more affluent school districts. Time and time again, students and parents of students from Austin East and other District 1 schools, cited, how their “A” enabled them to graduate as doctors, lawyers, business majors, and other professions from Ivy League Schools and how their “A” helped them garner numerous scholarships from universities all over America.

I can’t stress this enough, how insulting and racially degrading this statement was, not only to students and parents who have children from District 1 schools, but for every person in the East Knoxville Community, every person who attended an underserved impoverished school, and every person of common human decency. Let me be crystal clear, I believe Terry Hill is utterly unfit to be in Public Office! I believe she is unfit to be on the KNOX County School Board! I believe she should immediately and gracefully resign from the school board or be forced to resign.

I insist that, she also recuse herself from the budget process! Make no mistake about it, with views like she arrogantly and openly displayed, she cannot objectively, fairly and without discrimination, make decisions regarding people whom she deem inferior. It is evident and clear that, this budget is tainted with the stain of bigotry of the worse kind and is an affront to justice, equality, and even one of the “stated goals” of the school board to “eliminate educational disparities.”

Even as I painstakingly write this letter, my heart still aches and I am somewhat still shocked and nauseated by her audacity to suggest this racial comparison between students of KNOX County Schools. I suggest and submit to you, because of the overwhelming obstacles and challenges that face many students within District 1 schools, and impoverished communities that, when a student makes an “A” they ought to be lauded and not degraded as being inferior!

Terry Hill needs to make a public apology for her disgraceful and racially charged comments and then she needs to resign from the KNOX County School Board immediately. I also implore any other member of this school board, to please display some level of integrity and resign, if you know in your heart that, you are biased and bigoted towards people of color or undeserved impoverished people.

Needless to say, this school board is in dire need of new leadership and sensitivity training. Many of the members are woefully out of touch and have not demonstrated the capacity or willingness to understand the challenges of diverse communities and how they impact students. I will be more than gladly facilitate this awareness training at no cost! As a 28 year military leader, I’ve had the pleasure of helping to bridge cultural gaps of people from nearly every societal status, into a harmonious team, where dignity, respect, and understanding, help them achieve and excel beyond the mission’s requirements.

My prayer is for each school board member to humble yourself, look deep within your heart and with integrity of the highest order, adhere to the outcry of “The People,” who sent a resounding and clear message, to Fund Project GRAD and do not cut the Magnet School Programs from Green or Sarah Moore Green, as proposed. Additionally, please find a way to give the irreplaceable teachers a raise in salary! “We The People” have spoken! Are You Listening?

Please Note: I attached my presentation from the “Public Forum” for your deep mediation and consideration. Finally, please note that, this letter was drafted by a person who made “A’s” from underserved and impoverished schools in Mississippi. Therefore, there is hope for all of our children, who are likewise challenged.

Prayerfully Submitted,
Reverend Dr. Valentino J. McNeal
KNOX County Resident


Instead of choosing which vital programs to cut and which students to abandon, you should submit a realistic budget to County Commission and let the folks in your district know why.  What does it take to serve our students?  It’s way past time for the Commission to step up.  

I think taxpayers will be willing to help our students, but only if we ask.  

Thank you,



Knox County School Board,

As a parent of Knox County public school children, I’m writing to add my voice to the many you’ve already heard. My daughters attend Bearden Middle School (YIB) and West High School (IB).  

It’s my hope that you will find another way to fund projects besides taking away opportunities for underserved youth. I’ve seen the benefit of Project Grad through my work as {redacted}. I worked on a program through American Graduate that allowed me the opportunity to work with students from Austin East High School and to get to know the committed work that Project Grad does. I’ve had the opportunity to interface with organizations such as Knoxville Urban League and I served as a board member of the now defunct organization Tribe One. These organizations worked with communities served by the work of Project Grad. I am a huge fan of the Community School for the Arts and the work they do within the arts magnet programs in Knox County. 

The consensus of many that I know is that the board is prepared to move forward with these budget cuts. It’s hard for me to believe that you would throw these kids and their communities under the bus like this. I hope it’s not true. 

If these programs are cut, I hope you understand that you all will have lost the faith and support from many of Knox County residents that you serve. If you value your community and your positions, you’ll do the right thing. Find another way. 

Thank you,



To: members of the Knox County School Board

Since I spoke on Monday evening, you already know that I support funding for Project GRAD and the two magnet programs.

You heard many reasons of the value of these programs as you listened to students, parents, and others who spoke on Monday.

One theme that impressed me was that many of the speakers expressed concern for others who would be affected should these valuable programs be eliminated.

I also want to respond to this comment by Superintendent Thomas in his letter of Apri14,2018 to the school board:

The REA analysis of Project GRAD showed that attending a Project GRAD school did not correlate with an increase in the school’s graduation rate.

For students in the schools served by Project GRAD from the base year before GRAD in 2001 to 2016

         high school graduation rates increased from 50 to 78% (and now we heard that increased to 80%)

         post-secondary enrollment grew from 30 to 54%

         And, comparing the national post-secondary graduation rate for similar, low-income students: 10% compared to 48% for GRAD supported students

Project GRAD matters and is critical to the success of the students who attend the 14 schools served by GRAD staff – all the schools.

Thank you for thoughtful deliberation that I hope results in retaining funding for these programs.

Dear Board members,

You can summarize what everybody is telling you by this simple thought,

“Give us a budget that delivers on Excellence for Every Child.”

A budget is a moral statement. If the money to make “Excellence for Every Child” real isn’t in your budget, writing it on the whiteboard a hundred times doesn’t make the budget less of a betrayal.

Your job is to propose a budget that funds our schools properly, and delivers on your promise of “Excellence for Every Child.” It is the Commission’s job to fund the budget you give them. If the Commission refuses to fund the budget, it will be the Commissioners that face the citizens, not you–just the way it should be.

Do your job and let the Commission do its job.

Thank you for your service to our community,



Good morning Ms. Owen,

I want to offer my most sincere gratitude for the stance you’ve taken and your willingness to be an advocate for magnet programming and for Project GRAD funds to remain in place in this year’s school budget.

I pray that enough of your colleagues on the board will have a change of heart after the marathon we all ran on Monday evening. Again, I offer my warmest thanks for your position on this very important issue.


Dear School Board Member,

This is my twenty-sixth year working for Knox County Schools. My three children have all been through or are going through our school system {redacted student information}. My husband and I grew up in Knoxville and are also products of Knox County Schools.

I’m writing to express my deepest concerns for the proposed budget for the 2018-19 school year. While I recognize the difficulty in creating a budget for a school system as large as ours with so many diverse needs, I feel compelled to highlight the two areas that cause me the greatest concern regarding my job, our students, and my own children. I recognize cuts must be made to fund our two new middle schools. I implore you to NOT approve that THIS is where those cuts occur.

With so much of the focus being placed on Project GRAD and magnet funding, I feel like the impact of the proposal regarding the gifted and talented students in our county has slid under the radar for most. Our coaches have not taken to social media to express our concerns, nor has the public been properly informed as of this date. These changes are currently being shared with teachers this month, and parents are expected to be notified in May. Therefore, very few people understand the magnitude of these shifts. Furthermore, we, as coaches, were not informed of the intent to further cut our department by 5. We just endured a cut of 7 in January 2018! We thought our cuts were done until we heard Dr. Rysewyk speak at the school board meeting.

From the superintendent’s memorandum:

“We are also implementing a new approach to gifted and talented services that will train teachers to provide these supports, thereby allowing us to reallocate several coaching positions.”

This reallocation means the coaching positions have been cut from the gifted and talented department, directly affecting the services we provide. This is a 60% reduction of our coaches (from twenty in the 2017-18 budget to the eight currently proposed for the 2018-19 school year), and this is NOT in the best interest of the advanced/high-ability students of our county. This is my seventh year working in this department. It has been and always will be a GT coach’s #1 priority to meet the needs of advanced learners across our district. We’ve been doing this for eight years through a combination of teacher and student support. By removing the “student support” portion of this service and deciding to place the burden on the backs of teachers, the priority for serving these students has now plummeted to the bottom of the list. Let’s face it. If you’re a classroom teacher, which I was for nineteen years, your priorities are all too often those students that aren’t mastering the standards and need more support. It is not a typical teacher’s #1 priority to focus on those students that have standard mastery when they walk in the door. The problem with this is that the priority moves so far down the list that it often doesn’t get done due to time constraints, no matter how strong the intentions. This is not to state that teachers aren’t doing their jobs to the best of their abilities. I’m just making the point that this is one more thing added to their plates when they currently don’t have the time in their schedules to add one more thing. With that lack of time, something gets dropped off the list. I don’t feel it’s in the best interest of these students for them to be the thing that gets dropped, and I feel certain that it will be. I know this based on the collective experiences I’ve had with my own children (all three in need of services for advanced students) plus my seven years of experience across a multitude of schools within our county (all sizes and demographics). Our advanced students shouldn’t be anyone’s last priority. 

Furthermore, I’d like to address some of the comments made by Dr. Rysewyk at the Monday school board meeting on April 9, 2018. 

  • His statement that the department would be losing five coaching positions isn’t accurate, for we had 20 at the start of this school year. We were told in Nov. that our department was “restructuring”, and seven coaches were reallocated to serve in different departments, starting in Jan. 2018. We’ve spent countless hours trying to figure out a way to serve the entire county with only thirteen coaches, and I can’t imagine how we’ll be able to serve 50 elementary schools with only 8 coaches in this current budget proposal.
  • His statement that no system-wide department has more than 8 coaches, therefore GT shouldn’t have more than 8 doesn’t paint the whole picture. Almost all 50 elementary school have a full-time math or literacy coach within their buildings. These 8 system-wide math or literacy coaches are serving their schools with the support of the full-time coaches in those buildings in the vast majority of cases. They’re not trying to serve the entire county alone. The 8 remaining GT coaches would be expected to serve all 50 elementary schools without ANY additional coaching support at ANY school.
  • This new structure is being compared to the RTI model, and this also doesn’t paint the full picture. Schools HAVE to serve the tiers of instruction due to state law, so when an RTI coach supports the school, the structures they put in place must be fulfilled to meet the requirements of the law. The same isn’t true for GT coaching. Often, we’re told a school doesn’t have an enrichment group because they don’t have an adult left in the building to teach it, since they’re all teaching RTI groups. While some schools will be able to do an amazing job of supporting their GT students since they have a large population of them, some schools simply don’t have the staffing to do so. Why should those students suffer, just because of where they attend school? 
  • With his point-of-view that, for the past eight years, we’ve been incorrectly providing student supports when all of our time should have been spent providing teacher supports is respected and heard. However, I don’t understand why this new, 100% focus on teacher supports has to come through a reduction of 60% of our GT coaches. It is crystal clear from the services that we’ve already been providing that spreading eight coaches across 50 elementary schools will NOT provide the services that ~4,300 students desperately need.

With that said, the GT coaches currently within our tiny department are the best educators I’ve ever seen in this county or beyond. As we always do when faced with adversity and change, we’ll continue to do our very best. I’m just concerned that spreading us thinner than we’ve ever been is not the answer for our students. Knox County Schools’ homepage states that we want “to ensure we are providing our students with skills they will require to meet the challenges of tomorrow”. With this new plan, I feel we’re failing to do that for our most advanced students. Without the challenges they need, on a regular basis, they’re learning to be content with the status quo, to do just enough to “get by”, and they’re not prepared for how to fail and persevere to move forward when things get difficult. These skills are critical for future success in college or career, and it’s imperative that ALL students be provided with regular opportunities for productive struggle. Cutting the GT department by 60% shouldn’t be the answer.

From the superintendent’s memorandum:

“Based on our program evaluations, I am recommending a reduction in funding for magnet schools. By eliminating the annual allocations to all magnet schools. . .”

My concern here centers around Beaumont Magnet Academy {redacted} and L & N STEM Academy {redacted student information}.

I’ve seen firsthand the impact both of these schools are having and have had.

Many of these decisions are being proposed without firsthand knowledge of what happens on a day-by-day basis in each of these places. One of the big draws for these students is the choices they’re able to make in how they learn the standards.

My first-born son expressed that he finally had a place he felt like he belonged when he first started at L & N. He was inspired by the multitude of opportunities offered to him, most of which will be cut without funding. Regarding BMA, there’s no other place like it, and the losses these students will face due to these cuts is too extraordinary.

Creating opportunities for alternative learning through our magnet programming is one of the best decisions I’ve ever seen our county make, and I can’t fathom why we would want to choose this area as a place that can handle cuts in the budget. 

I feel that the budget proposals regarding these two specific areas of the budget are in direct contradiction to one of the goals highlighted by our superintendent, eliminating disparities in both academic and discipline outcomes. When cuts are made that support two ends of the spectrum regarding high-ability/advanced students in addition to some of our lowest achieving schools, I can’t possibly see how these choices support this goal.

It feels like these choices are increasing disparities, not eliminating or even lowering them.

Thank you,



Ms. Owen,

I am writing to plead with you not to take away funding for the Magnet programs at Green Magnet and Sarah Moore Green Magnet schools. These programs are providing hundreds of inner city children in Knoxville with opportunities to experience STEAM and a higher quality of education. Green Magnet can show the highest growth rate (5) possible on last years TN Ready score and is in an upward trajectory ( or at least beginning depending on how you see it).  Additionally, the pre-k class was removed from the school after the 2016-2017 school year.  It feels like a kick in the gut to hear the school board complain about reading scores, push for pre-k funding, take it away from our priority school, then say our children aren’t learning to read when pre-k is a proven foundation for reading success.  

One reading specialist cannot supplement the entire team of support that comes from magnet education. 

If the Magnet schools are stripped of funding, several things will happen to these schools. First, the children zoned for these schools will suffer in all future educational endeavors. These programs give these kids a vast array of experiences and opportunities that help create tracks for their future educations. Secondly, transfer students who have the choice will back out of these schools taking their parental involvement and resources with them. There is currently a waiting list of over 60 students who want to get into Green Magnet school. They bring with them diversity and resources. If the Magnet program is stripped, these students will go elsewhere. Third, there is a trend of young families moving into inner city Knoxville and they are looking for educational options for their kids. You have the opportunity to create thriving schools on this side of town that are integrated both racially and socio-economically bringing a rich experience to all involved. These schools could be great and the poorer and more vulnerable children of Knoxville could be given the chance to succeed and become more than a poorly educated person with little to no opportunities to make it in America’s workforce. Please don’t take this chance from them. I believe we are talking about life and death for many of these students. Please stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves by funding these Magnet schools. 

Thank you for taking your time to consider these critically important things for the kids of Knoxville,



I thought it important to let you know my thoughts regarding the upcoming budget vote. While I understand that the success or failure of any program is typically judged these days on the basis of its impact on test results, I caution you to remember that test scores never show the whole impact of any program.

There are many intangible benefits of Project Grad and magnet programs that may not be reflected in test scores.

Having never taught at a Project Grad or a magnet school, I cannot speak directly to the value of the programs, but I can tell you, from my experience, if 87 people make the time to come and speak to the board, they are probably each speaking for many other individuals. I would also caution you about the optics of cutting a program from high needs schools while we are building two suburban middle schools at the same time. I cannot tell you where to cut, but I don’t think it is wise to cut Project Grad and magnet funding at this time. It may be time to ask the County Commission for more funds.



Hello Ms. Owen,

Thank you for your service in Knox County. I would like to share my thoughts about the recent proposal to cut funding to Project GRAD. I think this is a huge mistake, and it should not be treated lightly. Project GRAD has a unique and deep connection to the community, as illustrated by yesterday’s meeting. I very much oppose cutting the program.

Knoxville is my home of record, but I am currently serving in a small village in Botswana (Africa) as a Peace Corps Volunteer working for an NGO.

But after working with the Boys & Girls Club for six years before I came here- working with the incredible students and families who attend the Knox County Magnet Schools- I found it imperative to find WiFi and send you a message. I hope you and the rest of the board will do the right thing today.

Thank you,



The kids in the center city really do need the support of Project Grad and the Magnet programs. Someone at the Monday meeting said the data show them to not be effective. My problem with that assumption is that you do not have data to show what the scores would be for these kids if the support of Grad and Magnet had not been present.

Twice while I taught at Beaumont the scores were low and the following year all sorts of tutoring and individual and group help were provided by the State of Tennessee. The extra help caused the scores to rise significantly. Each time, the following year, the supports were removed, since some decision maker thought the problem had been solved, but that was not true. The scores plummeted again. With support the students succeeded. 

An official from the district or the state asked me what had happened to make the scores go down. My answer was that the kids needed ongoing help and support in order to succeed year after year. To me, their success is a very important priority.

I believe that learning to read and learning math are the top priorities for elementary students. Related arts, physical activity, and focus on specialized interest curricula actually enhance children’s learning. 

Please, please do not fail the students by removing the support that they need. Please continue to support center city students by NOT cutting funding. 



As the granddaughter of the first female school board chairman in Knoxville, I feel compelled to speak out against taking away project GRAD and the magnet programs from our disadvantaged students. I went to Vine Middle in my younger years and saw first hand the positive impact that these programs had on my classmates and I. It gave us opportunities, but most of all it gave us hope for our future. You have a choice:

You can continue to help these underprivileged children on paths to brighter futures, or you can directly demolish programs that have a significant influence not only on our children, but our community as a whole.

I urge you to do the right thing.



Dear Board of Education,

I’m {redacted student name} and I’m a senior at Fulton High School. I can say as someone who’s almost finished with K-12 education, my experience with Fulton has been a frustrating one. Not frustrating in the way any student would be with school, but a more of an itch that’s seemingly under the skin. It’s frustrating telling people I go to Fulton only to be met back with empathetic faces. It’s frustrating knowing just how poor Fulton and their students are in relation to all Knox County schools. It’s frustrating hearing how one of your fellow board members can say “Why don’t Austin-East kids act like Farragut students” and not realize what’s wrong with that statement.

And it’s especially frustrating that me, my classmates, my teachers, parents, and our communities have to beg that you don’t take away the most important programs our schools have ever had.  

I just find it unbelievable that we have to sacrifice programs that serve Knox County’s most disadvantaged communities in order to subsidize two new middle schools built in 95% white neighborhoods. I can’t help but think, with this budget proposal gaining considerable traction, that the board is more than content to throw the education support of Knoxville’s black communities down the drain to help make the lives of white middle class America just that more convenient. Just think about what could happen here; your fellow colleagues are looking in the faces of historically struggling schools, with a historically struggling population, and they plan on gutting the little semblance of help they have left.

How can you expect minorities in this county to trust that the board has our best interests in heart, when you threaten to take away programs that have changed countless lives like Project GRAD. For anyone to erase Project GRAD and Magnet Programs is to not realize the loss of human potential that would alter the lives of countless families, and make an already segregated Knox County only that more separate.

I write this letter to you not from a place of direction-less anger at the system, but as someone that has seen the immense importance Project GRAD first-hand. Project GRAD is so much more than just a $4,000 scholarship. They provide not only much needed structure to students, but also show that they too can go to college. My earliest memory of Project GRAD was in the Third Grade, that’s support literally every step of the way. For many that will be the first in their family to pursue post secondary education, that kind of help is a God send. The counselors don’t just spill rehearsed lines, they speak to the very real concerns and fears that students have, not just on college but in life. I’ve seen with my own eyes how often my classmates are in their offices. They’ve even helped me, someone who’s not in Project GRAD, help make sense of the confusing world of applying to colleges.

I plead that the board reject this proposal and any proposal that puts our Magnet Programs and Project GRAD at risk. Not only because the loss of potential in our county would that of a tragedy, but because I hope that one day someone can say they go to Fulton and not be met with pity.




Dear Ms. Owen,

My name is {redacted}, and I am the mother of two honors students at Beaumont Magnet Academy, both of whom have been identified as being “gifted and talented.”  I am writing to express my concern over the proposed cuts to the Gifted and Talented (GT) Program in the Knox County Schools (KCS) Budget.

My fourth grader, {redacted student name), started participating in pull-out GT groups in third grade, the earliest age at which giftedness was recognized in KCS in 2016.  She also benefitted from special weekly reading groups led by a GT coach when she was in Kindergarten at Rocky Hill Elementary School.  {redacted student name} loves her weekly pull-out GT sessions and the work she does related to those sessions.  She tells me it’s the only time in the week she feels like she’s “really thinking.” Before she started GT, she complained of being “bored at school” and “never learning anything.”

My second grader, {redacted student name}, entered kindergarten early, so she was formally identified as being gifted at age 4 through IQ testing.  She started participating in pull-out GT groups this school year, when KCS started identifying GT students as young as kindergarten.  My husband and I were pleased to see that KCS was finally making accommodations for younger gifted students.  {redacted student name}, like her big sister, enjoys the challenge of learning new things, something she experiences in her GT pull-out sessions.  {redacted student name} requires the extra attention and teaching that her GT sessions provide, to achieve her full learning potential.

According to Superintendent Bob Thomas’s Memorandum dated April 4: “We are also implementing a new approach to gifted and talented services that will train teachers to provide these supports.”  My understanding is that the Gifted and Talented program used to have 20 coaches.  In November 2017, KCS cut the number of coaches down to 13, and now they want to cut 5 more.  If the proposed changes go through, we won’t have enough coaches to work with students in groups using the pull-out system.

Being intellectually gifted is a Tennessee state-identified disability for which a student qualifies for special education services.  Therefore, giftedness should receive the same attention and support as other disabilities.  Teachers get support from assistants and special education teachers for students with disabilities and disorders.  They require the same support for gifted students.  As formally trained teachers, my husband and I know how difficult it is to differentiate learning material for a class.  Teachers have enough work to do, without adding the weight of specialized teaching for gifted students to the list, as well. 

My husband and I feel like KCS needs to do more, not less, to support gifted students.  It’s heart-breaking to hear your child say she only uses her brain once a week at school.  GT has ensured that our children are learning at their potential and that they remain engaged and challenged by school work. 

{redacted student name} is very concerned about the future of her pull-out GT groups.  The last question she asked me this evening was, “What’s going to happen to the GT program?” I told her I didn’t know, but I promised her that I wasn’t going to let it go without a fight.

Thank you for your time and consideration.



Ms. Owen,

Thank you for your service on the KCS School Board. 

I wanted to share with you why I, a mom of a kindergartner at Rocky Hill Elementary School, went to the school board meeting on Monday.  

The best way to do so is by, first, reiterating one parent’s statement at the meeting: “The truth is that we are fighting for our children’s lives.” 

The truth is that I don’t know what that’s like. If my kids (I have a three-year-old as well as the kindergartner) need something, I buy it. If they need instruction, I can give it or hire it. I can get them medical care, occupational therapy, tutoring, swim lessons, music lessons, and counseling. And I have. My family is not wealthy—we live on one educator’s income—but we have everything we need. I quit my job and have stayed at home with my children and played and read to them for hours a day. 

This is my world. It is not the world of most of the students at Green Magnet Academy and Sarah Moore Greene.

The facts are that 76.9% and 77.9% of students at GMA and SMGMA, respectively, live below the poverty line. These moms cannot hire a tutor. These dads cannot get occupational therapy for their sons. Or counseling. Or quality preschool care. Or regular check-ups. Or swim lessons.

And family economic hardship is, as the National Center for Children in Poverty shows, the chief reason for academic failure, and academic failure is, as you and I know, a dead end. 


I’m working to understand the limitations of my understanding. I encourage you to do so. 

How could Project GRAD and some magnet components save anyone’s life? 

For one board member seemed to sum up this budget issue simply, as the cutting of unsuccessful programs. Please refuse simplification. Hundreds of parents, children, faculty, community members, and pastors were refusing it by showing up Monday evening. They see value in investment in schools, like GMA and SMGMA, that have 74% and 77% (respectively) African-American students. They see investing in these programs as investing in children who have sizable deficits to overcome (from deprivation in early childhood to limited opportunities in their immediate surroundings). 

Yes, it’s about race. And it’s about poverty. This budget issue is anything but simple.

But one aspect of this issue can be made fairly simply. 

Arne Duncan, former Secretary of Education, told The Atlantic in 2016 that as a nation “we don’t truly believe there’s tremendous talent…among black and brown children or among poor children. So we choose to under-invest.” 

I assume that you ran for KCS’s school board because you did believe. You believed in talent, even if it was hidden among generations of racist stigma, you believed in intelligence even if it was buried under a traumatic start in poverty. You believed. Why else would you have wanted to run for a difficult, divisive and relatively thankless position in local government?

Please vote that belief in black and brown and poor children who have not had what I have had, or perhaps what you have had. Please vote that belief: for, by choosing to fund these magnet programs and Project GRAD, we speak of our belief in black and brown and poor children.



Hello Board Members,

My name is {name redacted}. I am a resident of the 2nd District, an employee pf Knox County Schools, and a proud Project GRAD Scholar from Fulton’s 2008 graduating class.

By my subject line and introduction, I am sure it is quite obvious to you why I am writing tonight.

I am coming to the defense of Project Grad, just like they have come to my defense so many times in my life.

This program has given so many of our Knox County students something they might not have otherwise: hope. Hope for the future, hope for a better life than they might have otherwise, and hope that they can succeed. I saw it every day as a student at Fulton, and I saw it every day when I returned to be the {position redacted} in August of 2013.

As a data guy, I understand the rationale behind these cuts, but I would argue that in so many ways, the benefits of Project GRAD cannot be measured or shown on a graph. The GRAD staff at Fulton are the reason so many of those student make it, not only to graduation but to a post-secondary institution.

I have seen the students who they reach– the ones who might have slipped through the cracks. The relationships they are able to build because they are not as over-burdened as out teachers are much needed. It was relationships like this that kept so many student I knew on track to graduate. Getting rid of these invaluable people would be a detriment not only to these students but to the communities around them. These decisions have a much bigger impact than just losing 5 staff members in a building.

When I was student at Fulton I was able to cultivate relationships with Ms. Holloway and Ms. (Nicole) Chandler, and they made all the difference to my high school career. They helped me every step of the way– and they definitely never let me give up when I thought I could not manage it. Then, when I went off to college, I had no idea what I was doing or where I was going. Luckily for me (and thousands of others), our College Success Coaches were there to help us navigate a new and exciting world. When I started, it was Renee Kelly in this position, and she made sure that I had everything I needed to begin my journey, and later, Annette Long made sure I finished my journey by graduating with a 4.0 GPA. Because of this support, I am where I am today, and I am who I am today. I know that might sound a little ridiculous, but it is nothing but the truth.

If I you’re still hanging on, I want to touch on the proposed cuts to magnet programming at Green Magnet Academy and Sarah Moore Greene Academy. I will not attempt to say that I have any background knowledge that makes me equipped to tell you how well these programs are working. I do not.

I do, however, have a habit of trusting teachers and parents and students. When I hear nothing but support for a program, I have to assume that they are doing something right in a school. When I hear the sheer amount of community pride and support like I heard last night, I have to assume that these are programs worth keeping.

I wish that I had some great recommendations as to potential cuts you could make. I only really know the ins and outs of the parts of the budget I see in my position, but honestly, I cannot think of a single thing that we can really afford to cut. Our students deserve the best, and I cannot imagine not trying my darndest to give them the best. I am 100% sure you feel the same way– why else would you be here?

I know you have some tough decisions to make, and I won’t belabor the point by making hollow accusations or pointing any fingers. I know the amount of hard work that you each put in for your districts (and for our school system as a whole), and it is to be applauded.

I will, however, close by saying that I know that Project GRAD has to remain in these schools. If we want those students to not only survive but to thrive, they need GRAD.

Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedules to read this rather long email. I tend to get a bit verbose when I am passionate about something. I hope you all can come together and make the best decisions for our kids.

All my best,





Knox County Board of Education,

While I could not attend the working session last night due to childcare, I did watch it live and reviewed what I had missed today and wanted to express my concerns as well. 

My name is {name redacted} and I am a resident of Knox County and am zoned for Sarah Moore Green, Vine, and Austin East. My wife and I have two young children, ages 5 and 3. They currently attend the University of Tennessee Early Learning Center, and our daughter will be entering Knox a County Schools next year. 

We have requested a magnet transfer from our zoned school of SMG to Beaumont, with a second choice of Green and are still awaiting our transfer letter (which I will remind was supposed to be sent last week). I expect that the transfer confirmation letters are on hold until this budget mess is sorted out. I say mess, because that is exactly what it is. Regardless of whether my daughter attends our requested transfer school or our zoned school next year, what happens tomorrow will impact her and, in two years, our son. 

First I will say we are probably not the typical SMG, BMA, or Green zoned family. My wife and I are both engineers with 3 bachelor’s degrees between us and I am working toward a master’s. We can afford to send our children to private schooling, which many people have suggested to us that we do. 

However, we have chosen not to. We want to support our community’s public schools. We want to work with not only our own children but to be able to take an active role in their school to help make brighter futures. We want to help children believe that they can succeed, and that they can become engineers, scientists, doctors, or anything else they dream. 

We have requested a Beaumont transfer as our first choice primarily due to legacy – you see, my wife was part of the program as a 3rd grader when it first started in the early 90’s. At the time she was zoned elsewhere but her parents wanted to support the program and what it was doing.

Not long after, her sister began at BMA, and later her brother. We would love for our children to have the same experiences that they had while there. As a second choice, we selected Green STEAM because as engineers we have already instilled engineering into our children- it’s hard not to – and therefore they are very interested in everything from robots to roads and from power plants to planes. Since we are zoned for SMG we had no third choice transfer. 

The proposed budget, if enacted, impacts our children and our own ability to help our children’s school on the path to success. Magnet schools to us are more than bringing in outside students to bring up a school’s test scores by the law of averages. Magnet schools to us are a way to bring in outside resources – from fundraising in areas outside of the local generally impoverished areas to parents to volunteer their time when the majority of the families at the school have parents that can’t because they have to work multiple jobs or extended hours to put food on the table and keep the lights on. Magnet schools most importantly, however, provide the community’s students resources and opportunities – from classes like dance and engineering to programs like field trips and after school programs – that just wouldn’t be in reach otherwise. 

Please consider what is at stake by choosing to cancel the magnet and Project GRAD programs in 2019 with this proposed budget, and understand that impacting them in this manner will take them beyond the point of no return as they exist.

Choosing to not fund these programs for even just one year will prevent them from returning to effectiveness for many years to come. 

If you as a board member truly believe these programs are not on the right path, then continue to fund them rather than cancel – and provide the direction for course correction, understanding that these programs are to complete long term objectives rather than short term goals or quick fixes. 






That was quite a meeting last night. I think the entire meeting came off quite well. I never dreamed that many people could come to a SB meeting and was not expecting it myself.

I surely appreciate the SB handling things the way you did. And I was also very impressed with the consideration that most speakers presented in their message.

As I said last night, I really felt the sincerity and the truth that people spoke with. Speakers were almost all positive in trying to express their feelings toward the proposed budget cut that would mean so much damage to their community. They talked about the plusses and good things instead of dwelling on bad feelings toward other people and blame. And the diversity in gender, professions, race and education was impressive as they spoke in unison.

I know there are several other ways to deal with the budget problem. None of them are easy. But we can all be a part of restoring the faith of a lot people, in society doing the right thing for the marginalized communities. The communities are working hard to catch up.

I promise to show up a County Commision if you decide to ask for the money this community needs to support our teachers and to keep programs like Project Grad and the magnet program money the way it is. I will also bring a lot of people with me. I

will also speak up for money for the teachers and more special skilled teachers. We cannot keep asking our teachers to do more and expect them to stay, especially at that pay grade. The good ones just leave when they get a chance.

Thank you for all your hard work. That was a blessed experience for me last night.



I am writing you to tell you about the things that the speakers last night did not mention.  

I have substituted all over the county for the last 2 years. I have seen a LOT of elementary schools and have had a special glimpse of the inner-workings of schools, and the general attitude of their students, while working for Knox County. I pride myself on working everywhere, rarely going back to the same school more than a couple times, just so I can see the whole county. But I also have a selfish reason for doing this: my family and I plan to buy a house in 2 years, and we want to pick the best part of Knoxville, with the best school system. 

I have worked at some GREAT schools, like Powel, Rocky Hill, Bonnie Kate, Sequoya Hills, and others. But I have to say, with ALL MY HEART, none of them compare to Beaumont, and the other 2 magnet schools follow closely behind. There are several reasons I say this. The first reason is: Innovation.

What you see at magnet schools like Beaumont is an administration and a team of teachers and staff who always seek improvement. They flawlessly research and implement new learning strategies, motivated to make every moment the children are in school a useful one. Transitions, behavior issues, class division, and below-level students are just some of the problems magnet schools have fought, and won. This is something I have seen that other “great” schools lack.

So many good schools out there are “comfortable” where they are in the education world, and so they implement the SAME STRATEGIES THAT they used to teach our grandmothers! And when questioned, it is always the STUDENT who is the problem, NOT the strategy executed. With magnets it’s the other way around, and because of that, they get results time and time again, with the most difficult students. Go to another school, and the same “trouble” students are labeled that for their entire school career. You and the board heard yesterday some of the amazing things these programs also do for needy children, so I won’t go into that here. You may wonder if there is divide between the Honors Program students and those in standard classes, but Beaumont solves this too, integrating same-grade teams across classes during encore, lunch, and recess, so that students can learn from each other. 

Another unique contribution magnet schools bring is: Specialization. When you hear the news, America is known for falling  behind in our schools in the same areas: creative thinking, the Arts, and math and the sciences. Magnet schools solve this!

One of the things my daughter loves the most about school is she gets to have dance, theatre, instumental music (yes, even in Kindergarten they learn to play instruments!), and visual arts every week. Three times a year they have exhibit night, where every student performs, and art created with partner museums is professionally matted and placed through the school halls! It is truely a sight to see. I live in a historic neighborhood with many UT professors, and young professionals. A common statement I hear from neighbors is, “My child got into the Honors Program at Beaumont! Now we don’t have to pay for private school!” (No lie. I have heard this several times from different families; I personally can attest to the wonderful program; my daughter is in it). She can read, add/subtract better than her first grade counterparts because of the Honors Program. 

Communications is one of the fastest growing areas for jobs in the country, and students can specialize in this at Fulton! My friend did this very same thing and now works in communication for Homeland Security! I have heard of countless students who have gotten their nursing degree or another associates degree through Fulton. You heard about some of the amazing science programs at Greene Magnet yesterday. 

The final important aspect magnet schools like Beaumont offer is: creative thinking. You may scoff this off as a “all schools do this”, but not nearly on the same level. Working in schools across the county, and having studied Elementary School Education, K-6, I can attest to the overload that teachers face everyday, to teach everything required of them in a year, and to make good marks on the state-wide exams. Partnering with area museums takes some of the load off of teachers, while creating some of the most amazing lessons I have ever heard of! Students visit these partners and they come to classrooms several times a year. They learn about animals and habitats at the Knoxville Zoo. Children discover ancient artificats and history most only read in books through the McClung Museum. Students learn about science, like the solar system, at the Muse. On the solar system day, students learned about the cycles of the moon and earth, moving manipulatives to see the phases of the lunar cycle and the seasons.  They measured how far apart and how big all the planets in the solar system are by measuring across the room, and how stars form and move through the sky in the planetarium. And they really learn it! All in the span of an hour, and then they are back at school learning the rest of the day. Talk about effecient! You can’t get that kind of learning in a one room, one teacher class!

Please hear our plea and keep funding for magnet schools. If you still have doubts, GO TO THE SCHOOLS yourself. Many people yesterday said this to the board, because WE KNOW that if you come to our schools you will be amazed, not because we are scared. Please vote against this budget, and find another way. YOU OWE OUR CHILDREN, THE CHILDREN WHO LOVE THEIR SCHOOLS, to do this!


My name is {name redacted} and I live in Knox County’s  4th BOE  District and I was signed up to speak last night at the Public Forum, and did attend from 5 – 9:15 p.m,  but then ceded my time to others behind me as I was somewhere in the last of the  80+  list of speakers, and figured you would all be numb by then as would I.   I watched the rest on TV and my name was called at about 12 midnight so I believe it was a good decision for all of us.  I do thank you for your patience in listening and hearing the speakers out. Since I did not speak below are the comments I wanted to share with you all.  

“I am a Public & Community Relations Consultant affiliated with SRW & Associates here in Knoxville, and I  worked with Project GRAD Knoxville from its launch in 2001 to 2012  telling their story to the community as their Public & Community Relations consultant under contract, so I know first hand the impact. I  heard & reported the testimonies/ watched the GRADS celebrate and students/families change their expectations that these young people could graduate & go on to post-secondary technical or college education. During that time I also became a passionate believer and supporter of GRAD so now I am speaking strictly as a volunteer and concerned community member.

The KCS’s REA evaluation’s findings of GRAD having little to no impact on Fulton & A-E graduation rates have been cited as the reason for this budget recommendation, but I also know there is an independent evaluation agreed to by both KCS & GRAD that finds differently/noting the KCS REA was flawed and citing other issues, so I don’t believe the REA assessment has been proven to tell the whole story about the GRAD impact which you heard last night.

As everyone knows – GRAD (Graduation Really Achieves Dreams) was adapted from a national model which began in Houston, TX, and began here  in 2001, when 50% of A-E & Fulton students were not graduating – fast forward more than 17 years.   The graduation rate in 2017 is Fulton 74% & A-E 77% (rounded). Since 2012 those rates have ranged into the mid-70’s up to to high 80’s in some years –  consistently staying in that range. As the founding GRAD Director always reminded us – “Changing expectations is a marathon, not a sprint,” and there are extenuating circumstances like the transfer rates/transient communities served by A-E and Fulton High Schools that can dramatically impact those ratings & that the schools nor GRAD have no control over.   

It is also important to remember that GRAD is a K-16 program. The original GRAD model only focused on high school, but quickly learned that it was not enough-  you cannot wait until high school for students/families to start changing expectations/ have the support needed to stay in school,  and that students & families/teachers need GRAD in their  K-8 feeder schools to take care of all those social/external needs that impact at-risk students’ school performance and to offer hope and belief that they can achieve their dreams.

I think it stands to reason that the District’s 2017 average graduation rate would certainly not be almost 90% without Project GRAD’s impact since the first class graduated in 2005.

I also believe there is  another important part of the story about Project GRAD Knoxville that has not been sufficiently acknowledged in this budget recommendation by the KCS administration & I urge the Board members to consider this factor. 

GRAD has been from the beginning a Private-Public Partnership which means that in addition to the KCS investment of $1 million annually ( 46% of the total GRAD budget as reported last night by GRAD staff) so there’s also the $1.4 – $1.5 million annually of support in funding from local companies, foundations, individuals & in-kind donations supporting GRAD – including UTK & Pellissippi State’s support of 2 Summer Institutes which must be completed by students to receive the GRAD scholarship supported by private funds, stipends, internships, scholarships and the list goes on and on. 

So if KCS pulls out of the partnership with this vote by the Knox County School Board that’s scheduled for Wed. 4/11/18, how much do we also lose of that support for the GRAD community’s students who need to complete post-secondary education to achieve their dreams/ make a living in the future & be productive members of our community? I urge you to also take some extra time and postpone the MOA with Project GRAD until your May meeting to give   them time to confirm that they can raise the additional private support you’re asking them to raise in order to continue the K-8 presence in the 12 GRAD elementary & middle schools that are critical to secondary success as well.

Thank you for the opportunity to voice my support and I respectfully ask you to reconsider this recommendation and work with GRAD & the Great Schools Partnership  to find another solution to balance the 2019 budget – but not on the backs of our underserved communities.  




Dear Mrs. Owen, 

Thank you for supporting magnet schools. I am a sophomore at Career Magnet Academy and am very afraid that eliminating funding for my school will end up closing the program. CMA is the first magnet school of its kind in Tennessee; it would be a shame to see these opportunities leave Knox county. 

This Thursday, April 12th, CMA is hosting our annual Magnet Showcase. Guests can walk through the building to see what students have done throughout the year. I want to invite you to see these projects. As an ambassador, I would love to guide you through the school that night, but I understand if you cannot attend. CMA ambassadors promote our school with Mr. Molchan, the school’s recruiter. CMA has tours that can be scheduled any time during the school day. You can call CMA at (865) 622-3800, email Mr. Molchan at, or reply to this email to schedule a tour. I really love my school and want to show it to you. 

I attended the school board meeting and agree that more money should be requested. It never hurts to ask. If the money is not given, please make some sort of compromise with the existing budget to keep magnate schools. 



In consideration of your proposed changes in funding and programs, it would be prudent for all to review this article.

While to some, the article may seem a little dated, I believe the intro to the article is true– that through the years there have been little gains in minorities socio-economic status.  Therefore, many of the concepts in this article still ring true.  

Eliminating the programs, eliminates the gains.  Last night, I attempted to listen carefully. 

While I heard statistics cited with the intent of attempting to lead one to conclude that the programs are failing, I did not hear any statistics cited to prove that the proposed changes have had certain success rates elsewhere.

Additionally, I am curious about the measurement determinative of lack of reading ability.  When I was a child what was used was the California achievement test.  I rarely chose the correct title for the paragraphs we had to read.  I also rarely interpreted the paragraphs according to what the scoring said I should say.  Why?  The answer is simple.  My frame of reference was different from those who created the exams etc.  And just because the exams have been “updated” be inclusive of minorities and popular culture, the answers still are determined based upon frame of reference..a problem I now have with my daughter testing because she, like her father, sees different things in the stories based upon her frame of reference as opposed to the constructors-usually those from the majority culture.  

Furthermore, success is in the eye of the beholder.  While you Mr. Superintendent, may view 89% as deplorable, which it is, you fail to look at the 11% that passed.  The looming issue is how much worse would it have been had those programs not been in place to assist the 11%.  Also, there were no statistics cited concerning how many students were “approaching passing.”  Many of those statistics could easily have been adjusted with increased intensity of the programs or additional staffing/funding for the programs.  As they say, “don’t throw out the baby with the bath water.”  

 As you will note, I am one of the co-authors of the article.  I was the statistical research methodologist for the project which morphed into co-authorship.  So I am well acquainted with statistical measures and what is termed “the analysis of messy data.”  Unless your data is showing the differences are statistically significant based upon known measures, I call into questing any conclusion drawn from unproven measures.  

Please review the article.  

Thank you, 


Hello All,


My name is {name redacted} and I am a {redacted} teacher, as well as a parent of 3 KCS students.  I wanted to share thoughts on the proposed budget cuts that you all will be voting on.  

  • I know that the school board promised to try not to ask the  county commission for more money.  However,  I think at this time, it would prove beneficial for all the students, that the board sought more money from Knox County Commission.

If  the board chooses not to go that route, here’s my opinion as a teacher and parent.

  1. Is it possible that KCS teachers and other employees become part of Knox County Government to help lower the cost of rising insurance premiums?
  1. Year Long Reading Course: Could this course be eliminated and offered as a professional development course over the summer and/or throughout the school year?  There are many substitutes being used (which cost money) and teachers being pulled from their classrooms, which impacts instruction.  I know when I participated in the course, I felt like I would rather do this type of learning in PLC or have it offered as a PD through The Sarah Simpson Building .

  2. PBIS:  I really don’t know how much is being spent on the training or implementation of this program, however, at PRES, I’ve seen more success with changing negative student behaviors by students meeting in small group sessions with our awesome guidance counselor Anthony Reda.  Mr. Reda has an anger management group and a social skills group.  I see his interactions with the students being more authentic and genuine.  At PRES, we have offered the Panther Cash and many other incentives as it relates to PBIS,  yet, this isn’t as effective as the work Mr. Reda is doing the 2 days he is at my school.  I would love to have him at The Ridge more days helping students work through their issues.   For this reason, I think it would be more cost effective to use our guidance counselors in this manner versus creating a token behavior system which research has proven doesn’t work well with all students.  
  1. Magnet Programs:  As a parent, of a daughter, who attends The L&N STEM Academy I have been more than pleased with the education she is receiving .  I feel that this magnet program and CMA’s is definitely the model of what a magnet school should be. All students that attend those schools reap the benefits of a magnet program. Funding should be kept at schools that follow this model.  Secondly, when I first started teaching in 1998, I interned at Sarah Moore Greene Magnet Technology Academy.  Then, the draw was to create a more diverse learning environment at those schools.  The school had 1 magnet class per grade level and 1 21st century classroom.  I am not sure if this is still the case presently at SMGMTA or at the other magnet schools like Green,  Vine, Bearden Middle, Fulton, West, Austin-East, and Beaumont (I know there are 2 different programs), but if it is, perhaps this is the reason for the disparity among the students.  At West High School, it is my understanding that all  9th and 10th graders are in the I.B. Magnet Program, but then they choose in 11th grade whether or not to continue.  The whole school should be an I.B. Program and so on for Fulton with the Communications Program.  I don’t think that the magnet program should be cut, but it should be restructured to follow the successful habits that The L&N STEM Academy is having with it’s students.  Even with the grant money that Beaumont won, all the students benefit, not just a certain group of learners.  
  1. Project Grad:  I feel that Project Grad offers great support to the students that go to those schools.  However,  I feel that Project Grad was a well kept secret in KCS.  I’m sure that if more parents knew that a $4000 scholarship was available to attend any 4 year institution, more students would have been involved and to participate all one would have to do is transfer to a Project Grad School.  Is it possible to keep the supports that the students needs without tying the monetary benefit with it?  It seems that Project Grad needs to be restructured too.  The overlying theme that I heard  at the board meeting Monday night was that social programs were needed to support students and programs that showed them that college was a possibility.
  1. Extra Literacy Coaches:  I really have not seen a great difference in the impact of having a full time literacy coach at my school.  The coaches to my understanding are supposed to be the experts in the field of Reading and Writing.  I would love to see these experts teach our most vulnerable and at-risk learners in small groups all day.  They could even help the GT coaches pull the top level students in small groups if necessary.  As I have witnessed,  the coaches only come into the classroom to evaluate instruction and put more work on teachers’ already overloaded plate in PLC.  Since literacy coaches are the specialists, shouldn’t they be working with the students that need the most help?  If the answer is no, do we really need them?

Finally,  in my opinion, KCS needs to focus on fostering the love of learning in elementary school.  All students deserve an excellent start in school where each child has his or her basic needs met.   Focusing on reading comprehension, writing, and math in the early years would have tremendous impact on the middle and high school years when specialized learning programs should begin. 

Thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts towards the KCS budget.



Hello again, 

Thank you for your patience in last night’s meeting and for those who have provided clarification points.  I wanted to paint a picture for you of Green Magnet Academy as I have been apart of it the last two years. I feel that a school that has seen 4 principals in the last 5 years as well as high teacher turnover (particularly from attrition to Emerald Academy), yet can show the highest growth rate (5) possible on last years TN Ready score is in an upward trajectory ( or at least beginning depending on how you see it).  Additionally, the pre-k class was removed from the school after the 2016-2017 school year.  It feels like a kick in the gut to hear the school board complain about reading scores, push for pre-k funding, take it away from our priority school, then say our children aren’t learning to read when pre-k is a proven foundation for reading success.  

Magnet transfer applications are on an increase for Green Magnet Academy. There is currently a waiting list of over 60 persons. All kindergarten and first grade spots were filled this year.  If this the trend continues, four years from now every grade would reach the maximum of the 10 spot allotment.  

I was unable to find either the original goals or the current goals of the magnet program.  However, I remember two in particular – integration of the school and growing the specific program. Since we have had very little time to provide data and are having to wait for some to be given to us by Knox County schools, I can only speak to the growth of the STEAM program.  Ms. Morris provided you with all the achievements and recognition our program has received over the years.  I hope tomorrow to provide you with demographic information of transfer students when it is given to me. Transfer parents are vital to a magnet school.  The PTA president and zoned parents of Beaumont spoke volumes last night.  Often, transfer parents have access to resources, time, and money that zoned parents may not have.  We are in the process of starting up a PTA at Green Magnet Academy.  The only parents who have been able to attend the meetings are transfer parents.  Please allow us to continue this upward trend of parent participation in the school before taking away this precious resource. 

I am concerned about how quickly we were notified of this change.  Why would the board want to stop the momentum currently building within and outside of the school?  Why take away the experience of STEAM, the access to community partners, STEAM field trips to the most vulnerable in our county?  I understand that children must learn to read, but to learn to read children need broad, background experiences and exposure to various subjects.  When you are walking to school from a subsidized housing area, possibly no reliable family vehicle, and access to persons outside of your (in the case of GMA low-income) community, then your experiences are very limited.  Our children need and deserve to participate in rich experiences.  This fosters a love of learning and in turn reading.  I refuse to accept that one reading specialist for approximate 415 children is going to be a turn around when 5 other in-classroom positions will be eliminated.

I urge you to visit the school before the board meeting.  It is the closest school to the city-county building, so it will not be out of your way.

I am more than happy to speak to anyone on the phone or person, but I urge you to speak with our principal.  She deserves to have her voice heard first-hand about this change.  Her name and number is Jessica Holman 591-4981. I have provided a few links below (thanks to my friend with a Harvard degree in education) for your further reading enjoyment.  




Board Member, 

My name is {student name redacted} and I go to Career Magnet Academy at Pellissippi State Community College. I start with telling you my name, because I think it’s important for you to realize that I am a sixteen year old girl. I am a scholar that is trying to reach a level of excellence that no other sixteen year old has reached before. I am doing that with the help of peers around me that have the same goals as me. Those peers are people that I would have never met before. My best friend {redacted student name} is from Karns and he helped me tremendously in Geometry. My friend {redacted student name}, from Gibbs, pushes me to strive my hardest and helped me study every day for the upcoming ACT and other college level tests. Then my friend {redacted student name}, from Powell, has joined me in every study group. Together, everyone at CMA, works and strives for excellence of everyone. Not only did the Magnet school bring me together with different people, but it has brought me to know people that make me want to strive the best. Without them I don?t believe I would be confident enough in myself to walk into Central high school this Saturday and take the ACT test. 

Also, I would like to say that without the funding for the Magnet program at my school I will no longer be able to strive for my best due to not having the funds. I will not be struggling educationally, but I will be forced to stop trying because my school will not longer be able to pay for the great chances that are offered at my school right now. Sadly, my education will be lowered due to lost of funding. 

Thank you for reading. 



Dear School Board Members, 

I am hopeful that you were moved with the passion and participation at last night’s School Board meeting and open forum.

I am hopeful you all will come to a decision where both the Magnet  and Project Grad programs are salvaged.

The benefits are invaluable and not quantifiable.

I am happy to have a son who attends an integrated school.

With regards to your difficult job, please do the right thing.

Thank you,





Dear Jennifer,

First and foremost I want to thank you for serving the Knox County greater community by focusing on making our schools the best they can be for every student day in and day out. I think your position is honorable and I respect you for your obvious care and interest in the education of Knoxville’s youth.

Because I know you care about all Knoxville’s students, I hope you will see that Bob Thomas’s proposed budget to be voted on this Wednesday does not line up with serving the care, interest, and education of all Knoxville’s youth. The proposed cuts to magnet funding and Project GRAD will only continue to divide Knoxville’s students between rich and poor, privileged and disadvantaged, West and East.

My wife and I are moving into our new home in Parkridge this weekend, and have discussed extensively our children’s future as they are zoned for Sarah Moore Greene Magnet Elementary. We care deeply about where our kids will someday obtain their education, and we believe in the administration and programming offered to these East Knoxville schools to help close the gap and provide extra support and resources to students and families that do not have access to many.

If these schools are already disadvantaged and underperforming, why would we strip the funds and programming that help? Why wouldn’t we want to spend even more money trying to help these students and communities, instead of abandoning them to focus on newer, more comfortable, maybe even more immediately successful endeavors? Remedying these underperforming schools is a hard, long-term process, and what you were doing was working, even if slowly. Please don’t give up on these schools, please don’t give up on Project GRAD. Please see the good this funding is doing. Don’t take away from the communities that already have so little to begin with.

Please, please, please see how much we and so many others care. I hope you will choose to care on Wednesday with us.




Ms. Owen

Thank you so much for asking the board to request appropriate funding from County Commission. 

My children all went to Blue Grass, West Valley and Farragut Middle Schools, and all four graduated from Bearden. They each got a wonderful education while in those schools. There were engaged parents, active and well resourced PTA’s, and foundations which greatly enhanced the resources for those schools. 

Ten years ago, after our youngest child was off to college, my husband and I moved to District 1. We live in Parkridge, neighborhood ithat s zoned for 3 different elementary schools! Many of our neighbors go to Green Magnet as well as Beaumont, and many children in our neighborhood are Project Grad kids. They are fed by Grad mentors, encouraged by Grad mentors, walked through the college entrance process by Grad mentors. If that was all Project Grad did, that would be amazing. But Grad is much more. The early exposure to the idea of post secondary education through the Summer Institutes is priceless in their ability to nurture hope and dreams for young people for whom life can be pretty bleak at times. Both of these programs are so vital to the future of East Knoxville. 

In the 10 years I have lived here, there has been a large shift in demographic. What was once an overwhelmingly african American neighborhood has become very diverse with more and more young white families moving into our neighborhood. Several of them have placed their children in Green elementary because of the Magnet program there. To consider defunding seems very short sighted, as these families will instead possibly choose to home school or place their children in private schools, which will further reduce funding to the schools. There is an opportunity here for Green and Sarah Moore Green to experience a new infusion of committed and engaged parents. As a school board member, I know you understand the value of parent volunteers and the extra resources they bring with them. 

Thank you for standing up for our kids. It is a shame that out of 483 million dollars, these are the items the BOE is choosing to cut. And thank you to the whole board for allowing everyone to be heard. 


Dear Ms. Owen,

My reason for writing this afternoon is to strongly urge you to vote against eliminating Project Grad as a part of the proposed budget cuts for Knox County schools.

My daughter has been a Young Life leader at Fulton High School for several years – developing long term relationships with several students as part of that ministry.  She has seen the value of the Project Grad program with regard to the long term success in life and education of these students.  As a lifelong resident of Knoxville, I too would like to use funds appropriately to invest in the success of all students.

Please please please request your fellow Board Members to be an encouragement to our inner city students, rather than a discouragement.

Thank you for your time,


I am a Junior at Career Magnet Academy. Career Magnet Academy is an amazing school and we have multiple opportunities for different certifications. One of the certifications that I have worked on and have received is the NCCER Certification. Also being that our school allows the student to take classes at Pellissippi State Community College (PSCC) we have to take the ACT as Sophomores. Therefore if the budget of the school is cut the school won’t be able to pay that fee so then they won’t be able to take the college classes even if they are allowed to based off their GPA. Thank you all for your time.




Ms. Owen, 

I am a first generation college student. I am the first person in my family currently with any education beyond high school, and I am only able to do that because of the funding that is about to be taken away from magnet schools. That money funds our field experiences, our job certifications (that most of us get before graduating), our first ACT (which is required for us to take college classes), and an extremely beneficial online education program for all of our students, IXL.  

Our school is not something only available to the privileged, or to students in a certain area. Anyone can apply to magnet schools and get in based on a lottery system, not concerning grades or background. We promote diversity by accepting students from all over Knox County. We will not be able to attract that same diversity if incoming students cannot get the same opportunities we have because of the magnet funding. 

My brother also currently attends career magnet academy, and he will likely get the brunt of the consequences of the fund cut. He will be a sophomore next year, and without that funding, my family would not be able to pay for the ACT that is required for him to attend dual enrollment classes in his junior year. 

The field experiences that the magnet money funds are often essential in helping students here choose their career path. As a freshman, I decided to go into the teaching as a profession pathway after visiting UT, and I also got to experience parts of the other three pathways. As a Sophomore, I was able to write a children’s book about my school, and go to multiple elementary schools where I read my book to students and gave a lesson. These experiences have cultivated my presenting skills, and given me an opportunity to experience my career path first-hand. 

Please do not allow the magnet funding to be cut. It is an essential part of my school and many other magnet schools. It allows many students, from all backgrounds and areas, to get opportunities they would otherwise be unable to afford.



Dear Ms.Jennifer Owen,

I am writing you to inform you of the effect this proposal and vote has had students at Career Magnet Academy. We are all well aware of the potential damage that can and will happen if it is voted to cut out our money. This school has taught many students many skills that are more valuable than a test score. Just my sophomore year I have become NCCER certified, an advantage that it typically achieved in somebody’s second year of high school. You claim to be helping students but in fact you are hurting them. Many students here are infuriated that anybody would have the audacity to rob us of our education. I have been encouraged and pushed to work hard for my future. Our futures are the truly important to this county, this state, and this country. Who do you think you are to try and steal from kids. Elementary, middle, and high school students. We are so much more than a number. We are not a test score. We are not a statistic. We are people. Are you aware that if this budget cut goes through our school will be losing $40,000.00. That means that our current freshmen and any upcoming scholars will either pay for the ACT or simply not take it. That is not fair. This magnet program is the most helpful experience. We are having a magnet showcase April 12th, maybe you should stop by and see what we are about. Our school realizes that we are not a combination of digits and percentages. To them we are scholars, living breathing scholars. Our English scores may not be to your personal liking but other variables should be considered, not only what fits a particular agenda. Please consider the larger picture and thank you for your time.


Ms. Owen,

   I am greatly displeased at the proposed legislation that is being voted on tomorrow. As an attendee of a magnet school, I am very obviously biased. However, I can personally assure you that attending a magnet school has done a lot for my education. During the meeting yesterday, one of the topics discussed was a lack of improvement in English test grades. Despite this, I have seen an increase in my standardized test grades since coming to this magnet school, Career Magnet Academy, even in English despite it not being a focus of many magnet schools. I’ve seen even more improvement in the STEM subjects. I’m certified in OnShape, a web-based, computer-aided drafting (CAD) and have been on many field experiences that gave me insight as to what the working world would be like. Also, I take my ACT test this Saturday. This new legislation would strip the funding that we use to pay for our ACT. I am currently a sophomore in high school, and as someone who will be taking dual enrollment classes this summer, myself and many others have to take our ACT score before most students do. Future students would be required to pay out of pocket for a program that they chose to go to this school for. If you still have any doubts as to why you should oppose this legislation, we invite you to attend the magnet showcase on Thursday from 5:30 pm to 7:00 pm. Please consider these statements and write back to me as soon as convenient.





Dear Ms.Owen,

I am a sophomore from Career Magnet Academy and I simply would like to say that my school has made me the person I am today. I come from a middle class family and have been going to Powell my whole life. I struggled at Powell because the teachers aren’t very close with students and my classmates were hard on me so I decided to take a chance and go to CMA. At my school I have learned how to be a happier person in general and I know that if I didn’t go to CMA I would probably be making bad choices. I am in the teaching pathway and lately we have been going on many field experiences to teach. Last week I went to Beaumont Elementary School and it was touching, I had a Kindergartner tell me that his family was poor and that he likes coming to school because he gets to do things that he wouldn’t get to do at home. We can’t take away from kids who already have nothing. Without the Magnet program, we would have to pay for all of our field experiences which would become too expensive for some families. In my pathway you have to have 15 hours of field experiences to get the college credit so this would be unfair to the less wealthy families. Also, in Sophomore year at our school, you take the ACT test since we start college in Junior year. The ACT funding would also be cut so people who couldn’t afford to take the test would automatically be forced to not go to college which ruins the whole point of coming to CMA. I would like you to come to our Magnet showcase on Thursday, April 12th from 5:30 – 7:00 to see what our school is all about. Thanks so much for your time.




My name is {student name redacted}, and I go to Career Magnet Academy.

Let me tell you about the first time I learned I got into the school. I was excited, this was something I wanted to do, the school offered so much, and I was to be apart of it. I first heard of the school when it first opened and my oldest sister was asked to join them, and since then, I’ve heard great things. Now my youngest sister has joined the fold, and this is the year you try to cut our budgets. Those funds get us study material, such as IXL, and as much as we dislike doing them, they are good study material.

This funds the ACT test that allows us as students to show what we learned over the years.

without those funds, we wouldn’t pay for the ACTs, and I know several students who won’t be able to afford to take the test, including my youngest sister. By taking these funds away, you are taking the future from several students along with it. We have so much to offer than just English and Math. We have the pathways to further help one’s self figure out their career. Over the almost 2 years I’ve been here, my fellow students and I haven’t just become acquaintances: We’ve become a family. Sure, over the years, students leave and go to their base schools, but from what I’ve heard, it was a regret they can’t get back. Our first seniors are about to graduate, and I would like to see the same for every student moving forward.



Dear Knox County School Board Member,

I want to begin first by thanking you for serving on the board, and to thank you for taking the time to hear more information from one of the principals of the school affected by the proposed magnet cuts.

There is a rumor circulating that I am in favor of the complete elimination of the magnet program. Hear me loud and clear when I say that that statement is completely untrue. I would like for magnet programming to continue at Green Magnet Academy. I am not in favor of this budget proposal that would eliminate the magnet programs at my school and Sarah Moore Green completely. What is true, is that I do stand by the following statements:

  • Magnet was never intended to be a school turnaround strategy, and it shouldn’t be treated as such. In other words, it is wrong to make a blanket statement saying that our low achievement scores are 100% attributed to the fact that we are a magnet school.
  • Magnet programs, when implemented effectively, can greatly enhance the Tier 1 Core instructional program, not detract from it.
  • STEAM content integration, which is what we do for the magnet component at Green, speaks more to the style in which content is delivered, rather than replacing the core curriculum to be delivered (which is our TN State standards). In other words, our students are taught the state standards through critical thinking and problem solving, project based learning, and through the application of knowledge to solve real world problems- which are all instructional best practices.

I do believe that our Magnet programming at Green could use some refinement to be more effective, which will eventually translate to higher achievement scores. You aren’t aware of this, but I have spent my entire first year as the principal here learning all that I can about the curriculum and programs we do here, and looking for ways to adapt these processes to improve student learning. I already cut out any “extras” that were in place that did not add value to the students’ instructional outcomes. I have visited several other magnet schools across the state- several on my own time & dime- to get some fresh ideas. I talked to principals and looked at their test scores over time. I was intentional to choose schools that have experienced an increase in student growth and achievement scores over the last several years. Two successful schools that I visited that I want to highlight to you are:

  • Harrison Elementary (Hamilton Co. Schools)- visited March 23, 2018
  • Inglewood STEAM Elementary (Metro Nashville Public Schools)- visited March 16, 2018

These two schools are glorious examples of how to actually use a STEAM content integration/ Magnet model to RAISE student achievement scores. I will not go into detail at this time about how exactly they did that, but if you want more information I will be happy to send that information to you or meet with you about it. Because of my visits to these schools, I have plenty of ideas now on how to make changes to our Magnet program at Green in a way that will HELP us raise student achievement. I am very eager to begin this work with my staff next year.

Another thing I dedicated an immense amount of time to this year was to take a hard, close look at the current instructional practices in my building. I also keenly studied and tracked our staff turnover rates, and conducted 3 (soon to be 4) staff climate studies this year to determine why staff turnover was so high. After a nearly yearlong study of these factors, I have found that these items appear to be correlated. Green is a school that has had a high teacher and principal turnover rate and that directly affects the ability for teachers to grow their capacity for strong, proven instructional strategies. So when you talk about student achievement being low and attributing that 100% to our Magnet program, I don’t buy it. I’m sorry, but I don’t. Staff morale has historically been low at Green for many reasons. Low staff morale leads to high turnover rates. When a school is a constant revolving door, best practices in instruction and teacher leadership can’t flourish. The good news is that I am working HARD to turn this around, and I believe 100% that I can. The other good news is that I have committed to be Team Green forever. I do not plan on taking other positions here or out of district, or accepting any promotions with the district if offered. I am here until I am no longer effective. The bad news is that I may have to do this work without magnet if your proposal passes, which would leave me with 6 less positions in my school- two teachers and two educational assistants for instruction. 3 of these 6 individuals teach RTI reading groups. Last night, you talked about the need to focus more on reading and intervention programs. So cutting my Magnet funded staff who teach reading interventions to struggling readers is counterproductive to your stated goal(s). With this proposal, you would be ADDING to the staff instability AND adding to the staggeringly low reading proficiency we have.

Let’s Talk about Reading

Superintendent Thomas gave some staggering data about our reading proficiency last night. I do not disagree with anything he said regarding that. Our students NEED and DESERVE a strong literacy curriculum to get more of our students reading at grade level. I have definite plans to improve our reading proficiency levels. ALL of my ideas are research based and can happen while still a Magnet school. I know that your time is limited, so I won’t go into that right now, but if you would like me to elaborate more, please let me know.

I know that this is really about what works, what doesn’t, and what can you can cut to fund what needs funding. Please do not take money and resources away from my students who need every resource and dollar available. Please don’t cut my staff. Please hold ME accountable for the academic outcomes. Do not punish my community, children, or parents simply because they live in poverty. Please vote in a manner that allows us to KEEP our Magnet program at Green Magnet Academy.

I have just one more thing. One of my parents asked if any of you have visited Green in the last year. I would LOVE to see ALL of you at my school sometime before the end of the year! I know your time is limited. Even if you came for 30 minutes, that is better than nothing. We will have our last STEAM Expo for the year on April 12. Can you come? We would love to see you! We have done some amazing things this year:

Did you know that…

  • Green received the World Rotary Day Project. We had over 100 Knoxville Rotary members at my school on February 24. Superintendent Thomas was invited but didn’t attend.
  • I was recognized as a Paul Harris Fellow by the Knoxville Rotary Club for service and dedication to the community on Feb. 24
  • We transformed our tech lab into a coding and robotics lab using a $20,000 grant from the Teacherpreneur program
  • Planned 12 STEAM studies for students this year to experience STEAM learning in the workforce
  • Partnered with TVA to get a grant for coding and robotics materials
  • Held 3 STEAM Expos (November, February, April)
  • We had 30 leaders from the Knoxville community come read for Read Across America on March 2
  • We hosted famous poet and Knoxvillian Nikki Giovanni Apr. 6
  • We hosted Mario the STEAM Magician in September
  • We had two administrators successfully complete the TN STEM Integration Network Innovative Leaders Institute this year
  • I got accepted to be a part of the Harvard University Urban Principals Institute this summer

So….YOU missed some VERY COOL things if you haven’t been to Green lately. Please come see my amazing school. I believe we are doing GREAT work here. The scores will follow. It’s coming. Hold ME accountable.

Thank you for your time.



Good morning!

I just wanted to thank you for speaking up about what’s right for children! You have regained my confidence as an administrator that your heart is in the right place. I have to admit that I was upset about the Leadership Academy, but as I said earlier, I feel that your heart is in the right place. I hope that we can continue to put differences aside and provide the very best education for ALL of our children! Thanks again!



I am a Knox County taxpayer and a graduate of the Knoxville City School system. I am also a forty-year librarian with the Knox County Public Library system. During the course of my career, I worked primarily with inner city schools. I’m talking Maynard, West View, Lonsdale and Beaumont for ten years and later with Green, Sarah Moore Green, Fair View, Chilhowee, and Sunny View.

While I have no children, it disturbs me greatly that the school board would have the audacity to cut funding for Green Academy and Sarah Moore Greene’s magnet school programs. It also concerns me that you propose cutting the Project Grad program.

Why? Because these proposed cuts hit the most vulnerable—our inner city students. This begs the question, why them? Why not programs from those schools in the areas which are in need of these proposed middle schools? Why not them?

Is budget revision necessary? Always, but cutting funding for the inner city school programs is not beneficial for the city of Knoxville. More importantly, it is NOT beneficial for the students YOU SERVE!

These programs contribute to developing the lives of these students in their community and have had significant impact. These are our community’s future leaders. Because of the existence of these programs, many of these children have been afforded opportunities that they otherwise would not have had access to.

Some of you are up for re-election, and, quite frankly, your vote to strip the magnet program and Project Grad may result in your demise at the ballot box. When you choose to take programs from the most economically-challenged communities to fund projects in the more affluent ones this definitely sends a message—and it is NOT a positive one.

The bottom line being, if you can’t put the interest of at-risk students first in this situation, you should not be serving on the school board and immediately resign.

I strongly suggest you go back to the table. I’d start with trimming administrative salaries. Maybe some administration positions could be eliminated, their duties combined with others. And if you can not find the money? Stand up and say so. It may be time to raise taxes. After all, if the community wants and needs more schools—and the supplies needed to operate them—then they need to be prepared to reach into their pocket and pay for them.



Email in this section came in prior to Monday night’s meeting:


I am writing on behalf of my Knox County teacher and parent friends and because I have a deep regard for our time in Knox County, however I no longer live in the Knox County school district. In January, we moved to {another state}. In my 3 months in {another state}, I have wished for programs like we had in Knoxville, specifically the magnet program. In fact,

in calling our new school district I described the type of school Vine Magnet was and asked for a program like that in a school here. None exists. 

My son was enrolled at Vine Magnet. We chose to send {him} to Vine specifically for the magnet program and the resources that were available to him there. Not a week goes by that he doesn’t mention wishing he was at Vine or missing a program he got to participate in at Vine. I continue to follow Vine on social media and constantly wish he was still part of that program. The after school programs were amazing and he looked forward to them each week, even though it meant staying at school longer. The staff at Vine also have a level of commitment I have never witnessed before in a school. The love they genuinely have for their students is unmatched. To propose cutting funds for those programs that help keep inner city kids engaged and excited about learning is irresponsible. 

My daughter attended Belle Morris Elementary. I was a {redacted} and volunteer. I was able to witness first hand the positive effects Project Grad had in the school.

Throughout our time at Belle Morris our Project Grad leaders were consistently a positive factor for our students. Even at an elementary school level, the amount of extra support they provide the school, with outside resources for parents and students, is invaluable. 

I can not imagine Belle Morris without Ms. Porschia and I am certain other Project Grad schools feel the same way. The idea to cut funding for this program is also irresponsible to the children and families it helps support. 

The proposed budget cuts of these two programs is unfathomable. Your motto of “Excellence for EVERY Child” is proudly displayed on your website, however Project Grad and the magnet programs are an essential piece of the puzzle to help inner city students succeed. I would encourage every board member to spend a day at Belle Morris and Vine (or another magnet school) and see the effects these programs have on the students. Please, think twice before cutting funds to programs that truly do help provide excellence for EVERY child. 

Thank you for your time,

Former KCS Parent and School Volunteer



I am writing with great concern today because of the proposed cut of ProjectGRAD Knoxville.  I have lived in Knoxville for just over a year and was blessed to obtain a position {redacted} at Fulton High School.  In this very short time, I have experienced so much of what PGK does and provides for our students.  To say that I have been impressed with the services and resources they provide our kiddos is a huge understatement! It is far beyond a scholarship for their post-secondary education.  They are an integral part of our school and cutting them would remove so many resources and services that our students at Fulton so desperately need. 

ProjectGRAD exposes our students to post-secondary opportunities, assists them the entire way through their college access pathway, as well as provides wrap around services to remove barriers for students and their families.  Specific opportunities and resources provided by PGK include, but are not limited to Summer Institutes at several local colleges, work based experiences,  ACT Prep resources, as well as assistance with housing, clothing, food or other basic supplies.  

Student and Family Support coaching is also provided to help our students experiencing personal crises.  The SFS Coach is a vital role that is necessary because students having such difficulties cannot focus on their education when dealing with issues.   

Without all of these opportunities and resources and so much more, our large at-risk population would not even think that post secondary education was even possible for them, nor would they get as much out of their high school education.  All of these things and so much more also enable our counselors to be proactive in handling our large at-risk population, rather than being reactive, helping students meet their academic and socio-emotinal needs.  In closing, the level at which our students’ needs are met on all levels is grounded in the placement of all of these individuals working at Fulton High School.  Removing these roles from our school takes all of the previously mentioned resources and services from our students which will in turn negatively impact our students and their ability to be as successful as they have been.  

Fulton High School Staff Member

Thank you for serving our community. My family lives in the Oakwood-Lincoln Park neighborhood where Christenberry and Fulton reside. We need Project GRAD at Fulton. It is a vital program for our community.

Community Member


I have recently learned that Project Grad is possibly going to be cut from the school budget next year. I believe this would be an tremendous mistake. I was a Project Grad scholar when I attended Fulton high school an graduated in 2012. Project Grad definitely made a tremendous change in my college chances. Not only did they assist me when I needed help applying for schools, they also helped with scholarship, ACT testing sign ups. Not only that but when there were days that I felt like giving up an not going to school because I was not going to have the financial coverage to do so, Project Grad counselors and the program assisted and if it was not for them I would not have been able to attend school because my family did not have the financial means to do so.

…Without this program there will be a lot of children from the schools that currently have the program that will not be able to attend college for financial reason.

Without his program I don’t know where I would have been because I would not have been able to afford school, known how to apply for the right schools, the right scholarships or anything.




I have recently learned that you are considering cutting this program, and I honestly can’t imagine why you would even suggest this as a place to cut costs. The statistics clearly show that this program is successful in reaching kids in our low income and underprivileged neighborhoods. These kids come into the system without any control over their circumstances. If a mentoring program does not somehow find it’s way into their lives they are at a disadvantage before they ever get started. As you probably know it is a vicious cycle and the best and most likely only way out is education. They need to be shown the difference that education makes. Without the education they can’t even begin to maneuver the opportunities that are out there and available to them, whether it is continuing education, trade school, job internships, parenting programs, or managing finance programs.

In many cases their parents or guardians are caught in the cycle and are just trying to get by one day at a time, meaning that they are unaware of opportunities and can only look ahead to the next day!

I have been mentoring a family through the Amachi program for the last nine years, as well as working with underprivileged  kids in a swimming program. Their mother was single parenting her 7 children as best she could. I watched her work, discipline and love her kids with every inch of her soul. I attended school meetings and personally saw the disadvantages and the judgements that she faced daily. Fortunately she was able to find a few mentors for some of her children, unfortunately she was killed in a car accident several years ago putting them at a further disadvantage.

Because of Project Grad 3 of her children graduated high school and 2 of them have continued to higher education with the third looking to trade school. Her other children are in the school system and will need Project Grad in their lives.

If you have not personally spent time with a family, a mentoring program, a teacher, or someone else who has seen the difference this program makes in our community, then I urge you to do so before voting to end this program. The statistics speak for themselves but take the time to ask questions and listen to those with personal experience.

Community Member

As a proud board member of Project GRAD I am asking you for your continued support. There are so many reasons why Project Grad should continue to exist and be supported by our school board, but here is just one to consider: safety. I just read a comment on Facebook by a KCS staff member at a GRAD school:

” I seriously don’t know what we will do if Project Grad is yanked out. Our entire counseling staff may quit in despair. It’s a safety issue—

with Project Grad taking on the college advice role, our counselors are able to squeeze in actual counseling time for our kids. With high levels of poverty comes high levels of mental health needs.

And with everything in the news today, aren’t we worried about that? They are another layer of safety net for our kids. Project Grad not only provides guidance for college, but also literally food and clothing for our kids who would otherwise go without.

As we address safety in our schools in the state of what is happening nationwide, not supporting the work Project GRAD is doing makes no sense. One of your priorities is to create a positive culture for students and staff. Not supporting the work Project GRAD would go against helping accomplish this priority.

Thank you in advance for your continued support and thank you for your service.

ProjectGrad Board Member


 I write in hopes you’ll consider my thoughts on Project GRAD before your vote on April 11th. 

The incredible thing about this program is the time it takes with kids who need it. It is a perspective, a lifeline, a support that does not go away, is stable. That is HUGE. For kids who may not have someone in their life to influence aspirational goal making—or if there is someone who aspires to improve their child’s future, but don’t have the know-how or experience to affect positive change—this is HUGE.     

While the state program TN Achieves allows funding for students to attend community college for free, kids first have to have college on their radar, in their goal set, and indeed, they must graduate high school. We take it for granted that our kids will do these things. But all kids should have exposure to positive goal making and be given the know-how to reach these goals. Some populations don’t have the benefit of this influence at home, some populations have pressures that compete with prioritizing positive student performance.

In your next meeting, when it comes time to vote on Project GRAD, please consider that it is not made redundant by TN Achieves, but provides continuity and is a lifeline to children who most need one. How often is a program put in place that is so vital, and because of it’s duration can have such a profound impact on real lives?

It is my understanding that the Knox County School Board will be considering defunding Project GRAD.  Although I have not ever been involved with Project GRAD, I know people who have worked with it and people who have graduated from it and I cannot understand, even with a budget income shortfall, that we would consider defunding this program, given the success it has achieved and having better educated, low income persons in our community.  I urge you to give strong consideration to leaving this program intact.  

Thank you for this consideration,

Community Member


Sunday night, April 8th, 2018


Good morning, Ms.Owen

I am writing to show my support for continued funding for the wonderful and necessary work that Project GRAD supplies to students of Knox County. I am a firm and dedicated believer in the grant program and have gained quite a lot of useful information, support, educational knowledge, and love from those in supervisory and staffed positions.

Both of my daughters attended and were awarded scholarships from Project GRAD as graduates of Austin East Magnet High School;

my youngest daughter was also Valedictorian of her class and is in her junior year of studies at {redacted} She is able to afford a part of her college costs thanks to her scholarship from GRAD.

In addition, I now have a granddaughter attending Spring Hill Elementary, where both of my daughters began a richly invested education. Project GRAD’s stability in that school is very evident. The staff LOVES our children. Our children LOVE Project GRAD staff.

Please use your vote to continue the full financial support needed for this program of education and community to grow.

The results from Project GRAD’s work will continue to lift up Knoxville and the state of Tennessee.

Thank you for your attention to this note.


KCS/Spring Hill/Austin-East Parent



Good day ma’am.  This email is to inform you of my support for project grad. It is a very good program that my children benefited from and I would love to see other children benefit from it. I’ll be watching closely.       Bless the children. 

Registered Voter


To Members of the Knox County School Board:

As Knox County Schools considers severing ties with ProjectGRAD Knoxville, I urge you to consider the idea that it is not just about graduation rates. There is a human factor here that cannot be overlooked.

It is the anecdotal and qualitative evidence, not merely a quantitative study, that needs to be seen publicly. It is the stories of students from a marginalized society and who come to school with a survival mindset that must be considered.

I have seen the students excited about summer institutes at UTK and Pellissippi. I have seen the students excited about internships and job shadowing. I have seen students working with ProjectGRAD staff to navigate the maze of post-secondary admissions and financial aid.

I have seen students provided with a belt or a pair of pants so that they may find a job and assist their families. And, I have seen the students who, every Friday, pick up a backpack of food so that they may eat that weekend.

I urge you to consider their stories.

It is this human factor, the building of positive relationships in the face of generational and systemic poverty, and the impact of ProjectGRAD on the community that cannot be overlooked.

The influence of these factors on graduation rates may not be quantifiable, but they are there nonetheless.


Fulton Staff Member

Dear Members of the Knox County School Board,

{Redacted}  I am grateful for the work that each of you do day in and day out to help our school district reach the goals set forth and achieve excellence for the students of Knox County. Teachers have herculean jobs each day in the classroom, and you all have herculean jobs making decisions about the allocation of precious resources to meet the needs of students in our community.  I appreciate how hard you discuss, debate, research, and vet to make sure resources are being used in the most efficient way to produce the best possible outcomes for students.

That said, I’d like to let you know about how valuable Project GRAD Knoxville is to us here at Fulton High.  There are no shortage of “programs” available in education today; PGK goes far beyond programming for our students. 

PGK is different because it is not a curriculum, a website, a methodology, or a silver bullet.  PGK is real relationships with real kids in need and real adults doing the hard work each day in our buildings.  In our school, our PGK staff are familiar faces to our students.  They are greeters, cheerleaders, safe spaces, counselors, advocates, and barrier-breakers.  They plan events for our families, nurture our students, and help love our staff. They are a vital part of our school and community, and provide a layer of support not duplicated elsewhere.

In education, we are often reactive when bad things happen.  We employ Restorative Practices as a part of our culture here at Fulton, and the key to effectively implementing Restorative Practices is the use of predominantly proactive, rather than reactive, strategies.  PGK is, by its very nature, a proactive pursuit.  They are out doing the work on the front-end providing support, events, knowledge, and relationships.  Keeping PGK helps support the Restorative work we are already doing.  They help support our students and problem-solve when they’ve made a poor choice as a reactive piece, but they are focused on removing barriers in the first place.

I have been at Fulton for all 12 years of my career.  {redacted} I know the struggles that our students face sometimes just to walk through our doors.  The barriers that arise when they try to be academically successful are formidable as well.  Our teachers, counselors, and support staff work tirelessly to provide the best possible education, knowing that often means supporting students academically through individualized instruction, emotionally through providing safe and nurturing classrooms, and even physically, as many of our teachers reach into their own pockets for everything from school supplies to clothing that meets our Professional Attire standards. 

PGK is an organization that adds an indispensable layer of support and helps meet many of those needs. 

Our PGK team listens intently to our teachers and works to do anything that helps a student find success in the classroom.  Even with all of us working at full speed, the days can be hard and the needs overwhelming. 

Without PGK, some needs would simply go unmet, and the burden to teachers would be increased. 

When it comes to the post-secondary world, our students are often playing a game governed by a set of rules that they don’t know exist.  Our GRAD team coaches our students through that and casts a vision for them to see on the other side.  

Our students need “full press” support now more than ever. 

PGK is a tried-and-true part of our community, our culture, and our identity. 

I have no doubt that is true at the other schools the GRAD serves as well.  When I think about the gap that would be left in PGK’s absence, the reality of what our students would miss becomes very heavy.  I urge you to fund the work of Project GRAD Knoxville in our schools.  It is a program unlike many others, it is well-rooted in our daily life, culture, and support network, and it supports the work of the classroom teachers to provide the best educational product for our students.  

Much thanks for your time and your work,

KCS Staff, Fulton HS

Mr. Thomas,

We have met several times and I serve on the Disparities in Education Committee and a few other Knox County Schools groups.    This is an appeal to continue to fund Project Grad.    I have children currently at Vine and Austin East.   I have children who have graduated from Austin East and Bearden.   

The Programs and services offered through Project Grad are incomparable to anything else.    

Some of my children (and others) would not have considered there being any possibility of them going to college without the exposure and opportunities presented to them through Project Grad.   

In terms of disparities,  

if KNOX County schools is still serious about doing things to level the playing field and address the issues of disparities, removing this program would not be a step in that direction.   

Honestly, I am very upset that removing such an incredible program is even a topic of discussion.    It feeds the feeling of many on the East side that the ultimate goal is to close our schools.   I try not to feed into that idea, but the dismantling of programs such as these is what has led to many of the gaps we are currently dealing with. 


Dear Jennifer,

I encourage you to strongly consider continuing the funding for Project GRAD Knoxville.  GRAD has had tremendous outcomes of increasing the graduation rate in our urban schools. 

The unique approach that GRAD takes to first tackle the barriers and disparities that prevent the child from achieving academic success is invaluable.   

We have to consider what will happen to an entire demographic of students if funding is taken away.  Project GRAD’s programs compliment YOUR priorities and focus on:

  1. Reading – Too many 3rd graders aren’t reading on grade level.  Meeting this challenge is priority one. 
  2. College and Career Readiness – Too many high school seniors are scoring below the ACT benchmarks.  This, too, must change.
  3. Individualized Learning – With or without one-to-one technology (i.e. an electronic device in each child’s hand), we are committed to personalizing learning for each and every student.  This includes such innovative multiple pathways to success as our Career Magnet Academy, International Baccalaureate Program, L&N Stem Academy, Paul Kelly Academy and Accessing Community Employment (ACE) with the Great Schools Partnership, which helps students with disabilities build promising pathways to social and financial independence. 
  4. Elimination of Educational Disparities Based on Economic Status, Race and Disabilities – Implementing Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports in more than 30 schools has dramatically reduced our number of suspensions and expulsions.  The employment of a new ombudsman will also give parents much needed assistance and support as they navigate our large – and sometimes intimidating – bureaucracy on behalf of their child. 

These are priorities that were identified from the School Board as necessary to be implemented in order for our youth to succeed. 

Defunding GRAD would be a direct contradiction of the  priorities that you all have shared with the community as important to excelling our children. 

Not only that, but GRAD has become a building block to so many of our other community organizations, Girl Talk included.  Taking away GRAD, takes away the added support that our organizations need to sustain ourselves. We need GRAD.  It’s that simple.


Community Business Owner

I am writing to share that I believe it’s imperative to continue the partnership of KCS Grad program and inner city youth.

KCS Grad program offers a variety of success tools to prepare youth for the workforce, as well as gives them a space and a support system to develop and have a sense of belonging. This program is essential to provide these youth with as many opportunities to nurture and cultivate a path for success. 

Thank you for taking a moment and allowing me to share my thoughts. I am the face of the inner city youth. 


Local Business Person
Austin-East Graduate
Pellissippi Graduate



I am writing to express my opposition to the gutting of the magnet funding in the proposed budget.  I currently have 2 students at Beaumont Magnet Academy.  We are zoned for Beaumont, so I am NOT a transfer family.  I have heard that Beaumont will not be impacted by these cuts, though some say it will.  As it is a bit confusing at this point, I will address this situation including and not including Beaumont, 

Beaumont Magnet Academy had the 2nd highest number of transfer requests last year, after only L&N High. 

This speaks to the quality of education and reputation this school has.  The positive momentum at this school will continue to help all students grow, and removing the magnet component would all but guarantee the end of all this growth.  The parents who apply for a transfer, any kind to any school, are generally speaking the kind of parents who are extra focused on the exact environment that is best for their children.  They have taken extra time to research schools, often visit them, and often have to commute further away to get their kids to these other schools.  These are the exact kind of parents who step up and volunteer at the school, or join and lead the PTA.    These volunteers make a big difference in the lives of every kid, be they honors or fine arts, magnet or community.  The money our PTA raises each year is spent on 100% of the children. 

I could list all the ways magnet programming helps Beaumont  kids (after school activities are almost exclusively run by magnet parents, but are enjoyed by all students. Examples are Yearbook Club, Track Club, Gardening Club, Girl Scouts etc.  Of course there is the wildly popular Beaumont Rocks which gives kids, in zone and out of zone, the opportunity to perform in a variety of arts-related areas).  But I’m sure you must know all of this about Beaumont, which I am assuming is why it is (purportedly) not being cut there.

So it seems clear the right magnet components can help a school get the positive momentum to lift the entire school.  Instead of removing the magnet portion at Sarah Moore Greene and Green Magnet, perhaps they just need to be tweaked or better communicated to parents all over the county.  While I think lots of folks have heard of Beaumont and knows about their specific programming, I don’t feel like the magnet component of SMG or GM is nearly as well communicated. I know there is a magnet showcase each year, but how many parents really know about it who don’t attend a magnet school?

And if you don’t think it is a lack of understanding about SMG and GM, perhaps it is the specific magnet focus.  I think it is pretty clear that arts magnet is a huge draw for parents of elementary school aged kids.  And I would suspect there are different magnet focuses that SMG and GM could institute that could help drive more families to pick them as perfect for their kiddos.   Maybe a parent survey, or research into the most successful magnet programs outside of Knox County could help a transition to different magnet programming at these school.

Beaumont shows that magnet programming can bring out of zone kids to a school, thus helping a struggling school.  (I would argue that Vine Middle is experiencing the beginning of a Beaumont-like positive effect situation right now as well!) You can see how the addition of IB to Bearden Middle and West High has made those schools more popular and successful than ever.  The solution is not to cut because there is not a waiting list! 

The solution is to make informed choices about what could improve these magnet programs and try again.  

PLEASE don’t give up on these already marginalized kids at these 2 schools.  Don’t give up on what has so much potential.          


KCS/Beaumont Parent

Ms. Owen,

I am writing in support of the magnet programs we currently have, and in opposition of these programs being cut in the new budget proposal.

I think these programs are invaluable in exposing our children to so many facets of life that can’t be measured in test scores.

Please consider voting against the proposed budget and help find a way to save them.

Best regards,
Community Member, District 2

Hello Ms. Owen,

I am writing as a parent and as a teacher.  Please do not cut the Project Grad program.  This program has been vital to so many inner city students.  My own children have or are currently attending Project Grad Schools.  I have seen the impact this program has made on many students lives and have talked to numerous other parents that were so thankful to have access to these folk to provide information and assistance to them.  We are opening doors for these students, let’s not close them or provide them with less than what they deserve.  As an elementary school teacher

I see the impact this 1 Project Grad worker makes in our school.  She gives out smiles, hugs, and tons of encouragement to our students every single day.  She also helps connecting families with resources and info to help them be better parents.  

We desperately need these people in our schools with the highest needs.  If you are looking for areas to cut, I would suggest PBIS funding would be one area to consider.

Thank you for your time and dedication to improving the lives of our most precious assets, our students.

KCS Parent/Teacher

Dear Elected Officials and Candidates for Knox County Mayor;

I am writing to you and asking for your support in the fight of our communities in both School Board Districts 1 and 2, regarding the upcoming budget hearings this week and the plan of the board to cut $1 million from Project Grad, and now the Magnet Schools of Sarah Moore Greene and Green Academy.

For the School Board to hurt the inner cities schools to help pay for new schools at both Gibbs and Hardin Valley schools, is morally wrong. {redacted} This is just another example of taking from the have not’s, and giving to the have’s, a Robin Hood in reverse, except Robin Hood and his Merry Men are disguised as a members of the Knox County School Board.

The excuses that Superintendent Bob Thomas is using to justify what he is doing is purely fictional. I have just sat here for the past few hours reviewing minutes from 2 years of board meetings, and the one thing I have seen is that the board has no problem taking from the inner city, to give to the more affluent schools. The so called statics that Mr. Thomas claims to justify this decision is purely fictional, and it will be proven at the meeting, if believe me, if the board goes through with their plan, it will be proven in Federal Court, that this county does not need. This present board and Superintendent, seem to be undoing what the previous Superintendent McIntyre has accomplished. The Leadership Academy, to train principals, canceled due to lack of funds, even when the University of Tennessee was willing to pay the freight. This programs has beneficial to the entire system, but more importantly the inner city schools and those senior staff that still required more education to achieve the top of their academic career. I have noticed Grant Money being given to many affluent schools for various programs.

Also the board is passing their budget not knowing how much money from the stage legislators may budget towards them as they are still working on it. When you have State Rep’s. Rick Staples, Eddie Smith, and State Senator Richard Briggs speaking up for us and we have that in writing as I am sure you do from them.

I hope that we can count on each of you to speak up on behalf of saving Project Grad and the Magnet Schools, this is beneficial not only to the students, but the communities of our city, county and state as a whole. We have received written support from City Councilman Marshall Stair, and I am quite sure many of you have also stepped forward and I am just not aware of it.

Thank you for your time, please help us, and again I have told many people in the community this is not about racial prejudice, just indifference from certain members of the school board, including the Superintendent.

Community Member

Dear Knox County School Board,

As residents of East Knoxville and the parents of three young children, the eldest two of which attend Beaumont Magnet Academy, we are outraged by the budgetary cuts to critically important educational programs and resources that are proposed in your KCS GENERAL PURPOSE SCHOOL FUND OPERATING BUDGET FY 2019.  While we are concerned that reducing focus on magnet schools will have an impact on Beaumont in the future, we are primarily concerned about the drastic cuts to the other magnet schools, particular those in East Knoxville, which will leave those schools with fewer staff and fewer student opportunities.

The best way to ensure the failure of a school, and secure the further marginalization and disenfranchisement of the vulnerable population it serves, is to withdraw its already paltry funding.

As an academic {redacted} who’s research expertise is on the impact of early adversity on brain development, and a criminal attorney {redacted} serving indigent populations in Knox County, we are perplexed by your failure of leadership and troubled by the potential long-term harm from these funding cuts. It is wrong to transfer the burden of your fiscal irresponsibility, in creating budgetary shortfalls, to a population that is already struggling from extreme poverty.  Thus, to under- or defund educational programs in East Knoxville is only to add insult to the injuries already felt in consequence to the socioeconomic deprivation experienced by our families and children. Your budgetary planning, unjustly privileges the potential inconveniences, for relatively affluent residents in surrounding areas, over the basic survival-need for adequately resourced schools serving Knoxville’s inner city.

Fortunately, it is not too late for your Board to take corrective steps and preserve our critical funding for Project Grad, Green Magnet Academy, Sarah Moore Greene and other important early childhood education programs serving East Knoxville communities. We know that you can and hope that you will rise to the challenge!

KCS Parents

To Whom It May Concern:

Unfortunately I am unable to attend the meeting regarding school funding  on April 9th due to a work conflict, but I do want to let the school board know our personal experience with the Magnet Program in Knox County. Our children {redacted}  attend Beaumont Magnet Academy. {redacted} We have had a very positive experience at Beaumont. Both of my children have thrived there. It is a diverse socioeconomic setting that exposes them to kids from different cultures.

They have learned compassion and communication skills with others who come from diverse backgrounds.The arts program has fueled their imaginations and creativity. It has also instilled a self confidence they may not have otherwise attained by allowing them to express themselves creatively and artistically to others.

They have also been challenged academically. The staff and teachers at Beaumont have been exceptional going above and beyond to invest in the lives of the children and families there.  I think the overall success of a school or program should not be measured by test scores or academic measurements alone but by the character,the creativity, the confidence, the civic duty, the relational health, the life long passion for learning that it instills in students.  There is more to success than numbers on a piece of paper. It takes years to build successful programs with continued community to support and ingenuity.  The city proper of Knoxville continues to grow quickly and having creative, integrated public school opportunities for families living near downtown is very important to the success of the city. I think it would be a grave disservice to Knoxville to cut its Magnet School Programing.



KCS/Beaumont Parent


Dear Knox County School Board Members,

I am writing to you because of the recently proposed budget cuts to Project Grad. I, like you, would like for all students in Knox County Schools to experience success. However, many students at Spring Hill depend upon the resources of Project Grad. Additionally, students at feeder schools of Spring Hill depend upon the resources of Project Grad.

Our Project Grad Campus Coordinator, Ms. Christi Kirk, does amazing work daily at Spring Hill. She helps meet the basic needs so many of our students have, and therefore allows these students to experience success in the classroom. She greets students every morning and writes tardy slips for students who come in late. Many of these students are in need of hugs and well wishes. Ms. Christi holds two different lunch groups weekly with 5th grade students: Pearls and Leadership. Each group offers a different opportunity for students. She organizes Big Brothers and Big Sisters for our students in all grade levels at Spring Hill. She is also responsible and co-coaches the Girls on the Run program. She makes arrangements for parents who need clothing for their child from the PTA Clothing Closet, she provides food through the backpack program. She engages families by hosting field trips for parents and students to local universities. In addition, she hosts STEM nights at school that allow for parents and students to participate in activities and learn about resources available in our county regarding STEM.  

She organizes volunteers from churches throughout the community, and ensures we always have a closet of donated school supplies from various organizations. During the holiday season she ensures that food baskets are sent home with even more students than usual so that all students can experience a happy holiday season. Additionally, she organizes Angel Tree for a large population of students at our school.

For students who transfer to Spring Hill after the Angel Tree deadline, she always ensures they receive gifts as well through private donors. This list of activities only begins to cover a small amount of what Ms. Christi does for the students in our school. In order to truly understand the impact that this one person has on the entire population of students and staff at Spring Hill Elementary, you will need to visit daily and see her in action. If all Project Grad schools are benefiting the same way that we are at Spring Hill Elementary, it will be detrimental for students to not continue to have these supports in place.

Again, I believe the students of Knox County Schools will deeply suffer without the resources of Project Grad. Not only will it have an impact on the students at the elementary level, but also at the middle and high school level. Please reinstate the funding for Project Grad to avoid the devastation that will result for so many students in Knox County.




Today I found myself sobbing in fear and biting my nails, and I’ve realized the reason: my SMG Eagles and Lonsdale Bears -need- the support of people and programs like Project GRAD. Their families need the village provided.

Our community cannot in good conscience balance a budget by sacrificing the future of so many of our young people.

I’m in my 15th year serving as a teacher in Knox County Schools. I learned to teach for, from, and with some of the best {redacted} The support and community atmosphere brings a sense of solidarity and commitment, and so much of that is visible at Project GRAD schools. I write to you on behalf of {redacted names of students in her classroom}, their classmates, their families, and the dozens of other that came before.

Though I’m no longer on staff at SMG, I will always feel a strong connection to the school, pride in the students I taught, and hope for the school’s success. Please strongly consider the impact removing the magnet designation will have on the people of this school; SMG’s been through countless administrative changes, reconstitution, and intense pressure just in the last 5 years. Leaving Beaumont as our county’s only Magnet elementary school is a disappointment and would likely violate the civil rights concerns that led to the formation of our county’s magnet schools.

I support the suggestion other citizens have made of selling the Andrew Johnson Building and returning the building to the tax roll. The Sarah Simpson Citizen is underutilized during business hours. “Downtown” staff could carpool, as teachers are encouraged to do on District Learning Days, or using a contractor to provide transportation to and from Dwight Kessel to Sarah Simpson could solve the parking problem.

(note from JOwen: The Simpson Center does not have adequate space to hold the AJ Building staff and offices.)

In closing, I thank you for your consideration. Thank you for serving our community. I welcome conversations and questions about my perspective as a teacher -and- parent in magnet and non-magnet, PGK and not, high needs and affluent schools.


KCS Teacher

Dear all School Board Members,

I am writing in SUPPORT of funding Project Grad and the Magnet Program at Sarah Moore Green and Green Magnet Schools.

Thank you,

KCS/Vine Middle Parent

Ms. Owen:

I am reaching out to you in support of Project Grad and the magnet programs at Green Magnet Academy and Sarah Moore Greene. 

It does not make sustainable economic sense to take away programs from our most vulnerable students.

I have seen first hand the impact Project Grad has on the students and families. I worked with the program at Christenberry during the first year. Without this program, I fear more and more families will fall through the cracks.

Students should not be punished due to their socioeconomic status.

Please take this into consideration during your work group on Monday.

Best Regards,

Community member

As a tax payer and ”Leaders for Readers” volunteer at West View Elementary School, I know first-hand how vulnerable many Knox Co. students are. Those who currently benefit from Project GRAD, as well as Magnet schools, Green and Sarah Moore Greene, are in dire need of every cent they currently receive.   I ask you to please VOTE NO when consideration comes to eliminating these programs from the budget.

Community Member


Dear school board members,

As someone who has lived in and regularly works as a REALTOR in the historic neighborhoods immediately surrounding downtown, I have seen first-hand the benefit of the magnet programs. Fantastic schools such as Beaumont Magnet Academy have had an incredible impact on the communities in which they are located.

I have seen the values of properties in neighborhoods such as Beaumont (north side of Mechanicsville) climb, as increased parental involvement in afterschool activities drives away those people who don’t want others witnessing their illegal activities. Reduced crime means less exposure to undesirable elements for the young students who live in the zone; these schools have lasting positive impacts on the kids by replacing riff-raff with stable role models in their day-to-day lives. In Fourth and Gill, long time residents report that there’s less turnover of homes and thus, neighborhood stability and higher rates of homeownership than in the past, specifically due to the school zoning for the magnet program.

Contrary to “conventional thought” those students who are zoned for these schools but who are not in the “honors” program absolutely get value from the program anyway as they are exposed to the same arts curriculum that gives them things to be passionate about outside of school hours, and reasons to interact with students from other parts of the county who are in the magnet program. Exposure to diversity in many ways is a benefit to all involved.

In short, taxpayer dollars spent on these programs DO yield results! 

The magnet schools provide a huge positive impact to their host communities in non-scholastic ways that aren’t currently measured by Knox County – but should be. To my knowledge there’s no longitudinal study going on that tracks these very real benefits, and that’s a shame.

The benefits that our magnet programs provide to the communities in which they are located are plain to see for those of us who are familiar with them. To revoke their funding is tantamount to a crime against Knoxville’s most disadvantaged young children, and I strongly urge you to alter this portion of the budget. I personally would be glad to pay more in taxes to ensure these programs’ survival into the future.

Business Owner


Please don’t cut the funding for magnet programs by 75%.  According to Us News and World Report, Tennessee ranks #28 in schools.  If we start making cuts to our schools then we may join Alabama and Arizona who are at the bottom.

Is there any way to use lottery money to fund these programs?  Why not invent a new scratch off game to fund schools?  Our population is growing… We need more teachers, more classrooms, less students per classroom and the list goes on.

I know money does not grow on trees but there has to be a way to fun schools, especially the magnet programs. 

This will be a huge step backwards for Knox County.

Community Member

Ms. Owen, Ms. Bounds, Ms. Deathridge,

I am writing to express my concern regarding the BOE’s approval of the proposed FY 2019 budget.  I have taken some time to review the budget documents as well as Mr. Thomas’ memorandum to the Board.  After careful review, it is apparent that Mr. Thomas is recommending funding cuts to Knox County’s magnet schools.  

As the parent of a student at the L&N STEM Academy, this gives me great concern.  I can without a doubt tell you that my child would not be as successful as she is today in her high school studies if she had not been afforded the opportunity to attend this school.  I can say this with 100% confidence, because I had the privilege of teaching for many years in a Knox County high school myself.  The atmosphere, class structure, and teaching methods used at L&N are exactly what students like my daughter need.  Other KCS high schools simply would not meet those needs.  She, and other children like her, need the focus of a smaller school with programs and opportunities that afford them the chance to succeed and excel in their own, very unique, way.

I am so thankful that Knox County has seen fit to provide a school like L&N as well as the other magnet schools/programs to this point. 

If our goal as a school system is to meet the needs of ALL children, then we absolutely must provide these programs. 

We fund special ed programs and departments because that’s what it takes to meet the needs of those children.  We fund alternative schools because those schools are necessary to meet the needs of the children there.  We provide funds to transport homeless children to school via shuttles so that we can meet their needs as well.  And we build new schools in communities where they are needed.  My point here is that the children who attend magnet schools are no less deserving of the funds needed to adequately support them than are the children who are served in these other programs and schools.  In fact, the magnet programs serve a very diverse population.  Probably much more diverse than any other.  Why in the world would we consider cutting their funds?  I hear “equity vs. equality” quite often.  I believe with all my heart that magnet programs provide equity.

One of the things that has made our school system great is the fact that we provide resources and top-notch programs to children from all walks of life; regardless of their socioeconomic, racial, religious, or academic backgrounds and/or abilities. 

It would be a shame and a major disservice to this community for us to fail ANY of these children.  I fear that what seems like a “small” cut in funding this year may be the beginning of something bigger and extremely detrimental to this school system in the not-so-distant future.  The fact that we are in the process of building and funding two new schools in predominantly white, upper-middle-class communities while cutting funding to programs that serve a much more diverse population speaks volumes.

Please do what is right.  Find a way to continue to support these much-needed and much-loved programs.

KCS Staff/ Parent 


Wednesday Morning, April 11, 2018



KCS Harassment Policy

Unfortunately, there has been a lot of misinformation spread regarding the Knox County Schools employee and student harassment policies. I want share factual information, rather than trying to address every false claim that is being spread.

The Knox County Board of Education reviews every policy, every year. It is actually required by state law, that we review policies at least every other year, and that we have a schedule and a review timeline. The Tennessee School Boards Association recommends a one-year cycle, like the one we use in Knox County.

During policy review, many suggestions were sent in from community members. Some of them were in conflict with other policies and in conflict with state law. While discussing suggestions, it was realized that the current policy fails to even meet basic federal language, which is a problem. Because “sex” is the word that was left out, it becomes a HUGE problem when looking at actual protections regarding gender identity and sexual orientation.

Right now, we have gender and sexual orientation listed in a way that is not recognized federally AND without the ONE word that has stood the test of time, and has repeatedly been used in handing down decisions regarding discrimination and harassment cases. Most people do not understand that case law is a part of law because it shows exactly how laws have been interpreted and it sets a standard for other cases to follow. EVERYTHING in court decisions that protects our students regarding gender identity and sexual orientation and regarding discrimination and harassment has fallen under that umbrella.

To discard EVERY positive step that has been made, in exchange for language that gives people a false sense of safety, would be a travesty – and it is DEEPLY concerning that this was ever allowed to happen to our policies.  

What we DO have in our current policy is language that is more inclusive than any other language we have been sent as a “template” for improvement. I have not seen other policies that make it clear that NO harassment will be tolerated. Though the Metro Nashville policy has been repeatedly referenced, it is important to look at what it actually says:

The school system prohibits any form of harassment based upon age, religion, marital status, creed, disability, color, race, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression or appearance, or sex, including sexual harassment.

It DOES NOT say that the district prohibits any form of harassment, period. It qualifies “any form” with language that clearly does not include all possible harassment.

The Knox County Schools’ policy goes further, by including other forms of harassment that are not listed:

Knox County Schools does not discriminate in its programs or employment practices nor does it tolerate harassment for any reason including, but not limited to, …

The policy continues with

Harassment by any employee will not be tolerated.

This not only covers every kind of harassment of every employee, but it ensures that we are not creating an unintended consequence by being so specific that we create a category in which people cannot be protected.

The student policy also goes beyond other suggested templates, by removing the limitations others, like Metro Nashville impose:

Knox County Schools does not discriminate in its programs nor does it tolerate harassment for any reason including, but not limited to,…

Also included, is language similar to the employee policy:

Harassment of any student will not be tolerated.

I have repeatedly asked people to please give me ANY example of a case that has been found in favor of the person being harassed or discriminated against, which did NOT fall under the protective umbrella of “sex.” I still have nothing that shows that students or staff will have any kind of security with language dangling out there by itself, with no federally protected category to back it up. No one has shown me anything that gives that language any ACTUAL strength.

What I have been able to find, is a wide range of feeling about language that includes sexual orientation and gender identity. This includes Board members’ explanations of how they intend the policy to be carried out – and that is important.

After discussion with many community members, I have submitted a possible amendment to the policy, which maintains all federally necessary language, maintains the KCS language which ensures broad coverage of everyone, and adds a definition to show that the Board understands “sex” in the context of the EEOC definition:

”Sex” includes anything related to sex, gender, sexual orientation, or perception of such, as interpreted by the EEOC: “As the federal law enforcement agency charged with interpreting and enforcing Title VII, EEOC has concluded that harassment and other discrimination because of sexual orientation is prohibited sex discrimination.”

This amended language has been sent to Board members, for inclusion in this week’s agenda. Since an amendment is voted on before voting on the main motion, this amendment will only be included if two things happen: The Board votes with at least 5 in favor of the amendment AND the Board votes with at least 5 IN FAVOR of the main motion, which is attached to this weeks agenda:

Knox County Schools does not discriminate in its programs nor does it tolerate harassment for any reason including, but not limited to, harassment on the basis of actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, sex, national origin, disability, religion, race, color, creed or any other Federally identified protected area.

Supporting the amendment does NOT mean that you also support removing the red-lined language. However, that definition will ONLY be added if the redlined changes are adopted.

I hope that this clears up some of the misinformation that is out there and that you will let others know that there is no attempt to reverse policy, but to correct language that gives a false sense of security, while maintaining language that has real support at all levels.



Partisan politics has no place in public education.

Please contact Representative Smith and Senator Gresham, as well as all members of the Local Government Subcommittee to let them know that you OPPOSE this legislation. (Contact information is below.)

Our kids and our public schools deserve to be represented by people who are focused on them – not on partisan political games.

Partisan School Board Elections:  House Bill 1039 / Senate Bill 582 by Eddie Smith / Delores Gresham will be heard in the Local Government Subcommittee on Tuesday, March 14 at 3:00 p.m.  This bill would require partisan elections in municipalities with a population of 100,000 or greater and in all school board elections. We urge you to reach out to your representatives and ask them to oppose this legislation.


Sponsors of the Bill:

Sponsor Nashville
Phone Fax Staff

Eddie Smith

301 6th Ave. N
207 WMB
Nashville, TN 37243

1508 Charles Drive

Knoxville, TN 37918

(615) 741-2031

(615) 253-0192

Zack Huff

Delores Gresham

301 6th Ave N
Suite 308 WMB
Nashville, TN 37243

16980 Highway 64
Somerville, TN 38068
(901) 465-9433

(615) 741-2368

(615) 253-0204

Linda Klingmann
Executive Secretary

Michael Maren
Research Analyst

Local Government Subcommittee Members:







Dale Carr

301 6th Ave N
Suite 214 WMB
Nashville, TN 37243

2150 Murphys Chapel Dr.,

Sevierville, TN 37876

(615) 741-5981

(615) 253-0303


John Crawford

301 6th Ave N
Suite 20 LP
Nashville, TN 37243

904 E. Center Street
Kingsport, TN 37660
(615) 741-7623 (615) 253-0272  Matt

Dan Howell

301 6th Ave N
Suite 110 WMB
Nashville, TN 37243

252 Chestoee Trail NW
Georgetown, TN 37336

(615) 741-7799

 (615) 253-0252 Brooke

Larry J. Miller

301 6th Ave N
Suite 36 LP
Nashville, TN 37243

1778 Overton Park Ave
Memphis, TN 38112
(901) 272-7884

(615) 741-4453

(615) 253-0329 Tuwania

Antonio Parkinson

301 6th Ave N
Suite 36-B LP
Nashville, TN 37243

P.O. Box 281453
Memphis, TN 38168
(901) 570-5810 

(615) 741-4575


(615) 253-0347



Tim Wirgau

301 6th Ave N
Suite G-2 WMB
Nashville, TN 37243

245 Savannah Dr
Buchanan, TN 38222 

(615) 741-6804


(615) 253-0239








Austin East Dancers & Knoxville Police Department Dance Off


KCS Enrollment Zoning Changes

Though I have not yet seen this letter, Mike Donila reports:

“In the letter sent to middle school parents and staff, Interim Superintendent Buzz Thomas said the construction of a new Gibbs Middle School and Hardin Valley Middle School could affect as many as 11 of the district’s 14 existing middle schools.”


Dates for community meetings to get input prior to making these changes are listed below.  I hope to see you there!

  • Nov. 28 at Farragut Middle School (Hardin Valley Middle)
  • Dec. 6 at Gibbs Elementary School (Gibbs Middle)
  • Jan. 17 at Hardin Valley Elementary School (Hardin Valley Middle)
  • Jan. 24 at Holston Middle School (Gibbs Middle)

Meetings will also be held in the spring, after a zoning proposal has been formulated.

If you are unable to attend one of these meetings, please submit your ideas to:

TN Legislators Seek END to Adequate Funding for Public Schools


NOTE: This post is still in progress and is being published early to share the ridiculous things that are said in the committee meeting video at the bottom. 

The State Constitution of Tennessee has only been amended 27 times in 233 years. However, amending the State Constitution is exactly what Bill Dunn wants to do in his latest attempt to remove YOUR PUBLIC TAX DOLLARS from public schools.

Comparison between Dunn’s amendment and current Article XI, Section 12 of the Constitution of Tennessee:


A RESOLUTION to propose an amendment to Article XI, Section 12 of the Constitution of Tennessee, relative to education.

BE IT RESOLVED BY THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES OF THE ONE HUNDRED NINTH GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE STATE OF TENNESSEE, THE SENATE CONCURRING, that a majority of all the members of each house concurring, as shown by the yeas and nays entered on their journals, that it is proposed that Article XI, Section 12, of the Constitution of Tennessee be amended by deleting the section and substituting instead the following:

The State of Tennessee recognizes the inherent value of education and encourages its support. The General Assembly as the elected representatives of the people shall provide for the maintenance, support and eligibility standards of a system of free public schools in such manner as the General Assembly may determine.

The General Assembly may establish and support such postsecondary educational institutions, including public institutions of higher learning, as it determines.


Section 12.










The state of Tennessee recognizes the inherent value of education and encourages its support. The General Assembly shall provide for the maintenance, support and eligibility standards of a system of free public schools.

The General Assembly may establish and support such post-secondary educational institutions, including public institutions of higher learning, as it determines.

Notice who is being removed from the State Constitution: The People!

The missing phrase, “as the elected representatives of the people,” is a significant piece to remove. 

The purpose, as stated in their agenda is :Constitutional Amendments – Proposes an amendment to Article XI, Section 12 of the Constitution of Tennessee to affirm the general assembly’s sole discretion in the establishment of a system of public schools. “

In other words, if they fail to fund our public schools, and the court finds that they have failed to fund our public schools, it doesn’t matter – because it gives them “SOLE DISCRETION” and the ability to do whatever they want, however they want, and with no recourse for the people.

Replays of hearings on this bill are available below:

House Education Administration and Planning Subcommittee (Dunn begins at 59:00)

Senator Roy Herron explains how this amendment removes a child’s right to an adequate public education and compares it to removing one leg from a stool, which will surely cause the stool to fall.

*Note that they have not yet gotten an opinion from the Attorney General, regarding how this amendment could really impact us, regarding equity.
Also, be sure to listen to 1:29, where Dunn claims that Vanderbilt’s study proved that Pre-K causes students to do worse in school.
THEN, he says, “When you find kids who are struggling or who can’t read, and go back to the homes and you will find people who are strung out on drugs…”



Sample Ballot for March1st, 2016

Some voters have said that they are confused by the sample ballot and can’t find their candidates on it. I have taken the sample ballot from the Knox County Election Commission site and outlined the different race headings to make them a little easier to spot. Keep in mind that your actual ballot, though long, will not have all of these categories. You will only have the primary you are voting in and your district-specific races.

Sample Ballot



SPEAK Endorsement

On February 9th, members of Students Parents Educators Across Knox County (SPEAK),  met to consider candidates’ answers to questions which had been submitted by members, regarding issues that are important to our public schools. We are proud to announce that Jennifer has been endorsed by SPEAK for District 2 Board of Education!

SPEAK members rally in support of Knox County teachers in 2015.

Questions posed by SPEAK and the candidate answers are listed below. As always, if you would like more information about any of these answers or other issues of importance to students in Knox County Schools, please contact Jennifer and she will be glad to discuss your questions, or use the comment section at the bottom of this post!
Questions from SPEAK and answers from Jennifer Owen:

Jennifer Owen (2nd District School Board candidate) answers to the SPEAK candidate questionnaire:

1. What minimum qualifications do you think the KCS superintendent should have?

I believe a successful academic leader must have appropriate experiences and qualifications that exceed those of the people he/she manages. As the instructional leader for the community, the Director of Schools must be fully qualified to lead at all levels.

Based on these core beliefs, my experiences working under management that lacked those basic qualifications, and research into the qualifications expected by other strong school districts, I support the following minimum qualifications for the Knox County Director of Schools:

  • A professional license which equals or exceeds the requirements of a professional TN teaching license
  • Strong instructional experience
  • A Master’s degree in an education specialty (An earned PhD from a fully accredited university is preferred.)
  • At least 5 years of full-time, high-quality experience teaching in a public K-12 school
  • At least 5 years of full-time, high-quality experience as a principal in a public K-12 school
  • Demonstrated, in-depth, successful school leadership experience
  • Experience coaching and mentoring teachers
  • At least 5 years of full-time experience as a leader at the district level
  • A record of assembling and maintaining effective collaborative teams
  • A record of engaging the education community as well as the community at large, to work TOGETHER to create attainable, realistic, and honest goals for the district
  • A record of clear and open communication at all levels
  • A record of successfully mentoring others
  • A record of open communication with all district and community members
  • A record of creating, cultivating, and maintaining increasingly positive relationships
  • Experience working in an urban public school district
  • Strong analytical skills to make decisions that with correct analysis, fairness & sensitivity
  • Skills to enhance, rather than impede the flow of information between parties
  • A demonstrated commitment to a child-centered philosophy
  • Proven ability to develop, administer, and transparently communicate a comprehensive school budget which meets all federal, state, and local funding guidelines.
  • Demonstrated success in obtaining & maintaining funds for projects to enhance instruction
  • Experience analyzing & integrating relevant technology into instructional plans & budgets
  • Demonstrated success in improving and maintaining morale among a diverse staff
  • Demonstrated experience recruiting, supporting, and retaining quality employees
  • The ability to correctly define the word, “rigor,” and explain why it is not an appropriate word to ever use regarding the education of children

2. What do you see as the role of the school board? Should the board establish the priorities and direction of the schools while the superintendent implements that direction, or should the superintendent establish the direction and priorities for the schools with the board defending and supporting his priorities?

School boards should be responsible for setting policy and the board-appointed Director of Schools should be in charge of the day-to-day administration of the schools, as laid out in TCA 49-2-301. The school board should govern the school system; the superintendent should administer it.

[note: TCA is Tennessee Code Annotated, which contains the laws that have been adopted in Tennessee.]


3. Which do you consider a more effective utilization of education funds, providing and maintaining personal computers to students or reducing class sizes by hiring more teachers?

“Effective” depends on the end goal, as well as knowledge of how these things are already working together. I have seen closets full of computers that are just stacked up and never used, because there are either so many other things on the plates of the staff that they never have time to use them OR because they are not working properly and the staff hasn’t even had time to put in a request for help.
Are they effective when they aren’t usable? No.
Might they be, if staff were able to use them appropriately? Maybe.
Would they be as effective at educating children as lower class sizes? No.

This really shouldn’t have to be an either/or question. We should be able to do both, without breaking the bank, IF we were consistently making decisions based on fiduciary responsibility. (The recent contract buy out amount could have paid for over 1200 Chromebooks or salaries for several teachers.)

4. Research shows that small class size has a strong positive relationship to student performance. The Haslam administration has proposed increasing class sizes in public schools while class sizes in Knox County schools are getting larger. What is your position on class sizes for students in Knox County?

Class size should be as low as possible and based on actual classroom teacher to student ratios, rather than figuring in other staff who have little contact with students, or who pull out students individually. Those who have the responsibility to coach teachers should not be used to give the appearance of lower teacher/student ratios. It is much more important to decrease class size than to add to the already top-heavy administration or to pay for studies that only duplicate what others are already studying.

5. During the past five years, experienced teachers have been leaving the district at a rapid rate. At last count, 62% of teachers had 10 or fewer years experience. Only 8% have been teaching 20 or more years. What ideas do you have to keep qualified and experienced teachers in Knox County Schools?

It is very disheartening to see your colleagues treated badly, day after day. It is worse to see them treated badly for trying to use valid and appropriate methods in their classrooms, while the administration belittles them and lowers their evaluation scores when they question practices that very obviously harm children. We have far too many people who are more worried about pleasing the next level supervisor than they are worried about ensuring they do the right things for our students. Great, experienced educators know that there are other school districts where this is not the case. They know that there are many districts, very close to Knox County, were experience is valued and where speaking up for students is a quality that is respected by the administration.

Giving teachers a cookie on an appreciation day is an empty gesture that does nothing to truly value them. Words of appreciation are also empty, when not backed up with actions that prove our teachers are truly valued. (I once had a principal who told me that she really valued music education, while she cut one of the music positions from the school.) Word and gestures need to match. “Listening sessions” could be chances to actually hear from people, rather than empty PR plans. Our school board meetings could be opportunities to listen and respond to concerns, rather than opportunities to tear people down.

A list could really be endless. Of course, competitive pay is a way to attract teachers to the area and to keep some from leaving for higher paying districts. However, whenever you speak with teachers, this is not at the top of their list. Items at the top of their lists overwhelmingly have more to do with unrealistic work loads, unprofessional treatment from upper administration, and/or the inability to be able to serve students in ways that they know they should. These problems can’t be solved through policy, but will require a great deal of work over the coming years, to change the damaging culture that has grown in Knox County Schools.

6. What role do you believe charter schools, vouchers, and education management companies should play in public education? Are these types of management arrangements cost effective?

Those entities play a role in private education. The voucher experiment has gone on for over 10 years in various places in the US and students have been repeatedly shown to do no better than those remaining in their public schools. Draining money from public schools makes no sense, if one wants to make those schools better. The current bills in the House and Senate have no real accountability measures built in, no transportation plans, and have nothing in place to care for the students who remain in those struggling schools.

7. Recent research shows that more than 33% of US elementary and secondary students experience some test anxiety, up from 10-25% in past decades. How much time do you consider reasonable to be spent on standardized testing, including test prep, each school year? Do you believe that using standardized tests to evaluate teachers is a reliable measure of teacher effectiveness?

Test prep should be minimal and should certainly not impact student instruction beyond a few days prior to the test. If a test requires that students learn how to take it, the test is measuring whether they learned THAT skill – not the skills the test claims to measure.

A one-time, high-stakes test has no place in measuring effectiveness – especially when teachers are teaching content that isn’t tested. Value added measures were designed to measure cattle and corn. Only those who equate students to commodities would measure their teachers this way.

8. Individual Education Plans (IEP’s) require schools to include students with disabilities in general education, provide needed supports and make accommodations to the curriculum when they are in inclusive classes. Charter schools and voucher programs do not protect the legal rights of children with disabilities guaranteed by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) What is your positions on inclusion, accommodations and necessary supports for special education students in a) our public schools and b) private and charter schools?

There should be no difference in the requirements to provide necessary supports and accommodations, based on whether it is a public or private school. Laws requiring those supports were put in place to guarantee appropriate educational opportunities are provided to all public school students. Using public dollars to support ANY system that ignores or circumvents those requirements is unacceptable.



Questions from SPEAK and answers from District 2 Candidate, Grant Standefer:

Grant Standefer (2nd District School Board candidate) answers to the SPEAK candidate questionnaire:

1. What minimum qualifications do you think the KCS superintendent should have?

The candidate should have at least and Ed.S degree. Since this person will be managing a $450 million budget, and 8,000 employees, along with 57,000 students, an MBA would be desirable as well. Classroom experience is certainly a plus.

2. What do you see as the role of the school board? Should the board establish the priorities and direction of the schools while the superintendent implements that direction, or should the superintendent establish the direction and priorities for the schools with the board defending and supporting his priorities?

The board is responsible for establishing policy and direction, but this must be done in cooperation with the resources and expertise that the administration offers to the Board of Education.

3. Which do you consider a more effective utilization of education funds, providing and maintaining personal computers to students or reducing class sizes by hiring more teachers? I’m not sure why these two are mutually exclusive and why are they have been placed in juxtaposition with one another?

Appropriate class size based upon research is critical. One to one technology, properly utilized, is critical to the future of our students in the world in which we live. Both are important.

4. Research shows that small class size has a strong positive relationship to student performance. The Haslam administration has proposed increasing class sizes in public schools while class sizes in Knox County schools are getting larger. What is your position on class sizes for students in Knox County?

Referring to my answer to the previous question, our decisions should follow the best research on class size, but cost effectiveness must also be considered. Since Knox County schools are underfunded, financial realities come into play.

5. During the past five years, experienced teachers have been leaving the district at a rapid rate. At last count, 62% of teachers had 10 or fewer years experience. Only 8% have been teaching 20 or more years. What ideas do you have to keep qualified and experienced teachers in Knox County Schools?

Teachers need to be heard, and the Teacher Advisory Committee should continue to function. Members of the BOE should visit schools regularly and listen to teachers and principals. Teachers also need to receive pay raises.

6. What role do you believe charter schools, vouchers, and education management companies should play in public education? Are these types of management arrangements cost effective?

Knox County has a charter school and Knox County students attend that school. I want the Emerald Academy to succeed. We do not have education management companies in Knox County and I will not be recruiting them. I understand that vouchers take money away from our schools. I also understand some of the concerns of those who are pro-voucher. That decision, however, is neither mine nor the Knox County BOE’s decision to make. That decision will be made at the state level. If state legislators should decide in favor of vouchers, the role of the Knox County BOE will be to manage the financial impact of that decision to the best of our ability.

7. Recent research shows that more than 33% of US elementary and secondary students experience some test anxiety, up from 10-25% in past decades. How much time do you consider reasonable to be spent on standardized testing, including test prep, each school year? Do you believe that using standardized tests to evaluate teachers is a reliable measure of teacher effectiveness?

The amount of testing that is done should be examined closely. We, of course, have state mandated testing over which we have no say. How much testing is done beyond that must be considered in light of the welfare of students and their academic progress. The use of standardized test scores in teacher evaluations can only be reliable if it is one of several components utilized. It should only be one factor in the overall evaluation process.

8. Individual Education Plans (IEP’s) require schools to include students with disabilities in general education, provide needed supports and make accommodations to the curriculum when they are in inclusive classes. Charter schools and voucher programs do not protect the legal rights of children with disabilities guaranteed by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) What is your positions on inclusion, accommodations and necessary supports for special education students in a) our public schools and b) private and charter schools?

My wife and I have been heavily involved in disability ministry for over a decade and are committed to students affected by disability and their families. Appropriate accommodations and inclusion are critically important for all children affected by disability.