865 Academies: The next new thing

Sandra ClarkOur Town Youth, West Knoxville

Anyone worried about the introduction of 865 Academies to West High School next year should relax. Stay alert, but relaxed.

West High School is well-run with many of the 865 initiatives already in place. West already has:

  • Small Learning Communities, organized by grade level and led by an assistant principal; 865 Academies will be organized into three small learning communities led by teachers
  • High-level academics – the system’s only International Baccalaureate program; some students go for the full diploma, others get certificates in specific areas
  • Strong CTE offerings (career technical education), 10 in all. These programs and teachers will be integrated into the Academies

Gina Hodges

I met March 1, 2024, with two teachers and three folks from the central office after requesting a phone interview with the principal, Dr. Ashley Speas, which was impossible to schedule.

From the school: Gina Hodges, West High academy coach, and Hannah Johnson, West High IB coordinator.

From downtown: Shannon Jackson, KCS executive director of college and career; Brad Corum, KCS director of academies; and Carly Harrington, KCS chief of communications.

Overkill? Probably. But all nice folks.


The 865 Academies will launch at West (and Halls, Powell and Gibbs) high schools in the fall of 2024. Freshmen will be required to take an orientation class (one period of eight for the year). In the spring, each student will work with a counselor to select an Academy. Choices at West High are:

The Academy of Creative and Technical Innovation: will include current CTE classes of coding, engineering and mechanical/electrical

The Academy of Global Commerce and Communication: current CTE classes of A/V production, digital arts & design, and marketing

The Academy of Health Science and Human Services: current CTE classes of cosmetology, dietetics & nutrition, nursing services, and sport & human performance


Students are asked to take three classes in their academy over the next three years after freshman course. Asked? Required? Encouraged?

Shannon Jackson, who outranked everybody in the room, said after the freshman course, each student will work with a school counselor to select an academy and look at class options. A future engineer, for instance, might select the Innovation Academy and then take AP physics and higher-level math rather than a CTE option.

Will the IB program be affected?

Absolutely not, said Hannah Johnson.

How about fine arts, music or ROTC?

No change, said Jackson.

Will the 865 Academies result in the loss of staff or programs?

No, said Hodges. The existing faculty and class offerings have been integrated into the academies.


Whether this works or proves disruptive will depend on strong leadership from school principals and resiliency from the teachers. Just like everything else.

Education policy is set by politicians who come into office with high hopes tethered to their own life experiences. Our governor previously did heat and air; our county mayor was a wrestler; and my school board member sells fried chicken in Fountain City. Business leaders want to play because they represent the wealth of the town and everybody knows that rich people are smarter than the less so. Right?

The 865 Academies are no more, no less than a slogan for structure. And the point of high school remains: Survive, enjoy and depart.

Sandra Clark is editor/CEO of Knox TN Today Inc.


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