Wednesday, September 21, 2016

State education commissioner to meet with Knox County teachers on Tuesday

Candice McQueen talks with students in January
A group of Knox County teachers next week will speak one-on-one with the state's top education leader and the company that makes Tennessee’s new standardized tests.

State Education Commissioner Candice McQueen will host a private roundtable discussion on Tuesday with local teachers to address their concerns and talk more about the annual assessment for students.

The move comes as the state officially cut back on standardized testing this summer and created just one test for the end of the school year. The meeting also comes a few months after massive technical problems forced the state to pull the plug on its TNReady assessment testing.

The state fired the North Carolina company previously hired to operate the TNReady online testing system. In July, the governor’s office finalized a $60 million, two-year contract with Minnesota-based Questar, in a deal that officials hope will bring a better experience for teachers, parents and students.

The 90-minute roundtable meeting, which is not open to the public, takes place Tuesday at Fulton High School. It will include McQueen, a Questar representative, and about 15 teachers who were selected by their principals.

State House Rep. Eddie Smith, R-Knoxville, organized the forum in an effort to involve more stakeholders in the testing process “so we have an assessment that works for everyone” and to create more transparency between the state and local educational levels.

“Based on the failure we had last year with (former testing company) Measurement, Inc., we are just reassuring teachers how it's going to work, the process, and allow them to have feedback in the process,” Smith told WBIR 10News on Tuesday. “Something teachers have not had a great deal of input in over the last few years, we're trying to change that. And that's why we decided to have this meeting.”

Smith said the meeting will give teachers a “definitive voice in the process of how testing works in the state.”

10News contacted McQueen’s office Tuesday.

Department of Education spokesman Chandler Hopper said: “The goal of this meeting is to have an open dialogue specifically focusing on how our education system is preparing students for college and careers . . . . Commissioner McQueen is committed to incorporating educator feedback into the decisions made at the department and greatly appreciates the opportunity to hear directly from teachers.”

Rest of story HERE.

Roughly 100 turn out to discuss Knox County Schools' next superintendent

Interim Superintendent Buzz Thomas
Bearden Middle School's small auditorium hosted big ideas about the future of Knox County Tuesday night.

Roughly 100 people turned out as parents, students and teachers shared their thoughts on the search for the next Knox County Schools superintendent.

“I would like to see at least 5 years of actual classroom experience,” one parent said.
"Someone has got to stand up for our children, who are not just test scores,” said another.

A similar meeting was held last week.

The meetings meeting were meant to give the community a voice in the selection process.
Based on community input, Buzz Thomas, the interim superintendent, says there are two important traits they're looking for.

"Knox County residents want somebody with teaching experience, I think that's very important to them, of course somebody with management experience not only with people but with money,” he said.

Thomas said the attendance at Tuesday's meeting is a strong indicator of how much this hire matters to people.

“We won't be able to have the best school district in the South if we don't have a great leader,” said Thomas.

Knox County parent Kim Kredich wants to make sure special needs students are treated with equality.

"We need a superintendent who's going to be engaged in solving these issues,” said Kredich.

The next step comes Oct. 21 as school board members meet for a two-day retreat to iron out a plan to hire a new superintendent. The ideas gathered Tuesday were recorded and will be reviewed at that retreat.

"We will have a little bit of information from what the community would like us to consider as we have our discussions, so it's very helpful,” explained school board member Gloria Deathridge.

If you missed the public input meetings you can send your thoughts to the Knox County School Board here.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

TDOT to remove, replace Broadway viaduct; close access for 30 months

Get ready for a major change in traffic patterns in North Knoxville.

The Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) is making plans to replace the Broadway viaduct that spans the Norfolk Southern rail yard just north of downtown.

Broadway between Jackson and Depot Avenues will be out of service for approximately 30 months, starting sometime in the first half of 2017.

You cannot simply blow up and drop a four-lane, steel and concrete bridge on an active rail yard. 

Instead, the TDOT contractor that wins the bid for this project will have to dismantle the massive structure piece by piece. Sawing off and removing each piece with a crane will take time. Work will be halted by passing trains. Utilities will need to be rerouted.

Building a new bridge will have similar challenges, thus the estimated 30-month project timeline. TDOT has already published a proposed detour route using Hall of Fame Drive, Fifth Avenue and Summit Hill Drive. See the map.

TDOT is putting the finishing touches on agreements that need to be in place before it can issue a request for bids to replace the bridge. It is negotiating final easements with Norfolk Southern.

The agency is preparing to make offers to some of the tenants of the Southern Glass Building condos for their loss of parking during construction. And TDOT and the City are discussing use of city-owned land on W. Jackson Avenue for a staging yard during construction.

KaBOOM! City gets 'slide' grant

You never know where fun might strike.

KaBOOM! announced today that the City of Knoxville was selected as a $25,000 winner for its “Downtown Slides” project in the Play Everywhere Challenge, a $1 million national competition that will fund innovative ideas to make play easy, available, and fun for kids and families in cities across the nation.

The “Downtown Slides” project was selected as one of 50 winners out of a pool of more than 1,000 applications nationwide. KaBOOM! is a national non-profit dedicated to bringing balanced and active play into the daily lives of all kids, particularly those growing up in poverty.

A grant committee including representatives from the City, the Knox County Health Department, Knoxville Area Transit, Visit Knoxville, the Childhood Obesity Coalition, the Legacy Parks Foundation, Great Schools Partnership, SMG, and The Muse created a plan to build embankment slides within City infrastructure, taking advantage of Knoxville’s hilly topography.

The in-ground slides will be constructed adjacent to existing outdoor stairs throughout the city. The pilot project will be a slide located next to the stairs of the Civic Coliseum parking garage and is slated to be completed by the end of the year. Other sites will be selected and announced after seeking public input.

“The location of this project was chosen because it’s accessible by a large number of children,” said Joe Walsh, Director of Knoxville Parks and Recreation. “This slide will be near a trolley stop, the Coliseum and Cal Johnson Recreation Center. We’re always looking for creative ways to get kids’ attention to play, and we feel this project will do just that.”

The Play Everywhere Challenge was developed in collaboration with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Target, Playworld, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

To view Knoxville’s “Downtown Slides” project on KaBOOM’s website, visit

Investor talks details of Knoxville Center's future, including name change, possible residential units

One of the new owners of the recently purchased Knoxville Center mall said Monday night his investment group wants to create a thriving retail and residential hub for the eastern part of Knox County that will include walking trails, specialty shops, restaurants and outside entertainment.

They also want to change its name back to East Towne Mall.

However, officials said, rehabbing the 30-year-old building won’t be easy.

“The mall is a giant project that has had lots of problems for a long time – at least 15 years – and we don’t think it will be fixed overnight, and we don’t think we have all the solutions,” said Brant Enderle, a member of Knoxville Partners, LLC, which has ties to the area as well as Minnesota.

He added: “We’re not set in what’s going to happen – we don’t have any grand plan drawn out on paper. We don’t have any strong preconceptions. We have an idea of what’s wrong . . . and our expectation is that between here and December we just have to improve things so the existing tenants have a good Christmas.”

His comment came before a crowd of roughly 150 people who turned out at New Harvest Park to provide input on the mall’s future.

More: Mall sold for about $10 million

He added that already the new owners are looking into landscaping, lighting and fixing the escalators.
In addition, Enderle said, investors have reached out to 1,500 retailers and the mall’s current tenants and “had very positive feedback” from them.

“I don’t get to choose who the tenants are – they choose us,” he said. “I’ve got to sell the location to them. Sell the community to them and sell to them what we are going to do to fix it.”

The mall near Interstate 640 and Millertown Pike opened in 1984 as East Towne Mall and featured more than 80 shops and a series of anchor stores. Simon Properties owned, managed and operated the mall until 2014 before turning it over to WP Glimcher that year

Brant Enderle
Like many malls across the country, foot traffic at Knoxville Center has diminished immensely.
The mall currently operates with three anchor stores, including a Sears, a handful of specialty shops and a couple of restaurants.

The parking lot, which can hold thousands of cars, is typically mostly empty.

Enderle’s group so far has spent $12.5 million on the 964,000-square-foot site and on Dillards, which he expects to close on in late December. The county appraised the property at $31 million.

Enderle said he is meeting with engineers, architects and local leaders and going through 1,000 emails regarding what they should do with the mall.

“Part of what’s done to make dying malls successful is to make people change their minds on why they go to the mall,” he said. “The mall has to become more entertainment and the mall has to become more outdoors.”

He said they have approached Macy’s but don’t expect the retail giant to relocate to the mall. But, he said the current anchor stories – Sears, J.C. Penny and Belk – are “excited.”

He said they’d like to place condos, apartments and a hotel on the mall parking lot. In addition, he wants to work with the University of Tennessee to add medical offices.

Enderle also addressed criticism that tied him and his wife to several failed projects that include multiple liens and lawsuits, including an unsuccessful attempt to bringing a Wild Wing Café to the downtown Kress Building.

Enderle said he’s invested $2 million in construction in the Kress Building and his first tenant moves in Oct. 1.

Overall, he said his various companies have 300 tenants, 43 projects and 10 operating businesses. He added that lawsuits in the business world are common.

Community service plan for indigent defendants launches October 3

Starting Oct. 3, a new pilot program will give local judges the power to offer community service - rather than issue stiff fines and fines - to thousands of poor defendants.

On Monday, Knox County Criminal Court Clerk Mike Hammond joined with three local partners to unveil details regarding the program, described essentially as "hours per pay." It gives those unable to make any payments the option to repay their debts to society by performing community service.

WBIR 10News addressed the problem last summer in its "Fines, Fees and a Flawed System" investigation of Knox County court operations.

The review, in part, found that a handful of homeless, indigent defendants were responsible for court debts of more than $750,000 - a figure that court officials readily admit the men could never pay.

The state legislature approved the plan, which is unique to Knox County, earlier this year. It is set to sunset July 1, 2018.

10News Investigates: Handful of Knox convicts owe hundreds of thousands to court system

At that point, lawmakers will decide if it was successful and whether to implement it statewide.

The legislation allowed Hammond the opportunity to implement a community service program for those defendants who are truly unable to pay their court costs, yet able to do work.

The amount of community service a person would need to work depends on how much they owe. A program chart showed a gradual scale ranging from 8 hours for those facing up to $100 in fines and court costs to 88 hours of required service for those facing $3,000 - $4,000 in costs.

The approved partners include Knox County Engineering and Public Works, Knox Area Rescue Ministries, and Lending Angels.

The program recognizes that many of the offenders unable to pay also receive services from KARM. So a partnership with KARM could benefit the community and offender.

Lending Angels will be looking for individuals with skills and experience to help with home repairs and improvements for those with disabilities or older adults.

But not every defendant can take part. Hammond said there will be background checks on potential participants and those convicted of violent crimes, sexual offenses, and animal abuse won't be eligible.

Additional info and forms for those who are interested will be posted Oct. 3 on the Knox County Criminal Court's website.

More plans for Regal HQ released

Photo: Southeastern Development Associates
The group working to develop the former Baptist hospital site into Regal Entertainment Group's new world headquarters has released a rendering of how it will look.

Regal plans to use the entire office tower with more than 400 employees.

The office tower is part of an overall development known as "One Riverwalk."

In addition to Regal Entertainment Group's new world headquarters, the project along the South Knoxville waterfront will include multifamily housing, student housing, two professional buildings, retail/restaurant spaces, and a hotel.

PREVIOUS: Knoxville City Council approves Regal move

Southeastern Development Associates is the project developer. The Atlanta-based company said the multifamily aspect includes 300 apartments that are currently under construction and the first units should be ready in 2017.

Southeastern said the student housing is on a similar schedule.

Regal received millions in incentives to make the move, but the company will be responsible for paying taxes, insurance, maintenance, and utilities. It's estimated it will cost Regal Entertainment up to $13 million to renovate the site.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Knox Co. to start community service program for indigent defendants

Knox County leaders on Monday will lay out the details to a new pilot program that gives local judges the power to offer community service - rather than issue stiff fines and fees - to thousands of indigent defendants.

The state legislation was approved earlier this year, but is unique to Knox County. It will sunset July 1, 2018.

At that point, lawmakers will determine if it was successful and whether to implement it statewide.

“In the past, the people convicted of various crimes that involved a fine could claim poverty and the judge would dismiss them, so technically you would get off scot-free,” said state Sen. Richard Briggs, who sponsored the bill in the Senate. “Well, you can still claim poverty but the judge has the option to issue community service as part of the punishment to pay back the debt to society.”

The bill gives Knox County Criminal Court Clerk Mike Hammond the power to implement the program. Once the defendants are referred to his office, the clerks can determine whether the defendants qualify and – if needed – monitor their progress.

Hammond will talk more about the program during a news conference Monday morning.

"As we roll out the program we will have three providers who will help out, including solid waste, KARM and the Lending Angels, who are a group of nurses who help identify the needs of the elderly and may have specific needs for carpenter skills," Hammond said. "This program will be the first of its kind in the state."

WBIR 10News addressed the problem last summer in its "Fines, Fees and a Flawed System" investigation of Knox County court operations.

The review, in part, found that a handful of homeless, indigent defendants were responsible for court debts of more than $750,000 - a figure that court officials readily admit the men could never pay.

“There was a lot of enthusiasm from the Legislature about this bill,” Briggs said. “Hopefully it will be successful.”

KCS hears input on superintendent search in first of two forums

Thursday night marked the first of two public forums for community members to share their opinions on Knox County Schools' search for a new superintendent.

The meetings come after former superintendent Jim McIntyre announced his resignation in January and stepped down in June.

Buzz Thomas, of Great Schools Partnership, then took over as interim superintendent.

Some three dozen people gathered Thursday in Central High School's auditorium, where Thomas, a number of Knox County Board of Education members and other district leaders heard from community stakeholders, who included parents and educators.

David McCroskey attended the meeting. He's the grandparent and guardian of three Knox County Schools students. He said while he didn't dislike the former superintendent, he felt McIntyre was overly focused on the financial side of the job.

“I personally feel that we need someone who is an educator and is willing to sit down and talk to people and understand the needs of our children, as opposed to worrying about the financial side of it," he said.

Kathleen Robinson, a former KCS teacher and parent, hopes teachers and parents have a large say in who becomes the next superintendent.

“I feel like the last search, we really didn’t have that opportunity. I was a classroom teacher at that time and I feel like teachers really didn’t have a say," she said.

She hopes the next superintendent will focus on empowering both students and teachers.

“I would like a superintendent who has my child’s best interest at heart," she said.
“We have a lot of disenfranchised teachers, I feel, due to the fact that they don’t feel trusted.”

Board member Terry Hill attended the forum as well. She was disappointed with the turnout but impressed with those who did attend.

“I thought it was a wonderful forum we had tonight. I wish we would’ve had a few more people. But the folks that were there had really concrete suggestions, were very thought out, very purposeful," she said.

Prior to the meeting, WBIR 10News spoke with a number of district leaders on the importance of these public input sessions.

"It's an important job we have to do, so I think the more feedback we have, the better," new BOE member Susan Horn told 10News.

She said she heard from a lot of parents and educators while campaigning for her seat.

"People are looking for a great leader, who has a huge, great vision for our schools, who can communicate with people and who has classroom experience and administrative experience," Horn said.

Board members voted earlier this month to defer appointing a chairperson until next month. That's an important decision, as the chair will appoint members to the superintendent search committee.

Rest of story HERE.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Knox Co. superintendent search on

Knox County leaders want public input into who will serve as the school system's next superintendent.

The BOE has scheduled two meetings.

The first forum will be held at 5:30 p.m. Thursday in the Central High School Auditorium and the second will be held at 5:30 p.m. Sept. 20 in the Bearden Middle School Auditorium.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Next Ed & Bob luncheon at Archer's

The next Ed and Bob's "Night Out" in Knox County is downtown at Archer's BBQ on South Gay Street.

Knox County at-large commissioners Ed Brantley and Bob Thomas will be at the restaurant Sept. 21 from 5-7 p.m. to listen to any concerns of our citizens.

The two feel that going out to the people eases the strain on those who, because of work, commitments, financial situation or the distance to the City-County Building, cannot attend regular commission meetings.

All elected officials, media and public are welcome to attend. This is not a Commission meeting. There is no agenda. There will be no votes taken.

East TN remembers 9/11 victims

Fifteen years after the events of September 11, people across East Tennessee spent Sunday remembering victims and praying for unity.

A number of services were held in Knoxville to honor victims, first responders and families affected from the events of 9/11.

Crown College and Temple Baptist Church hosted "Knoxville Remembers." The event reflected on why people are proud to live in America through songs and guest speakers. A number of elected officials, military service members and first responders were recognized during the service.

"We had all been attacked, and at that moment, we felt like we all needed to come together and just be Americans. To stand up for what we knew was true and stand up for freedom," said Tim Tomlinson, the Vice President of Administration for Crown Community College.

The city of Knoxville and Knox County held its own service Sunday morning, which was led by first responders.

A moment of silence was held before the names of three 9/11 victims with ties to East Tennessee were read.  The ceremony also recognized local first responders who went to New York City in 2001 to help with recovery.

Rest of story right HERE.