Building strong communitywide support is key to closing achievement gaps and moving Lexington schools forward, Clark County superintendent Elaine Farris said Thursday as she sought Fayette County's top education job.
"It's very important that we understand that the excellence we want cannot be achieved by this board or by this school district alone," Farris said. "It's going to take community leaders; it's going to take faith-based organizations and churches. ... It's going to take all of us to ... provide a well-rounded, holistic educational system."
Farris, one of three finalists vying to become Fayette County's next superintendent, said communities and schools should be mutually supporting, asserting that, "great communities have great school systems, and great school systems have great communities."
Farris, 59, was an elementary schools director in Fayette County before becoming Shelby County superintendent in 2004. She also has held posts in the Kentucky Department of Education, including a brief stint as interim state education commissioner.
Speaking at a news conference and at a public forum during her visit to the district, Farris contended her varied experiences uniquely qualify her to lead Lexington schools "to the next level."
The other finalists — Jessamine County superintendent Lu Young and Daviess County superintendent Tom Shelton — visited the district Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively.
Farris said closing achievement gaps was a priority that came up again and again as she met with Lexington school and community groups Thursday. Eliminating gaps among disabled and low-income students will be tough, but it's "doable," she said.
"Poverty and race are not destiny," Farris said. "We have to embrace the idea that we have a moral obligation to ensure we are providing an equitable education for all our students."
Kentucky public schools face major changes this coming year, with new content standards and a new statewide student test based on those standards. Some educators fear scores might decline, but not Farris.
"My expectations are never going to be negative, I think you get what you expect," she said. "If we do a good job of implementing the standards, if we provide professional development for teachers ... my expectation is students will master the content ... and do very well."
Farris said, however, schools must do more to inform parents about the new standards and a "strategic plan" would be needed. "Something I'd like to do is put that plan in place," she said.
If she becomes Fayette County's next superintendent, Farris said, she would spend her first several weeks introducing herself to the Lexington community.
She said she would meet with teachers, community leaders, parents and each school board member, seeking their ideas and expectations.
She also pledged stay around if she is hired.
"I will make a commitment to stay seven to 10 years," she said. "I had the experience of being in Fayette County before when we went through three superintendents in about two years. That was not fun. The tenure of the superintendent really makes a difference in the success of the district."