Tom Shelton said Wednesday he would foster collaboration if he's named Fayette County's next school superintendent, bringing people together to move the district toward becoming the best in the country.
"I really believe that this school district can be the best in the country, and I don't say that lightly," said Shelton, who now heads Daviess County Public Schools. "I like to collaborate; I like to listen; I like to find areas of common focus and goals. It's the superintendent's responsibility to go out into the community and hear what the community has to say."
At an afternoon news conference and at a public forum Wednesday night, Shelton said his first steps as superintendent would be to "learn and build relationships." And he pledged that if the Fayette County Board of Education hires him Friday, he'll "be here next weekend" to start that process.
Shelton, 47, is the second of three superintendent finalists to visit Lexington this week. Jessamine County superintendent Lu Young was in town Tuesday. Clark County superintendent Elaine Farris will be here Thursday.
The Fayette school board will meet Friday morning to review the finalists' strengths, and possibly make a decision on a successor for outgoing Superintendent Stu Silberman.
Silberman recruited and mentored Shelton when Silberman headed the Daviess County district before coming to Lexington. Shelton stressed repeatedly, however, that he and Silberman are not the same person.
"Stu is very much a visionary," he said. "I think one of my biggest strengths is what I call systemizing the vision, taking the vision and building on it, enhancing it, improving on it ... ."
Daviess County Public Schools has about 11,500 students; Fayette schools have about 37,000 students. But Shelton said the size difference doesn't worry him.
"I don't feel it's a question of numbers and size," he said. "When you look at the job of superintendent, it is basically the same no matter what size district you're in. What matters is that you have the right staff, the right support, the right systems around you ... ."
Questioned about staff diversity, Shelton said he's worked to make the staff more diverse in Daviess County and would stress diversity in Fayette County.
"Ultimately, we have to able to sit down at the table ... and say this is important, this is something kids need to see," he said. "We need to have the same type of diversity in our staff as we do in our student population."
Questioned about what he's done to close achievement gaps for all students, Shelton said Daviess County recorded double-digit gains in literacy rates among students with disabilities and at-risk students in each of the past four years.
"The focus should be on student achievement in the classroom," he said. "That should be achieved in and around quality instruction ... making sure teachers have the resources to ensure students receive quality instruction every day in every classroom."
Shelton said he was a "technology geek" who has made full use of technology to broaden classroom instruction in Daviess County, and he would do the same here.
"Technology is ... where our students are today; it's the world we live in," he said. Shelton cautioned, however, that technology "should be a tool to aid instruction; it should not be what drives instruction."
"I believe technology is reality," he said. "If we don't help kids use it correctly, then to my mind we're missing an opportunity."
Reach Jim Warren at (859) 231-3255 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3255.