Public, private, K-higher, plus religious and technical there are several schools of thought around here.
The school system in Knox County has one major distinction: it is a unified, countywide institution. Local schools used to mirror the bifurcated local governments: one district in the city, one in the county. But in 1987, city residents voted to disband their problematic system, merging all city schools with the county. This produced a decade of turmoil, as the county struggled both to renovate deteriorating urban buildings and keep up with mushrooming growth in the suburbs.
Those tremors have mostly subsided, and the school system is now under the fairly aggressive direction of Superintendent Charles Lindsey. Lindsey is only the second appointed school chief in county history (they were elected until 1996), and he's the first outsider, having been hired by the Knox County school board from a smaller district in South Carolina. The schools themselves vary widely in size, from fewer than 200 students at Gap Creek Elementary to more than 1,000 at Karns Intermediate. Real estate agents tend to tell incoming families that the West Knox schools (Farragut, Bearden, Cedar Bluff) are "the best," but it all depends what you're looking for. The school system offers magnet programs in arts, science and technology at five inner-city schools (Beaumont, Green, and Sarah Moore Greene elementary; Vine Middle; and Austin-East High), all of which have waiting lists for enrollment. Other schools have strengths ranging from potent football programs (which surely no one considers when choosing a school...) to cultural diversity. The best advice is to visit the building and talk to the principal, teachers, and students.
Knox County also has a healthy offering of private schools. Most of them are parochial, ranging from Knoxville Catholic High to Christian Academy of Knoxville to a relatively new Episcopal school. The K-12 Webb schools are private academies in the classic prep school mode, with tuitions to match. And several Montessori schools, along with the innovative Greenway Middle School, offer alternative education approaches for the progressive-minded.
Of course, we can't forget Knoxville is a college town. It doesn't always feel like it, leaving aside football weekends, but we have 25,000 undergraduate and graduate students in our midst. The university also has a lively and inexpensive slate of community education programs, where you can learn anything from photography to swing dancing. So you can live here your whole life and still be a student.
Jesse Fox Mayshark
PTA and Knox County Board of Education