Emmanuel "Manny" Caulk, described by Fayette County Public Schools officials as "a transformational educational leader with a calling to advance equity for all children," was named the district's next superintendent Saturday.
The school board voted unanimously to hire Caulk, who was superintendent of Portland, Maine, public schools.
In an interview Saturday, Caulk said he and his wife, Christol, whom he married June 17, couldn't wait to get back to Lexington.
"We really felt like it was home," he said. "We couldn't ask for a better beginning to our marriage."
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"There is a clear momentum and energy around building a great school system," he said. "Having an opportunity to be part of that is really exciting."
In a news release, Caulk said he could tell that in Fayette County "we have wonderful employees at all levels of the organization."
"I look forward to supporting their great work and engaging parents and the broader community to increase student outcomes and ensure that every student has a pathway to success," Caulk said.
"My role is that of a servant leader and a catalyst for change."
Caulk was offered a contract through June 30, 2019, with a starting salary of $240,000. The final terms are under negotiation, school board chairman John Price said.
"We think he's the best fit," Price said.
Focus groups were supportive of Caulk "being the right person at the right time for our district and our students," Price said.
Price said Caulk has a proven track record of improving student achievement; a passion and energy for all students; and a history of engaging the community, establishing trust and championing change.
The board's decision follows a week of public interviews with Caulk, 43, and Terri Breeden, 59, assistant superintendent for the Loudoun County, Va., school district.
No official start date for Caulk has been set, but Price said Caulk is committed to being in Lexington before students go back to school Aug. 12.
Caulk said he grew up in public housing in Wilmington, Del.
He served as an assistant superintendent in the School District of Philadelphia, which had 167,000 students. Under his leadership, schools demonstrated gains in reading and math on the state assessment, a Fayette district news release said. Caulk also served as the assistant regional superintendent and deputy chief for the office of instruction and leadership support.
He also had leadership positions at schools in Chicago.
"I'm impressed with his urban experience in both Philadelphia and Chicago," school board member Amanda Ferguson said in a statement. "His recognition that we need to accelerate learning for every student in our district speaks to his focus on all kids."
Caulk holds bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Delaware and a law degree from Widener University School of Law. Caulk is scheduled to complete his doctorate in education this December.
"I believe that Manny's professional experience and lifelong commitment to equity and social justice will enable him to create a collaborative community that ensures all students achieve at high levels and graduate prepared to excel in a global society," school board member Doug Barnett said in a statement.
Before working in Philadelphia, Caulk was assistant superintendent for high schools in the 46,000-student East Baton Rouge Parish School System. He has experience as a special education teacher in a juvenile detention facility; as an elementary-school principal; and as a high school principal. He practiced law, serving as an education law attorney and former assistant prosecutor for the state of New Jersey.
The board's vote came after more than three hours of closed deliberations following four hours of Skype interviews that started at 7 a.m. Saturday. During the meeting, board members reviewed recommendations from focus groups of students, parents, community representatives, teachers, classified employees, principals, Equity Council members and district administrators.
Board vice chairman Melissa Bacon noted the level of public participation at interview events, "from the airport greetings to the receptions, focus groups and public forums."
Board members also considered background checks by McNamara Search and student achievement data from each of the candidates' districts.
"From the screening committee process to the final interviews, I thought we had a very strong and inclusive process, which then allowed us to select the candidate who is the best fit for our district," said school board member Daryl Love.
More than 500 people in Fayette County attended public sessions, and an additional 4,375 people filled out surveys to determine the characteristics included in the board's superintendent profile.
Breeden, the other candidate who came to Lexington, is also a finalist for superintendent of the Charleston, S.C., public school district. Breeden said Friday that officials there indicated she might not hear anything from them for a week because the district is dealing with the aftermath of the shooting at a Charleston church that killed nine people.
Caulk replaces Tom Shelton, who resigned last year.
The search for Fayette's next superintendent had a few setbacks.
Caulk and Breeden visited Lexington during the week of June 21, but face-to-face interviews with the board were canceled because district officials failed to provide a required 24-hour notice to the public for the first board interview with Caulk.
In May, the board terminated its contract with the search firm PROACT Search when questions unrelated to the search arose about PROACT's CEO. The board then hired McNamara Search of Lexington to help complete the search. CEO Linda McNamara was with the school board Saturday as they deliberated.