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Knox County Schools wants feedback on making education equal for students, regardless of background

KCS hosted its first in-person community disparity meeting to discuss what could be done to make the learning process more equal for students across Knox County.

KNOX COUNTY, Tenn. — Knox County Schools Disparities in Educational Outcomes Steering Committee hosted its first public meeting Tuesday, as the district looks for feedback on how to make education more equal.

For the past five years, the DEO committee meetings have been private. Superintendent Bob Thomas said the community wants more transparency, so the yearly meeting turned to a public setting at Fulton High School, which was also livestreamed.

Thomas discussed the next phase of the DEO’s work. After a year of hybrid and virtual learning, the district wants to try even harder to close the disparity gap.

“These are all conversations that will hopefully help us as we plan our work in the future to make sure we provide all of our students, regardless of their backgrounds, an education that will allow them to be successful in whatever they want to do," Thomas said.

People showed up to the meeting to speak their minds on what's working and what's not. A line of protestors stood up during the starting presentation. They said things cannot stay the same after a deadly officer-involved shooting inside Austin-East earlier this month.

The group held up signs that said, "No justice, no peace," and "Black Lives Matter." In between speakers, the group shouted, "Say his name. Anthony Thompson Jr."

After that, School Board Representative Daniel Watson spoke and addressed the demonstrators.

“Thank you for being here, and I will say his name," she said. "Anthony Thompson Jr.”

No demonstrators were told to leave the meeting.

Break-out groups were also created to focus on academics, personnel, special education and ELL, school culture and the ombudsman, discipline, and communications. 

Each group encouraged the attendees to speak up on questions and concerns as they related to each individual topic.

According to numbers released in December 2020, 93.3% of White students graduated in the 2019-2020 year. Around 85.4% of Black students graduated and 81.3% of Hispanic students graduated.

Of students between third and eighth grade, 45% of White students were on track for their grade reading level. However, only 16.2% of Black students were on track.

Education leaders said they are taking the feedback from the annual meeting, both with questions received in person and online through the live stream, and are developing strategic plans for how to create a more equitable and equal learning environment across the board.

"The purpose of that is to try to make more progress than what we've made in the past," Thomas said. "We want to see our students increase in terms of academic achievement."

Knox County Schools plans to open more disparity meetings up to the public starting in the fall.

If you have questions for the DEO committee, you can email deo@knoxschools.org.