By Sally Absher


Teacher’s Facebook Comment Pays off for Knoxville Students

Last Monday, a West Hills Elementary School fourth grade class was presented with five tablets and 24-hour access to a game-based, online math program – all because of a comment their teacher posted on Facebook.

Matific is a New York-based producer of interactive online math activities for K-6 students.  Amy Helton Bzorgi, West Hills Elementary School teacher, recently read an article on Matific’s Facebook page that discussed the potential of technology in schools. Bzorgi posted a comment noting that her school lacks training and access to technology.

Her comment caught the attention of Matific Co-Founder and CEO Guy Vardi, who said, “This is a teacher who is very passionate about what she’s doing. She really cares about the kids, and we need to find a way to support her.”

They offered to equip her class with tablets, a free Matific subscription, and training.

Vardi personally traveled from New York to meet Bzorgi, deliver the tablets, and conduct a workshop for teachers at West Hills Elementary School who want to use Matific.

“My kids are very excited. We felt very honored and grateful for this opportunity,” Bzorgi said. The students will have 24/7 access to Matific’s library of interactive activities. The company says the mini-games are aligned to curriculum standards and supplement what the students are learning in the classroom.


2015 NAEP Results Are Out

Andy Spears over at the Tennessee Education Report presented his first take on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) results for 2015. In spite of a glowing statement by Governor Haslam, Spears says Tennessee remained relatively flat – no significant growth, relatively small decline in reading scores. “Basically, we are where we were in 2013.”

Governor Haslam painted a rosier picture, saying, “Today we’re very excited to say that based on 2015 NAEP results, we’re still the fastest improving state in the nation since 2011. What this means is a new set of fourth- and eighth-graders proved that the gains we made in 2013 were real.”

Spears points out that the entire nation remained relatively flat – no significant growth, some decline in math. In 2013, Tennessee gained faster than the national average. In 2015, Tennessee didn’t do any worse than the rest of the country, but we didn’t do better, either. We remained steady.

“That is,” he suggests, “it’s entirely possible the 2013 gains seen in Tennessee were a one-time occurrence. An outlier.”

Diane Ravitch also reported on the dismal NAEP results, noting that in Tennessee, the white-black test score gap was as large in 2015 as it had been in 1998, before either No Child Left Behind or Race to the Top.


KCS Staff Continues to Grow Due to Grants

At the October 19 County Commission Work Session, Commissioner Charlie Busler requested that two consent items be pulled from consent agenda for discussion.

He asked if Resolution 215, revision to Tennessee DOE Title I, Part A, School Improvement iZone Grant ($600,000.00 per year for three years) (Original Grant approved by Board of Education on June 3, 2015) and Resolution 216, Tennessee DOE 21st Century Community Learning Centers (CCLC) Grant ($600,000.00), would require additional staffing to manage the grants.

Russ Oaks responded that the iZone grant (Resolution 215), designed to support four priority schools in the iZone and the extended day program at Lonsdale Elementary, will require 5 additional staff members to work with those schools. There is no additional staff required for the CCLC Grant (Resolution 216).

No one on the Board of Education asked these question when the BOE approved these items during their October 7 meeting. What happens to those staff when the grant ends? Based on the recent debacle with the latest Broad Fellow, we assume that the taxpayers are stuck paying the salaries of the additional staff even after the grant ends.


Volunteer Opportunity to Help a 2016 High School Graduate

Knox County’s partnering organization for TN Promise needs 654 local volunteer mentors to work with high school seniors from the Class of 2016. The deadline to apply is November 20, 2015.

The time commitment is small, about one hour per month, but the impact is significant as volunteers assist students navigating the college-going process and encourage them to reach their full potential.

TN Promise provides students the opportunity to attend one of the state’s community or technical colleges free of tuition for two years. The financial component is important, but many of the students in the program are the first person in their family to attend college, therefore, the assistance and encouragement provided by the mentor can be the difference maker.

Graham Thomas, tnAchieves Director of Community Partnerships explains, “The mentors are the critical piece of the program. They are the reason we are able to operate a program of this scale. Mentors provide the necessary support system and encouragement that TN Promise students need to be successful.”

In its first year, 3,755 students in Knox County applied for TN Promise. Students who participate are required to complete at least eight hours of community service each semester of college. This creates a culture of giving back and allows the students to explore potential career opportunities within their communities. Since January 2015, over 16,426 hours of community service were performed by students locally.

For more information about becoming a mentor, visit or contact Graham Thomas at (615) 604-1306 or


Knox County Schools to Host Strategic Compensation “Listening Tour”

Attention Teachers. KCS has announced a series of listening sessions to ‘gather important ideas and information from all stakeholders’ about the Strategic Compensation Program for teachers.

Dates and locations include:

November 5 – Holston Middle

November 9 – Pond Gap Elementary, and South-Doyle High

November 10 – Bearden High

November 11 – A.L. Lotts Elementary, and Northwest Middle

November 16 – Career Magnet Academy

November 17 – Powell High, and Christenberry Elementary

Elementary sessions begin at 4:00 pm and Middle and High School sessions begin at 4:30.

KCEA President Lauren Hopson encourages all teachers to attend one of the sessions. “Your input will determine what kind, if any, strategic compensation we have above and beyond our current pay plan. The redesign committee will make a recommendation, based on your feedback, to the superintendent. I have been invited to witness this process, so make your voices heard.” She adds that there will also be an online survey to gather input.