Tom Shelton is Fayette County's new school superintendent.
The Fayette County Board of Education voted unanimously early Friday night to name Shelton, now the Daviess County superintendent, to assume leadership of the Fayette County Public Schools and its almost 37,000 students.
"It is phenomenal for me just to be here ... It's with great excitement that I accept this position," Shelton said immediately after the vote.
"I truly believe this can be the best school district in the country. ... I look forward to getting off to a great start at moving things forward."
Shelton, 47, said he'll be in Lexington next week to start meeting key people and learning about the community. He said he hasn't had time yet to plan when he will move his family here.
Shelton's contract, still to be finalized, will be for three years and 10 months, at an annual salary of $240,000. That's a little less than outgoing Superintendent Stu Silberman's pay. Silberman is getting about $244,000 this year, and his pay would have been more than $254,000 next year had he stayed.
Shelton will take over as superintendent Sept. 1, the same day Silberman is to become the executive director of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence.
The vote to hire Shelton came after Fayette School Board members deliberated behind closed doors for more than nine hours, starting just after 7 a.m. Friday. Board chairman John Price said that reflected the difficulty of choosing among three "excellent candidates."
Clark County Superintendent Elaine Farris and Jessamine County Superintendent Lu Young were the other finalists. Price said that "either one of them would have been an excellent choice."
Board members didn't reach consensus until after reviewing student achievement data from the three finalists' home school districts, and the results from a recent statewide survey of public school teachers' job satisfaction, according to Price.
The state survey indicated Daviess teachers are "very satisfied," Price said, while test data showed a "continuing student achievement increase" in Daviess County during Shelton's tenure.
For example, achievement data show that the percentage of Daviess County elementary students scoring proficient or distinguished in reading rose from 84.93 in 2007 to 88.07 last year. The individual numbers actually were higher than Fayette County's for the period, although Fayette gained at a steeper rate.
"With the strengths each of the candidates brought, it was very difficult ... to figure out which would be the best fit," Price said.
"It was very clear from our community that continuing to improve student achievement is where we need to go. And it was very clear ... that Dr. Shelton was committed to that continuing increase in achievement. We felt his skill set and his performance in his prior district showed he has what our students need to move forward."
According to Price, the board reached agreement about 5 p.m. Friday and then phoned Shelton, who was at a meeting in Louisville. Shelton said he immediately called his wife, Gwen, who was at work in Owensboro, to "tell her the good news," then drove to Lexington for the announcement.
Shelton, the only finalist with a Ph.D., was recruited and mentored by Silberman when Silberman headed the Daviess schools before coming to Lexington in 2004. Shelton then succeeded Silberman as Daviess superintendent, and now will succeed him again in Lexington.
Shelton joined the Daviess schools from the business world, where he was a certified public accountant with an MBA. He initially handled district finances, but he fell in love with education, completed his superintendent certification and a doctorate in education. He is the current Kentucky School Superintendent of the Year.
Shelton stressed while visiting Lexington on Wednesday he will not be another Silberman, describing himself as a "collaborative" leader who likes to take a vision and "systemize" it.
"What I like to do is look at each and every aspect that we're working on, and see if it really fits the goals and aspirations we have," Shelton said Friday. "Are we really getting the bang for our buck; are we getting measurable results?"
He said he'll work to "engage the entire community" in improving Fayette schools.
"I feel like I'm a good fit to continue the vision that's already been started here and move it forward," he said.
Shelton declined, however, to detail any immediate plans.
"It's way too early," he said. "I've got a lot to learn."
Reach Jim Warren at (859) 231-3255 or 1-800-950-6397 Ext. 3255.