By Sally Absher


The League of Women Voters celebrated Knox County’s Community Schools Initiative On Thursday, February 25 with a reception and program at South Knoxville Elementary School, one of Knox County’s newest Community Schools.  Guests included Mayors Madeline Rogero and Tim Burchett, City Council Member George Wallace, County Commissioner John Schoonmaker, Board of Education member Amber Rountree, and over a hundred teachers, parents, students, and community members.

The Community Schools Initiative is a strategy for using public schools as a hub for organizing community resources to improve neighborhood health and safety and student academic health. With parent, neighborhood and partner input and involvement, community schools can be a positive center of influence to benefit students, families, and the surrounding community. Research indicates that these benefits include improved student learning, health and attendance, stronger family engagement, improved school climate, and safer neighborhoods.

The celebration also honored three people who have been instrumental to the success of Knox County’s Community Schools program.

Dr. Bob Kronick is a professor of educational psychology and counseling at UTK and the director of the university-assisted community schools program. He is also the inspirational leader for community schools in Knox County, having brought the idea to Knox County several decades ago. His model of community schools came to full fruition at Pond Gap Elementary School in 2010, the first fully staffed community school. Pond Gap is one of two university-assisted community schools in the county (Inskip Elementary was added to the university-assisted community schools program this year).

Buzz Thomas is the President of the Great Schools Partnership, a freestanding non-profit organization formed in 2005 with a shared vision to take Knox County Schools from good to great. Diligently studying the dynamics of Community Schools from local and national sources, Thomas was instrumental in moving the successful pilot work of community schools at Pond Gap to the current 12 site initiative in Knox County.  He has leveraged significant private and public sector funding, provided infrastructure, and served as a champion for the successful expansion of community schools into a model for other communities in Tennessee.

Knox Schools Superintendent Jim McIntyre was also honored. It was in the process of visioning and preparation of the first KCS five-year plan designed to achieve Excellence for All Children that KCS first committed to a Community Schools pilot program. McIntyre and staff met with Dr. Kronick and community advocates. He along with Thomas and a number of community members traveled to Cincinnati to see their community schools model firsthand. This trip set the course for an expansion of the Community Schools project across Knox County. The Knox County Board of Education has solidly backed the Community Schools Initiative since its inception.

Thomas is assisted by Great Schools Partnership Leadership team: Vice President of Operations Stephanie Welch, Vice President of Finance and Human Resources Stephanie Jinkins, Community Schools Field Supervisor Mark Benson, and Parents as Teachers Field Supervisor Yvette Parker. Destiny Glover serves as the Community Schools Coordinator and Nicole Lewis is the Volunteer Coordinator.

Community Schools would not be possible without a dedicated coalition of school principals and School Coordinators. Coordinators include: Jill Atkin (Beaumont Magnet Academy); Tiffany Davidson (Christenberry Elementary); Adam Fritts (Dogwood Elementary); Quineka Moten (Green Magnet); Blaine Sample (Inskip Elementary – UT); Kori Lautner (Lonsdale Elementary); Liz Thacker (Northwest Middle); Karen Hoist (Pond Gap Elementary – UT); Jervece Steele (Sarah Moore Greene Magnet); Susan Martin (South Knoxville Elementary); and Cornelia Reece (Vine Magnet Middle).  Norwood Elementary is currently accepting applications to fill this position.

Each community school has a steering committee comprised of parents, community residents, business and faith-based representatives, teachers and staff, and the school principal. They meet regularly to create a shared vision for the school, identifying resources and needs and a plan to achieve positive results.  This allows each school to function with autonomy in addressing the unique needs of their specific student body and community.

Knox County Community Schools are having a positive impact. During the 2014-2015 school year (with only eight community schools), Community Schools:

  • served more than 3,000 students and their families.
  • offered on-site after-school tutoring and enrichment activities for 679 students.
  • leveraged programs and resources from more than 150 community partners, ranging from Art to Zumba.
  • held 51 community events with 3,980 attendees and 1,430 parents participating.
  • saw a 3.3% closure of the reading proficiency gap compared to the rest of the district.
  • served 49,085 snacks and 28,515 meals.
  • provided onsite mental health services (through Helen Ross McNabb Center) to 212 students.
  • benefited from over 10,800 hours of time contributed by more than 1,000 volunteers.