Jessamine County School Superintendent Lu Young said Tuesday that taking over the leadership of Fayette County Schools, which is five times larger than her district, would be a major challenge that she's ready to accept if she's named Fayette's new superintendent.
Young said the size difference would mean she'd have to do some things differently than in Jessamine County. She acknowledged having "not a lot of experience" in building faculty and staff diversity but stressed that she has "deep convictions in that regard."
She pledged to continue Fayette County's emphasis on closing achievement gaps for all students; said she'd work for a smooth transition into new state academic standards that start next year; and promised to be open and approachable for students, parents, the district and the community.
"I think this community expects and deserves continued transparency from the superintendent," Young said. "I want people to know me; I want people to call me Lu. I hope people will get to know me, that they will contact me.
"I'm the kind of person that if I'm in the produce section and you have a question, just stop and ask."
Young, 51, one of three finalists to become Fayette's new school superintendent, was in Lexington Tuesday for a daylong series of interviews and meetings, a press conference and a public forum, to make her case for the job.
The two other finalists, Daviess County Superintendent Tom Shelton and Clark County Superintendent Elaine Farris, will go through the exact same schedule on Wednesday and Thursday, respectively.
The Fayette Board of Education then plans to meet Friday to deliberate on the selection of one of the three to succeed outgoing Superintendent Stu Silberman.
Young admitted during a press conference Tuesday afternoon that Fayette would be a big step up from leading the Jessamine County District, where she has been superintendent since 2004. She has spent her entire education career in the Jessamine District, which has about 7,800 students.
"Fayette has fives times as many students; five times as many schools; five times as many teachers; five times as many miles traveled," Young said. "In Jessamine, I ... work directly with all 12 principals on their evaluations each year. I don't think I'm going to be able to do that with 55 schools in Fayette, so I need to figure out how to know the principals as intimately as I know them in Jessamine County."
Nevertheless, Young said, she isn't fazed by the prospect of running Kentucky's second-largest public school district.
"This is a challenge for me at a point in my career that is extremely enticing and appealing to me," she said. "I really don't see a downside, but I sure see an attractive opportunity here ... to make a larger impact in a community where I feel like I have something to contribute and share."
Young took questions on a wide range of topics, including decisions on "snow days," which ruffled more than a few feathers in Fayette County this winter.
"I will tell you unequivocally that I will always err on the side of caution," she said. "I would find it very difficult to live with myself to make a decision that was other than on the side of caution."
Later, during a public forum attended by about 40 people, she answered questions previously submitted by Lexington residents. Young said she would rely on her experience in reducing drop-out rates in Jessamine to do the same in Fayette.
"It's not acceptable for any child to drop out for any reason," she said.
Reach Jim Warren at (859) 231-3255 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3255.