New Academies at FHS met with freshmen angst, as 102 say ‘no’

Knox County Schools’ new 865 Academies’ structure was unveiled Thursday, Jan. 26, for eight high schools — including Farragut — that initially chose to participate in the new program.

Administrators had been working for more than a year on selecting the Academies, the pathways of which students will choose as freshmen and will begin undertaking in their sophomore year.

The concept is a new one for Knox County, but one FHS principal Dr. John Bartlett said “would make a large school small … and create structures in a school so students are known by name and someone knows their story. 

“In doing so, we are creating small learning communities that also give students a chance to explore career areas and interests in a more in-depth way,” he added.

FHS has three: Academy of Business, Academy of Engineering and Technology and Academy of Health, Human and Animal Sciences.

However, the announcement was not positively met by all students. Two FHS freshmen students in particular, Ingrid Shultz and Jianing Sanasac — both supported to go public on the matter by their parents — created a petition on which they gathered 102 signatures from fellow freshmen, along with a document, outlining the reasons they oppose the 865 Academies structure and offerings. (More later on their specific objections)

More background

“The district did not dictate the pathways for schools,” Bartlett said. “There have been a series of meetings between district personnel, school personnel and industry partners as schools worked on pathways.  

“The formation of the academies was done by the schools and approved at the district level,” he added.

Underneath those Academies, current Pathway options include: Veterinary and Animal Science, Horticulture Science, Residential and Commercial Construction, Engineering, Digital Arts and Design, Coding or Web Design, Cybersecurity, Accounting, Math and Science, Entrepreneurship, Marketing and Management, Business Management, Dietetics and Nutrition, Human and Social Sciences, Nursing Services, Therapeutic Services, Sport and Human Performance and Leadership in Government.

Freshmen pushback

From the document, Shultz and Jianing Sanasac wrote, “The academy system negatively impacts many students’ high school experiences. The 865 Academies page on the Farragut High School website states that the academy system is meant to prepare students for ‘Enrolling in postsecondary studies; Enlisting in the military; or Finding Employment in a high-wage, high-skill, and in-demand profession.

“The current academy system does not adequately meet this goal,” they further stated.

Instead, (it) “creates a limited high school experience compared to the traditional model,” the petition stated. “Unlike the original system, there are no options for the humanities, fine arts or hard sciences beyond mechanical engineering.”

Additionally, “Most of the current Pathways are taken from pre-existing elective focus areas. While these might be good options for some students, not all students wish to take classes about these subjects,” the petition stated.

“These pathways are almost entirely focused on careers instead of opportunities for post-secondary education,” it added.

“The academy model should add to the experience of high schoolers, not take opportunities away. Creating more Pathways will improve the experiences and education for many of the students at Farragut High School.”

“I would say with the number of signatures we got, there are lot of kids who are dissatisfied with the Academies,” Shultz said.

“I wish there were more, and easier choices,” added Sanasac, who initially came up with the idea to start the petition.

Meeting with Bartlett

The two met with Bartlett Friday, Jan. 27, to present the petition and discuss their concerns.

“I think the meeting went OK,” Shultz said. “They did add the Math and Science Pathway. But I am hoping there will be more choices.”

Sanasac also hoped for more changes in the near future.

“There needs to be something for people who don’t want to take high school so seriously and something that is not so hard, in case students have jobs or some other focus,” she said.

Alternatives, or not

While Bartlett acknowledged currently “there is no advanced humanities Pathway,  students still can take all the humanities classes they wish while taking a Pathway. 

“As we move forward over the next few years, we will look at Pathways and make adjustments,” he added. “If a student wants to take advanced humanities, they can take a pathway and still have at least eight humanities electives they can take throughout their high school career.”

In an e-mail sent out to FHS parents last week, this issue was further addressed among a listing of frequent questions that had arisen.

“Other schools have Fine Arts Pathways, so why doesn’t Farragut?” the e-mail stated.

“The struggle has been real on this decision,” began the stated answer. “We have gone back and forth on the Pros and Cons of having a pathway for the arts. 

“We have elected to keep our arts programs global, so all students have equal access to the arts,” the answer further stated.

Complaints in general

As far as complaints about the Academies in general, Bartlett said, “I think the majority of complaints have come from people that were not completely informed.  

“I really have not had many complaints from parents or students,” he added.

“We will not make everyone happy; however, we can still serve every student and prepare them for their next steps.”