Something of a learning curve

Emerald Academy in Knoxville, TN. Mercury cover photo by Clay Duda.Emerald Academy is Knoxville’s first charter school, one aimed at giving a boost to inner-city kids stuck in underperforming schools. It may be too soon to say conclusively whether this new model of schooling is proving effective, but as the school starts its second year of classes reporter S. Heather Duncan takes a critical look at its first year and how it stacks up. I tag along to capture inquisitive young minds as school gets back in session. Despite a few hiccups, many parents say they’re happy with Emerald’s rigorous and individualized teaching approach — but Emerald’s discipline has not set well with all families.

>> Read Duncan’s story
>> Photos: Inside Emerald Academy (e-edition)

Shanty Dreams: Tales from the Tennessee River

Cover design by Tricia Bateman. Photo by Wes Modes. Over the summer months, Captain Wes “Pancakes” Modes a revolving cast of shipmates are going to pilot a ramshackle, homemade house boat down the Tennessee River in search of history. The shantyboat Dotty will transverse 652 miles of river, seeking out stories about the people and towns tied to the waterway, of forgotten families who once lived in not-dissimilar shantyboats and eked out a living on the Tennessee. The tales of these folks and others, now mostly a relic of Americana folklore, are the types of “secret histories” Modes hopes to capture in interviews, videos, Instagrams, and artists’ renderings. He’ll host an eclectic cast of characters, and be hosted by many in turns, as his quest unfurls, and picks up at least one hitchhiking journalist.

>> Read the full story
>> Photos: Life aboard the shantyboat Dotty

Questioning Diversity

cover_5KMXX01AXXXX_COLR_A2.inddIn the aftermath of the state Legislature’s defunding of the University of Tennessee’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion, some students and faculty members have been raising questions about how the school is interpreting and implementing this new law. In particular, they’re concerned over the dismantling of the UTK Pride Center — one of four offices reporting to the ODI, but the only one to be shut down as a result of the new law. Considered an integral resource for students and employees, its advocates question why more wasn’t done to save it, where things might go from here. While the university has continued to tout its commitment to diversity publicly, some of those familiar with the situation say its actions don’t align with its public relations pitch. Was the Pride Center targeted even though it wasn’t specifically named in the law?

>> Read the full story

Knoxville’s Battle Against Opiate Abuse

cover_5KMXX01AXXXX_COLR_A3.inddThe back seat of James Gilman’s* car is filled with stolen meat, about $150 worth of prime-cut beef, as he whips his silver Chrysler into the side yard of a nondescript house in northwest Knoxville, slams it into park, and jumps out the driver’s side door.

“This is my meat guy. Then I got a guy I sell tools to. I got a guy for everything,” he says, scooping up packs of steak and heading for the front door. He means he knows people that will pay him—in either drugs or cash—for just about anything he brings them, regardless of how he acquires it. He hates thieving, he says, but he just got fired from a gig doing maintenance work, and even when he was pulling a $600 paycheck weekly it was hard to keep pace with the drug habit that’s been running his life. For Gilman, that mostly means shooting heroin, or at times prescription painkillers, though the pills tend to cost more and wear off sooner, he says.

Knoxville Police Chief David Rausch calls it a medical emergency. In recent years, there has been an explosion of opiate use in East Tennessee and across the nation. A majority of people who end up on heroin start by using opiate‐based prescription pills, and nationally Tennessee has been among the top states for the number of opiates prescribed. Here in Knox County, a larger percentage of people died from opiate‐induced overdoses in 2014 than any other metropolitan county in Tennessee.

>> Read the full story: On the Front Lines of Knoxville’s Battle Against Opiate Addiction
>> Backstory: A Day with James Gilman*

Open Streets Knoxville

Pedals and pedestrians swamped a roughly one-mile stretch of N. Central Street for Knoxville’s second Open Streets Festival, a roadway-turned-walkway lined with food trucks, kids events, workout equipment, games and dances, hula-hoops, yoga classes, corn hole, some sort of rubber noodle dome, and a ton of other roadside attractions. The Open Streets concept puts a focus on physical activity and engagement, getting folks out of their cars and forcing them to interact with an environment typically reserved for the revving and whizzing of automobiles. People seemed to enjoy it.

>> Photos: Open Streets Knoxville 2016