By Ken Lay
Austin-East Magnet High School is changing its brand.
It will still remain one of Knox County’s magnet schools but its emphasis will now be on the arts, including dance, forensics (debate and theatre arts) and audio production.
The school has already begun its musical production program and its forensics team.
“We’re still going to be a magnet school but we’re in transition to becoming a magnet school of theatre, dance and chorus,” Austin-East principal Benny Perry said. “We’ve started our audio production class.
“It’s the first class of its kind in Knox County and the second of its kind in East Tennessee. There’s a private school in Chattanooga that has a program. This will give our kids a skill and we have a lot of people from Knoxville who have made it in the music business.”
The transition began when assistant principal Chris Caruthers made a trip to Oklahoma.
“I went to Tulsa and went to a school [Tulsa Central High School] that was like our sister school,” Caruthers said. “If you know anything about Tulsa, it has cows and oil rigs and I found out that students could come to that school from outlying counties.”
Caruthers added that Austin-East made the change, with the blessing of the school district in order for the school to remain competitive. We’re losing students to Fulton’s broadcasting program, to [L&M Stem Academy] and to the International Baccalaureate Program at West.
“It was a matter of what we could do differently and what could we offer to our kids,” Caruthers said. “Our audio production class already meets and we already had some equipment. The county purchased some additional equipment.”
He noted that students in the county’s middle schools were surveyed and expressed interested in studying music production.
While the program has had somewhat humble beginnings, Perry said that the school has big plans.
“When school opens next year we will have two new music studios and our kids can do stuff related to music production,” he said. “It will also serve as a community studio where church choirs can record CD’s to sell for a fundraiser.
“We will also let individuals from the area use the studios.”
Perry also added that the school will enter into an agreement with Pellissippi State Community College so that the school’s musical production students can have dual enrollment and earn college credit and work toward an industrial certificate.
While Austin-East’s administration is excited about the new audio production program, the school also has other opportunities in the arts.
The school will host a summer dance academy from June 16-21.
“We’ll have a dance camp in the summer where students can study jazz, tap, modern and ballet,” Perry said.
Recently, Austin-East has started a forensics program and the school’s team, in its first year, had a stellar showing at the State Competition in Brentwood.
The school took first place in the Duo Interpretation Category. Actors Malik Baines and Stephanie Spidell won the competition with an interpretation of “The Face of Emmett Till.”
Austin-East’s team of Jackson McDowell and Ashley Toepfer took third in the same competition, which actors had to do a 10-minute performance without looking at or touching each other.
Austin-East also posted a second-place finish in the Duet Acting category. The actors were Skai Harris and Moriah Brothers.
In the One-Act Play Competition: Austin-East placed fifth.
In addition, Brothers and Baines were chosen to the All-Star Cast, an honor that went to the top 10 actors.
Austin-East will host the State Championships in 2015.