For the first time since 2010, Doug Barnett, an outspoken attorney on the Fayette County Public Schools board, has decided he no longer wants his second district seat.
Two people are vying in the Nov. 6 general election for the open spot that covers north Lexington: psychologist Shambra Mulder, who prior to the race became known for criticizing the lack of equity in Fayette schools, and Tyler Murphy, a high school teacher who said he will fight attacks on public education, including charter schools.
As a result of recent low state test scores, the school district will soon be mandated to improve student achievement to various degrees at a total of 25 schools. It’s one of many key issues facing the school board and its elected members.
Murphy, 30, works at Boyle County High School while living in Lexington. State law permits teachers to be school board members as long as they work outside the district where they were elected. Before Boyle High, he previously worked at Woodford County Middle School.
Mulder, 46, has served as the education chair of the Lexington-Fayette NAACP.
Mulder said she offers years of knowledge, research and skills in mental health, special education law, and statistical analysis gained by her public education experience as a school psychologist and college professor training special education teachers.
“I bring a focus and passion around ensuring equity in school policies and practices, closing achievement gaps ... and using psychology to better deal with the discipline and mental health needs of students,” she said.
Some types of students — who make up smaller portions of the total student body — are put in special education in larger numbers and that concerns Mulder.
As a classroom teacher and advocate for public education, Murphy said he is uniquely qualified for the seat and will never lose focus on students.
“Not only do I have a firm grasp of policies, school budgets, and the nuts-and-bolts of education but I also understand how these policies impact the classroom because I see it every day,” Murphy said.
Mulder said she is the better candidate because of her advocacy for students in Fayette County for the last five years. In her NAACP role, she has worked on district equity and diversity issues, including increasing the number of minority teachers and administrators and decreasing disparity in disciplinary rates, Mulder said.
Being a licensed psychologist in private practice has allowed her to work with students, their families, and school staff, Mulder said, and she started a non-profit organization to bring community programs to Lexington residents.
“I am a resident, parent, and business owner within the 2nd District which enables me to be flexible, available, and draw on personal experiences with Fayette County Public Schools,” said Mulder.
Murphy said he provides the board the missing perspective of a teacher.
“In a climate where public education and the teaching profession are under assault, we need an advocate who is clear, consistent, and committed to public education, our students, and the teachers who work with them,” said Murphy, who made an unsuccessful run for state representative from Greenup County in 2012.
“ I would bring to the school board not only a deep and unique understanding of what is going on at the most significant level in our schools — the classroom — but also a passion for expanding opportunities for every child, protecting and strengthening public education, and building community partnerships to achieve these goals,” he said.
Murphy said he has previously served as a teacher representative on his Woodford school’s site-based decision-making council, where he helped draft policy, reviewed and approved school budgets, and advocated for teachers and students. He said he works with high school students at the Kentucky Governor’s Scholars Program as an associate campus director and is a regional representative on the Kentucky Education Association Central District Board of Directors.
A big challenge for the school district is determining how to allocate limited funds and resources to all of its schools so students are college and career ready, Mulder said. She said another is determining why state test scores have consistently shown achievement deficits for students with disabilities, low-income students, black students, Hispanic students, and students with English as a second language.
Murphy said the district should be a leader in early childhood education and that school board members have to expand opportunities so that every child can receive a quality education no matter where they live in Fayette County. He said that includes listening to teachers “so we know what’s working and what can be improved and where we can maximize increasingly meager resources. “