Community Must Help Lift Knox County Schools


More than one in four students enrolled in Knox County schools missed at least 18 days of school last year. That’s up from 16 percent the previous year, and one of the main reasons administrators believe the state gave the district a dreaded “in need of improvement” classification.

The absenteeism rate is the highest recorded by the school system since the metric was introduced in 2017.

“It’s a big deal. It’s a really big deal. And we know there have been challenges…this (last) year, but we have to work to improve,” Superintendent Jon Rysewyk said during of a press conference. Wednesday.

A lack of student academic growth, as measured by statewide achievement tests, was also a major factor in Tennessee’s low ranking in Accountability Assessment. Six other districts – including four in East Tennessee – also ranked in the bottom 4% of all districts.

“Put simply, our growth scores aren’t where we want them to be in Knox County. They’re not where we expect them to be,” Rysewyk said.

Knox County Schools Superintendent Dr. Jon Rysewyk, center, talks to students as they arrive for the first day of school at the new Lonsdale Elementary School building in Knoxville on Monday, August 8 2022. The new school building, built next to the former Lonsdale Elementary on Louisiana Ave., houses both kindergarten through 1st graders from Sam E. Hill Elementary School as well as 2nd graders in Year 5 of Lonsdale.

Rysewyk calls on the community at large to help now that the immediate dangers of the pandemic have passed.

Turning the district’s numbers upside down will “take all of our families, all of our businesses, all of our community partners to do this,” Rysewyk said.

One of the ways administrators hope to combat chronic absenteeism is to implement and enforce a school absenteeism plan.

“Over the past school years when we have been working on the COVID-19 pandemic, grace has been granted in many ways,” Assistant Superintendent of Student Success Jason Meyers said Wednesday. “One of those things was definitely attendance.”

The district will reinvigorate the plan that includes school-wide supports, family meetings and community services for students with multiple wrongful absences. The district also hopes to launch regional plans focused on the needs of individual schools.

Students head to buses after the end of the first day of school after the holidays at Powell Middle in Powell, Tennessee on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021.

“Hopefully we can get some sort of final personalized approach to meet the needs of each region,” Meyers said.

The assessment wasn’t all bad news for KCS: Primary and secondary students are reading at levels similar to those recorded before the pandemic shuttered schools for nearly five months in 2020.

“But they were progressive, just to be honest. They weren’t enough to overcome the learning loss that we’ve seen over the last two years,” Rysewyk said.

To overcome these barriers, Rysewyk said the district will implement new ways to gradually assess student progress throughout the year to intervene earlier. Administrators also check each school to make sure classrooms have “high-quality teaching materials.”

“We need to make sure everything is at school level and pushing the students and the rigor in every class,” Rysewyk said.

Standing in front of Copper Ridge Elementary School in Powell – one of nine Knox County schools that have been honored in the “award” designation for their high academic performance and growth – principal Jennifer Atkins explained their strategies for success, such as asking students to set and track their own academic goals, asking teachers to provide extra reading or math tuition for certain groups of students, and working with nearby businesses and community groups.

“We’ve worked very hard. We still have work to do on student property, but I’m so proud of the work our students and teachers have done,” Atkins said.

The district is in the early stages of determining its strategies to move the district out of the state’s lowest tier, but Rysewyk said solutions will take work and time from everyone in the district. county.

“It’s not an easy road. It’s not a quick fix,” Rysewyk said. “We will have to work extremely hard, but we do it by having high behavioral expectations and high academic expectations for every student in every class at Knox County Schools. We cannot lower our standard.”

Schools need extra support

A total of 29 schools need additional support, four of which are in the bottom 5% of the state academically.

Priority schools

  • Austin East High School Magnet
  • Green Magnet Academy
  • Maynard Elementary School
  • Magnet Vine Secondary School

Targeted support and improvement

  • Bonny Kate Elementary School
  • Carter High School
  • Carter College
  • Central High School
  • Chilhowee Middle School
  • Fulton High School
  • Gibbs College
  • Holston College
  • Karns Primary School
  • Powell High School
  • Powell High School
  • Ritta Elementary School
  • South Doyle Secondary School
  • West Valley High School

Additional targeted support and improvement

  • Bearden College
  • Cedar Bluff High School
  • Gibbs Elementary School
  • Gresham College
  • Halles College
  • Mooreland Heights Elementary School
  • North West High School
  • Pond Gap Elementary School
  • Sarah Moore Greene Magnet Academy
  • South Doyle Secondary School
  • Whittle Springs High School
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