KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The United Way of Greater Knoxville has taken over operational control of Knox County Schools‘ Community Schools from the Knox Education Foundation according to a release from United Way.

Community Schools are public schools that are located in marginalized areas of the county and provide students, their families, educators, and neighborhoods with services to help them thrive. United Way says the model removes non-academic barriers that prevent children from being mentally present and engaged at school.

President and CEO Matt Ryerson explained that some of these barriers, which may contribute to chronic absenteeism, include bus routes or transportation issues, mental health issues, access to medical care, food insecurity, housing or a plethora of other issues that might cause a child to have trouble learning.

“When I think about this from United Way, it is essentially a fulfillment of our mission at a micro level, which is what I really get excited about because I think it really gives us the opportunity or sinking our teeth into the work,” Ryerson said.

In addition to the education-focused support, Ryerson explained that United Way is taking a wrap-around approach to supporting the students, schools and communities with the assistance of the more than 200 local nonprofits that Community Schools can utilize through the organization. In doing so, the impact of the schools will go beyond meeting the students’ basic needs to preparing them for long-term success.

United Way says these non-profit partnerships will be utilized to address the four pillars of the community schools: shared collaborative leadership, expanded enrichment
opportunities, family & community engagement and integrated student support.

There are currently 16 Community Schools listed on United Ways’ website.

The Knox County Board of Education voted to allow United Way to take over operational control of the community schools in March 2023, United Way explained. Previously, this control was with Knox Education Foundation.

“These schools have been around for about 10 years. Knox Education Foundation, a great partner nonprofit, had led the charge on that. Their mission was really an ‘incubate and launch’ type mission. And so they were looking for a good home for this. So we’re thrilled with our partnership with Knox Education Foundation and make that transition smooth. Somebody asked me the other day. Well, well, how does it look different? My hope is it’ll only look different in the fact that we’re building off this great 10-year foundation that they laid a fantastic foundation that really sets us up to succeed in the future,” Ryerson said.