Issue 7: October 2023 – February 2024
The mission of the Knox Education Foundation is to be a catalyst for the transformation of public education by investing in and advocating for innovative programs, partnerships, and initiatives to achieve excellent outcomes for all students.
Knox Education Foundation continues to support collaborative efforts to overcome barriers, advance opportunities, and empower all students. We hope you enjoy the updates highlighted in this issue of Knox Education Station.
The Official Launch of the Playspace Fund
Knox Education Foundation announced the establishment of the Playspace Fund on December 4, 2023 at Fountain City Elementary School.
The Playspace Fund was established by Knox Education Foundation through a combination of public and private funding to address inconsistencies in play spaces across Knox County Schools (KCS). The creation of this fund provides for a standard quality of play spaces throughout the district. Knox Education Foundation has worked with the KCS playground team to identify a standard for school playgrounds, taking into account factors such as school size and student population (K-5, preschool, etc.), ADA needs, and available playground space. Leveraging a combination of public and private contributions, the Playspace Fund seeks to reduce the burden of individual school play space funding while ensuring that play spaces throughout KCS meet the standard for each school.
Phase 1 of the Playspace Fund was launched and will fund 11 playgrounds at 7 schools. The following schools are included in Phase 1: Belle Morris Elementary School, Fountain City Elementary, Fair Garden Early Learning Center, Knoxville Adaptive Education Center, Sarah Moore Greene Elementary, Spring Hill Elementary, and West Haven Elementary. These schools were deemed the highest-need schools in the district and designated for Phase 1 support from the Playspace Fund. For more information and to view a larger version of the playspace renderings, please visit the Playspace Page at https://knoxed.org/play.
“We are excited to launch this innovative approach focused on solving the challenges related to play spaces for schools across the district.” “KEF is dedicated to developing transformational initiatives that support continuous improvement in public education and improve educational experiences for students.” – Mike Taylor, CEO
Six Additional Schools Join The 865 Academies
On Friday, January 26th,The 865 Academies for Cohorts 2 and 3 were announced during a celebration at South Doyle High School. The unveiling of the academy options for rising 10th graders at Carter and South-Doyle, in addition to announcing academies for rising students at Gibbs, Halls, Powell, and West, completed the initial launching of The 865 Academies in all 14 KCS traditional high schools.
This event was attended by leaders from KCS, KEF, Knox Chamber, elected officials from Knox County and City of Knoxville, student ambassadors from each 865 Academy, academy coaches, school board members, community members, and others interested in celebrating the transformative initiative of The 865 Academies. The academies for Cohorts 2 and 3, were announced and celebrated by a student representative and administrators from each school.
Highlighting the impact schools can have on the workforce, Knox Education Foundation CEO Mike Taylor said, “Strong schools and a qualified workforce are the lifeblood of a community. Onboarding six more schools and their 21 academies increases the need for additional business and industry partners to become involved.”
In August 2023, Austin-East, Bearden, Central, Farragut, Fulton, Hardin Valley, Karns, and L&N STEM sophomores started classes in career-themed academies as rising 10th graders and Carter and South-Doyle students entered Freshman Academies.
The first cohort of 865 Academies schools launched Freshman Academy for incoming 9th-graders in the Fall of 2022. The first cohort of schools includes: Austin-East, Bearden, Central, Farragut, Fulton, Hardin Valley, Karns, and L&N STEM.
The second cohort, Carter and South-Doyle, launched Freshman Academy in the Fall of 2023 and career themed academies will launch for 10th graders in the Fall of 2024.
The third cohort, Gibbs, Halls, Powell, and West, will launch Freshman Academy in the Fall of 2024.
The academies create increased opportunities for all students; which wouldn’t be possible without partnerships with local business and education minded community leaders. Partnerships are more than public and private relationships, they also include our community organizations and nonprofits as they play a very important role in the Academies as well.
As the convening organization for The 865 Academies, the Knox Education Foundation works closely with the community and Knoxville Chamber to recruit businesses and organizations to build valuable partnerships with Knox County Schools.
KEF’s call to action for additional business and industry partners to become involved in The 865 Academies has increased with the unveiling of Cohorts 2 and 3 academies. The commitment of time and talent from new partners is vital to the success of the academies. All students deserve strong community connected learning opportunities which in turn benefits our community as a whole.
Thank you to our current partners for their dedication to building strong schools and their willingness to make a difference for students by providing quality career focused learning opportunities in every high school classroom. If you are interested in hearing more about partnership opportunities, please click here https://knoxschools.wufoo.com/forms/zy3o7is08qrwgx/
The New F.A.C.E of GRAD
Graduation Really Achieves Dreams (GRAD), and for more than 20 years, Project GRAD has helped support students from Austin-East and Fulton High Schools on the journey to reach their dreams. Studies show high school graduates who earn post-secondary degrees or credentials have the greatest opportunity for upward mobility, with greater lifetime earnings and a higher quality of life.
In recent years, the post-secondary landscape has changed thanks to the Hope Scholarship and Tennessee Promise, placing Tennessee far ahead of other states in the level access to post-secondary education and scholarship offerings. Although scholarship offerings have increased, many students from financially disadvantaged circumstances still face barriers to reaching post-secondary education.
That’s why Project GRAD has embarked on a bold initiative to help students from Austin-East and Fulton High Schools attain these valuable scholarship awards. Project GRAD has narrowed its focus on Family and Community Engagement (FACE), collaborating with other school-based staff to support a family-friendly environment, and strengthen connections to community-based resources to help address the barriers to on-time graduation and post-secondary enrollment. Studies show strong family and community support is vital in improving attendance, behavior, academics, and connection to post-secondary educational opportunities.
In addition, to meeting the changing needs of students, Project GRAD, recently launched several support funds to assist students on their academic journey.
While the face of Project GRAD may have changed, our commitment to support students and families at Austin East and Fulton has not. We are excited about what the future holds for Project GRAD and the support we can provide to help students reach their dreams.
Meet the Project GRAD staff by visiting www.knoxed.org
Meet KEF’s Newest Staff Members
Knox Education Foundation is excited to welcome Dr. Maria Panizo and Blake Lawson to the team.
Maria Panizo, Ph.D.
As Director of Data, Evaluation, and Strategy, Maria oversees data collection processes for KEF, researching best practices nationwide to improve academic outcomes, analyzing relevant state and local data to monitor progress and identify areas for improvement, and supporting special projects and initiatives through research, data collection, analysis, and reporting. Maria I. Panizo, is an experienced professional with a robust background in research, program evaluation, and strategy development. Holding a Ph.D. in Research and Program Evaluation from the University of Miami, Dr. Panizo has honed her skills in educational research, measurements, and psychology with a series of certifications from prestigious institutions, including Kellogg School of Business and Boston University, covering areas like Design Thinking, Executive Fundraising, and Hospitality and Tourism Management.
She worked as Director of Global Market Insights for 10 years in Miami, Florida. Maria moved to Tennessee in 2019 and worked as Grants and Foundations Director for Emerald Youth Foundation. She also worked as an External Evaluator for the University of Miami.
Maria serves as Vice President of Executive Women International in Knoxville, Tennessee. Executive Women International brings together key individuals from diverse businesses for the purpose of promoting member firms, enhancing personal and professional development, and encouraging community involvement. As a community volunteer, she is part of the AKIMA Club where women serve together to enrich community service and volunteering. She also does volunteer work for the Catholic Dioceses of Knoxville.
Maria resides in Knoxville, Tennessee with her husband, Darrell, and children. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with family and friends, traveling, cooking, and crafts.
What is your “why”?
“KEF supports Knox County Schools in providing quality educational opportunities to students in the public schools so they can successfully meet their challenges with innovative thinking and use of relevant technology. I am passionate about change, learning and continuous improvement, multicultural values, equal opportunity and social responsibility. My goals align seamlessly with KEF’s mission to leverage data-driven research and collaborative approaches for enhancing educational systems, particularly for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.” -Maria Panizo, Ph. D
Blake Lawson serves as Chief Development Officer for Knox Education Foundation. He engages with internal and external shareholders, prospective partners, and grant- related personnel to secure funding for the foundation and sponsored programs and campaigns to support Knox County’s public schools.
He earned both a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a Master of Business Administration (MBA) with concentration in marketing and entrepreneurship from the University of Tennessee, where he graduated magna cum laude from both programs. Blake was elected as Vice President of Philanthropy for the Tennessee Organization of MBAs, a charter organization in the Haslam College of Business and was nominated for the Program Service Award for the full-time MBA 2020 cohort. Additionally, he holds a certificate in Fund Raising Management from Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.
Before joining KEF in 2023, he served as Director of Development for the Duncan School of Law and College of Dental Medicine at Lincoln Memorial University and as Assistant Director in the Vanderbilt University Owen Graduate School of Management. He volunteers as an Advisory Board Member for the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Tennessee Valley.
Blake resides in Knoxville and enjoys outdoor activities and exercise in his free time.
What is your “why”?
“As a graduate of Knox County Schools, I can attest to the quality of education within KCS, and the importance of having excellent public schools. I believe that a positive educational experience can serve as a catalyst for change both in the lives of students and in our communities. I’m excited to invest my time strengthening our schools through partnerships so all students have an equal opportunity to excel and pursue their passions.” – Blake Lawson