KNOX COUNTY, Tenn. (WATE) – Knox County Schools were among the lowest performing districts in Tennessee last year, according to the Tennessee Department of Education’s 2021-2022 School and District Designations.

Knox County Schools were in the bottom 5 percent of all state school districts last year based on indicators like student learning growth, achievement and graduation rate. District leaders held a press conference Wednesday to address about the low numbers and what they’re going to do about it.

“Our two biggest factors that put us automatically in that category were our academic growth and our chronic absenteeism,” said Knox County Schools Superintendent Dr. Jon Rysewyk.

The Tennessee Department of Education designated 29 Knox County Schools as needing additional support.

“The work that we need to do will be hard ahead,” Rysewyk said. “It’s not an easy path. It’s not an easy road. It’s not a quick fix.”

School leaders said that the COVID-19 pandemic was a big factor when it comes to learning loss and absenteeism.

“For our 2021-22 school year, our chronic absenteeism soared to 27 percent,” Rysewyk said.

Dr. Rysewyk explained that his team already has a plan in place to help turn some of those numbers around. They’ve created a community engagement plan separated into school, regional, and district goals.

On the school level, they’re encouraging all schools to establish a parent-family organization. Regionally, the school district wants to build upon its five-region strategic council.

“We’ll have a teachers council for every one of those regions,” Rysewyk said. “Every school will have a representative for those teacher councils.”

Rysewyk adds that there will also be a family and community council in each district along with a principal advisory council.

“As far as the district level and formal structures that I will be engaging the community with, the first will be the superintendent’s council on accelerating students from learning. If that data tells us anything, I think it’s important that I have that council.” 

“Finally, I will have a principal advisory council that we’ve had in existence that will meet monthly or every other month,” he said.

There were some positive notes to take away from this newly-released data.

“We’re proud that nine of our schools were recognized as reward schools and what that means is that we had nine schools perform in the top five percent in the state.”

Copper Ridge Elementary School was one of them.

“We’ve been using assessment data in a really systematic way to really know, what do kids know, what do they not know, and to what level do they know that?” said Principal Dr. Jennifer Atkins. “They may know a little bit of the standard, but do they fully understand it? So those assessments really help us determine what kids know.”

Dr. Rysewyk said they will be looking into some of the procedures that worked for their top-performing school and apply them to some of the other schools that didn’t fare as well.

Knox County Schools wasn’t the only school system in our area that was classified as “in need of improvement.” Anderson, Claiborne, and Sevier County Schools were also on the list.