Last Friday, the atmosphere at Farragut High School was festive as students signed yearbooks and anticipated summer vacation. While the 2022-2023 school year couldn’t have been further from their minds, Principal John Bartlett took advantage of the relaxed climate to discuss changes that are coming for rising freshmen.
Early in May, Knox County Schools was designated as a Ford Next Generation Learning community. District high schools will become career-themed academies known as the 865 Academies. FHS is part of the first cohort of seven schools – along with Bearden, Karns, Fulton, Central and Austin-East High Schools and Hardin Valley Academy – that will introduce new programs for freshman next year. The other county high schools will begin planning their academies next year or the following year, Bartlett says.
Ford NGL, which has formed learning communities across the U.S. and in other countries, directs the launch, provides organizational structure and lends expertise. The school system doesn’t receive funding from the organization.
Every Knox County School program will look a little different, based on the students and the community, but all 9th-graders in the cohort begin the school with a Freshman Academy. At FHS, freshman will take core classes – English, math, social studies and science – from the same teachers, and the classes will all be taught in the orange wing.
They will also take a freshman seminar class that will include online inventories about their professional interests and aptitude. Where interest and aptitude overlap is the “sweet spot” for students, and finding it will help determine their future learning community, Bartlett says.
Farragut’s academy model won’t be fully fleshed out until later this fall, but the current plan is that when next year’s freshmen enter the 10th grade, they will choose one of three learning communities: Human Connections (for interest in careers in health sciences, agriculture, fine arts, law, etc.), Discovery (for interest in science, engineering and construction) and Enterprise (for interest in business and computer programming).
The challenge with setting up an academy model at FHS is the number of students who take Advanced Placement and fine arts classes. The program needs to provide enough structure to make sense while allowing flexibility to take classes outside of the learning community model, Bartlett says.
“We’re not trying to pigeonhole students, just focus (their curriculum) more.”
But the primary benefit of learning communities isn’t helping students plan for the future. It’s allowing teachers to better connect with students. Since a small group of teachers will teach every student in the class, it will be easier for them recognize if a student is struggling.
“Your goal is to take a large school and make it small so every kid is known. It’s going to be very good for kids.”
The Ford NGL program will also create a partnership between Knox County Schools and the Knoxville Chamber. The chamber will provide data on projected job demands, both locally and across the country, to ensure that today’s curriculum will match tomorrow’s job market.
Ford NGL is supported by Ford Motor Company Fund, the philanthropic arm of Ford.
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