The Fayette County Board of Education ran a national search for a new school superintendent but ultimately picked three experienced Kentucky educators as finalists, two of them working just a few miles from Lexington.
The three, whose names were announced Wednesday, are Clark County school superintendent Elaine Farris, 56; Daviess County superintendent Tom Shelton, 47, and Jessamine County superintendent Lu Young, 51. The educators know one another and are well-known in education circles across Kentucky.
Fourteen people from 10 states applied for the Fayette County post.
Board members elected to go with three Kentuckians because of their knowledge and familiarity with the state's education system, said board chairman John Price Wednesday, and because of some potential weaknesses among out-of-state contenders.
"All the applicants had various strengths," Price said. "But some of the out-of-state candidates had things we were not extremely pleased with.
"Some of them had moved around a lot, and we were looking for longevity in a superintendent. Some had been non-renewed by their boards."
In contrast, Price said, Young, Shelton and Farris know Kentucky's system from the inside, have contacts statewide and are familiar with Senate Bill 1, the wide-ranging education reform measure that takes effect when schools open this fall.
The new Fayette superintendent will take over a district that has made major strides during the past several years but still faces challenges in raising achievement levels for all students. The new superintendent also will be running a district where parents and community leaders have high expectations and hold ambitions for the district to reach world-class status.
Here are snapshots of the finalists:
■ Farris has experience at the local level and in Frankfort. The Clark County native was a deputy commissioner in the state Department of Education and is a former interim state education commissioner. She also was superintendent of Shelby County schools and an elementary schools director in the Fayette district before joining the Clark County Schools. She was the first African-American to become a full-time school superintendent in Kentucky.
"I'm excited and a little overwhelmed," Farris said Wednesday. "This community (Clark County) has been wonderful and very supportive of me and my vision. But this (Fayette County) is one of those opportunities that would be very, very hard to pass up."
■ Shelton was mentored by outgoing Fayette superintendent Stu Silberman when Silberman headed the Daviess schools then became superintendent after Silberman moved to Lexington. A native of Princeton, Shelton has degrees in accounting and business administration and was working in industry before starting his education career as chief financial officer of the Daviess schools 16 years ago. He has a Ph.D in education, and he is a former school superintendent of the year in Kentucky.
"I think the potential there in Lexington is unbelievable," Shelton said Wednesday. "I've stayed close to it the past seven years with Stu being there, and the opportunity to be a part of all that is very exciting."
■ Young graduated from Jessamine County High School in 1977 and worked for the Jessamine school district for 21 years before becoming superintendent in 2004. She chairs the Kentucky Curriculum Assessment and Accountability Council, which advises the state school board on testing and related issues, and she is on the board of governors of the American Association of School Administrators. She has bachelor's and master's degrees in Spanish from Eastern Kentucky University, and is a former state school superintendent of the year.
"I was hoping to make it through the screening process and have a chance to interview and meet with the community folks, so I really appreciate the opportunity," Young said. "I think the Fayette Schools is a plum of a district, and a place where I could take my 28 years of experience and benefit from the challenge I would face."
Meanwhile, the field of finalists got strong reviews from education officials Wednesday.
"I think they're excellent candidates," said Wayne Young, executive director of the Kentucky Association of School Administrators. "Elaine (Farris) has gone into Clark County and really been a stabilizing influence. She deserves great accolades for that. Tom (Shelton) is an incredibly hardworking and bright guy (who) didn't have to become a superintendent but chose to. Lu Young, I have the most incredible respect for. She's the best-informed person in the room."
State Rep. Carl Rollins, D-Midway, who chairs the House Education Committee, said he has worked with all three finalists.
"All three are very impressive; Fayette County would be well served by any one of them," he said. "They know the turf and know what they're in for."
Reach Jim Warren at (859) 231-3255 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3255.