Here’s How Unicoi County’s Schools Are Setting Records

While some rural school districts across the country aren’t known for academic achievement, Unicoi County stands above the rest in an important metric. Recent studies of high school graduates seeking a post-secondary education finds Unicoi County number one among much larger school districts in Northeast Tennessee. An important point of distinction.

“Our students are truly blessed by our school system’s partnership with the Ayers Foundation,” says John English, Unicoi County’s Director of Schools. For the past seven years, three counselors paid for by the foundation, have helped students as early as the eighth grade grow their vision toward a career through post-secondary education. Ultimately, we want those students to return to Unicoi County as part of our workforce with skills that employers will see as valuable.”

The Unicoi County school system has around 2,200 students enrolled K-12. In 2023, Unicoi County High School handed out 194 diplomas with many of those students headed toward a two-year or four-year institution. “We celebrate every student heading toward a post-secondary education,” says English. “We hold a signing day event for each student enrolling in either a Tennessee College of Applied Technology (TCAT) or four-year school much like an event when a student signs an athletic scholarship.”

In the past three graduating classes of the high school 130 students have gone on to either a TCAT or four-year college. “Our greatest challenge is finding room for a student wanting to attend a TCAT due to limited availability. They are placed on a waiting list.”

Janet Ayers

Janet Ayers, whose family has Unicoi County roots, and President of the Ayers Foundation played a key role in bringing the foundation’s resources to her home county. Formed in 1999, the foundation’s mission is toward improving the quality of life for the people of Tennessee by positively affecting the fields of education, conservation, and social welfare. In Northeast Tennessee, Unicoi County Schools is the only system enjoying the benefit of counselors paid for by the foundation.

“The support of the counselors engaging with students at an early age is so important,” English explains. “A good number of the students entering post-secondary education are the first in their family to ever do so.”

“A well-trained workforce is key for any county, especially those with vocational skills, says Austin Finch, Executive Director of the Unicoi County Economic Development Council. “Our school system is blessed with so many dedicated teachers and leadership. If you layer in the impact of what the Ayers Foundation is doing to improve the lives of students, many of whom will become part of our workforce, Unicoi County is truly blessed.



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