When Emmanuel "Manny" Caulk arrives in Lexington in a few weeks to take over as superintendent of Fayette County Public Schools, several pressing issues will be waiting for him:
■ Construction of two new elementary schools and a new high school by 2017, with land bought for a third new elementary school.
■ Completing improvements to the district's financial system as a result of a critical 2014 state audit.
■ Improving the district's approach to low-performing schools as a result of a recent warning letter from Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday.
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■ Implementing a new redistricting plan beginning in 2016.
■ Deciding how to handle several administrative positions that are open at the district level. They include director of pupil personnel and senior director of administrative services, a position created to oversee the improvement of financial systems; director of technology; director of special education; and senior director of equity, school support and community engagement.
In an email message Tuesday, Caulk said he wants to demonstrate "to the community that I'm a committed leader who listens to multiple perspectives, learns, and makes informed decisions that will help (the district) become a world-class system of great schools, and fosters a new level and spirit of community engagement and support."
Caulk said he plans to establish a strong community presence quickly.
He said he wants to learn crucial information about the district and community by meeting with teachers, staff, students, city and state officials, business leaders, post-secondary education leaders, nonprofit organizations and families.
Caulk said he intends to "create a network of critical contacts and resources that will support the district's work of improving the achievement of all students by raising the bar and closing the opportunity gap."
Caulk reiterated a pledge he made during his interview last week: that he wants to ensure that students who are proficient advance faster and that other students achieve proficiency faster.
He wants to make sure that "we have great teachers in every classroom and great school leaders in every building" and that there are effective systems in place to support schools.
"What do I want people to know about me?" he asked. "I'm a champion for all children."
Caulk has been the superintendent of the Portland, Maine, public schools — Maine's largest school district — since 2012.
This week, Portland school board chairman Sarah Thompson told the Portland Press Herald newspaper that Caulk had brought several initiatives to fruition.
She cited the board's work on a comprehensive plan for the school system, a multi-year budgeting process and the creation of an independent education foundation to raise money for the district, the newspaper reported.
According to the Press Herald, Ed Bryan, former school board chairman and part of the team that hired Caulk, said the school board launched a national search in 2012 to find someone with experience in urban schools.
Caulk's past accomplishments at that point included improved math and reading scores when he was an assistant superintendent in Philadelphia in charge of a division with 36 schools and 16,500 students.
The Portland school board voted unanimously in November to extend Caulk's contract to June 2019, but Bryan told the Press Herald in an article about Caulk's departure, "We knew if we hired a rock star, there was a good chance they wouldn't stay very long."
Caulk told the Herald-Leader on Tuesday that he is committed to staying for the long term in Fayette County, where he was offered a contract through June 30, 2019, with a starting salary of $240,000.
"We are committed to FCPS beyond 2019," Caulk said.
"Lexington is a destination city, a great American city, and Fayette County is a destination district," Caulk said. He said he and his wife, Christol, were impressed by the number of families they met who had moved to Lexington planning on a short stay but had ended up staying and putting down roots.
"As Lexington will be our new home, we hope to put down roots and grow our marriage in the Athens of the West," he said. The couple married June 17.
Frankie Langdon, president of the Fayette County Education Support Professionals Association, which represents custodians and technical support staff, said members were energized after meeting Caulk because they thought he "championed for children" and "believes in the staff and community."
"He was very charismatic. He gave you that eye-to-eye contact and was really genuine and sincere," Langdon said.
Stephanie Bamfo, a rising junior at STEAM Academy, said she and other students want to work with the new superintendent "to make our system better."
"Emmanuel Caulk said publicly that his role is that of a servant leader and a catalyst for change," Bamfo said. "It is exhilarating to think our new superintendent is a man who is willing to serve and work with us to bring what we want and need most in this district: change. We need to make sure that students are not being force-fed policy but that we are part of the process of making and implementing policies that are beneficial to us."