Bye Bye Becky: Ashe to retire at L&N

Sandra ClarkInside 640, Our Town Leaders

Principal Becky Ashe was sitting on the plaza of the L&N STEM Academy wearing goggles. Her head moved in response to the virtual reality she was experiencing. The University of Tennessee Center for Transportation Research was on campus with simulators to promote safe driving. And the principal was checking it out.

Becky Ashe, creator of the L&N STEM Academy.

The only principal the L&N STEM Academy has known is retiring this spring.

We had two questions: why and what’s next.

Ashe doesn’t have great answers for either.

The retirement incentive plan offered by Knox County Schools was designed to ease out higher-paid senior staff. Who thinks this is a good idea?

Ashe is not the only one leaving the L&N. Three teachers with a century of experience are retiring as well:

  • Jill Robbins, social studies teacher with 42 years
  • Kathy Coley, who taught at Cedar Bluff, Bearden and for a time at South College
  • Brad Crattie, Latin

Ashe recruited many of her staff and hand-picked the others. She was science supervisor for Knox County Schools when she envisioned a science and math high school in the old L&N train station on Henley Street.

STEM opened in 2011 as a magnet school focused on the disciplines of science, technology, engineering and math. World’s Fair Park is its campus. The University of Tennessee is just over the hill, and students frequently take a class or two. Professors join students for lunch. (The school’s got a chef!)

In fact, according to its website, STEM partners with more than 215 community businesses, organizations and institutions to provide real-world internship experiences for the students.

These internships and cooperative education experiences are not designed to polish specific vocational skills that will likely be obsolete soon after graduation, Ashe says. “But to equip and prepare graduates for higher education and careers we cannot even imagine today.”

She said retirement was “on the horizon” for her, perhaps five years out. But she did the math on the incentive plan. “I made this decision (to retire now) with my head, not my heart.”

She’s quick to say she’s not quitting work – just retiring from Knox County Schools.

And she’s also adamant about the L&N continuing as a special place. She told administrators, “If you let the vision die with me, it will break my heart.” She calls herself the “spark of electricity that got it started,” but says it’s time for another leader, one not limited by her imagination.

In a world of rules and high-stakes testing and pressure to conform, Becky Ashe and her team have created an oasis of creativity and excitement about learning. From the grandeur of the building itself to the quirky flying gryphon mascot, L&N STEM Academy is a school for scholars.

Thank you, Becky Ashe, for this gift.

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