Heard the rumor that Manny Caulk is leaving Lexington? He’s heard it, too.

Fayette County schools have seen growth and successes

Fayette County public schools Superintendent Emmanuel "Manny" Caulk discusses improvements and changes seen in the past few years in a State of the Schools address at the Embassy Suites in Lexington.
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Fayette County public schools Superintendent Emmanuel "Manny" Caulk discusses improvements and changes seen in the past few years in a State of the Schools address at the Embassy Suites in Lexington.

Manny Caulk said recently at a school board meeting that “everybody keeps asking” him if he is going to stay at the helm as Fayette County Public Schools Superintendent.

The answer is yes.

“I appreciate that the past history of leadership turnover in Fayette County heightens interest in the tenure of the superintendent, but that speculation is not healthy for our district or community,” Caulk told the Herald-Leader Thursday.

“All I can say to reassure people is that I am committed to achieving the imperatives in our district’s first-ever Strategic Plan. The work we have completed in the past year has been tremendous and we have demonstrated that we have the leadership capacity to continue to lead improvement, as the Kentucky Department of Education affirmed. But we have not yet reached our goal. Deep, systemic transformational change can takes 5 to 7 years to implement,” he said.

Fayette County Board of Education Chair Melissa Bacon touched on the question at the Sept. 25 board meeting where she talked about the exemplary and accomplished marks in Caulk’s annual evaluation. “I’m pleased to report you’re going to be with us for quite some time,” Bacon said.

Bacon told the Herald-Leader this week that she was giving just a tongue-in-cheek response “to all the rumors swirling a few months ago” about whether Caulk would stay. “I was attempting to squash that rumor.” District officials did not venture a guess on what caused the rumors.

“While there is still much work to be done,” school board members wrote in Caulk’s annual evaluation dated Aug. 28, “we have the utmost confidence Superintendent Caulk will continue (to) move this district forward and be able to guide Fayette County through what may be some challenging times ahead.”

The Herald-Leader obtained the evaluation Tuesday under the state Open Records Act.

School board members hired Caulk, who had been superintendent of schools in Portland, Maine, in 2015.

“When I interviewed for this position,” Caulk said Thursday, “ I told the story of my grandfather and his siblings traveling to Kentucky more than 80 years ago in search of a better life. They found that better life in Hardy, Kentucky (in Pike County). My grandfather worked as a coal miner, which provided him with the resources to provide for his wife and children. My father is a Kentuckian and he instilled in me a deep love for the Bluegrass. I consider it a blessing that my leadership journey brought me to Kentucky. A place that I call home.

“As I have stated previously,” Caulk said, “we have two moral imperatives in Fayette County, and I’m committed to working alongside our outstanding district and school leaders, talented teachers and staff, and passionate families and community to create a world class system of great schools — a system where all students fulfill their unlimited potential.”

Caulk has a four-year contract that was signed in 2015, said district spokeswoman Lisa Deffendall. His current annual salary is $260,196. His contract says he will receive the same salary increases as other district employees.

In the seven areas of leadership that form the basis for his annual evaluation, Caulk received three top exemplary marks for his strategic, human resources, and managerial leadership. Board members found that in the area of cultural leadership he was “accomplished” or met the state’s standard. They gave Caulk “accomplished moving to exemplary” marks in three other categories, including instructional leadership.

In Caulk’s formal performance evaluation, board members wrote that “after a fourth extensive audit, the Kentucky Department of Education concluded with the work Superintendent Caulk had put in place, Fayette County was now positively demonstrating capacity to lead future improvements. Superintendent Caulk had taken quick, immediate actions to rectify previous audit findings and implement transformational change within in one year.”

“This is work that usually takes anywhere from three to five years, and he did it within one year,” Bacon said at the Sept. 25 meeting.

The board members were referring to the Kentucky Department of Education’s May report of the state’s 2017 district diagnostic audit. It said Caulk had brought stability to the Fayette school district and that the district now had the capacity to make needed improvements., But it said the district had not produced consistent results in all schools in closing achievement gaps.

Fayette’s mixed statewide tests results for 2016-2017 released Sept. 28 by the Kentucky Department of Education provoked Caulk to say he would hire an outside independent agency to conduct a scholastic audit of low performing schools in the district. District spokeswoman Lisa Deffendall said Thursday that district leaders are currently reviewing their request for proposals from outside agencies who would want to conduct the scholastic audits. “When the RFP is issued, the schools will be identified,” she said.

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: 859-231-3409, @vhspears