New Fayette County school superintendent plans to complete 'action plan' by February

Superintendent Manny Caulk talked to students in the library of Bryan Station High School on the first day of school in August.
Superintendent Manny Caulk talked to students in the library of Bryan Station High School on the first day of school in August. Lexington Herald-Leader

How do you improve public trust, accelerate student achievement and close the achievement gap in a district that's been lacking all three?

New Fayette County Public Schools Superintendent Manny Caulk says he is working on an action plan that he will unveil in February.

Caulk wants to know how the district is "currently doing business, does it align with best practices" and if not, what it will take to improve.

He is trying, he says, to "build and sustain a world-class system of great schools."

The school board is setting aside $600,000 to hire outside consultants to study the district's programs in English Language learners, gifted and talented and special education.

Caulk is holding one-on-one meetings with all sorts of people in the district, including board members, so he can have a positive relationship with each one. His predecessor, Tom Shelton, had a rocky relationship with at least two of the five board members.

Caulk is evaluating the district's vision, strategy, culture, organizational structure and policy, human resources, finance, operations, academics, external affairs, data accountability and school management.

In the year before he arrived in Fayette County, various state officials had criticized the district's attention to finances and budget processes, student achievement and at at least one high school, behavior.

By improving morale and rebuilding relationships, Caulk thinks the district is going to be much better tomorrow than it is today.

Caulk hopes the results of his groundwork include a renewed sense of energy, optimism and engagement.

"He's off to a great start," board chairman John Price said at a recent meeting. "We can't wait to work together as a team and move all students forward. "

While Caulk works on an entry plan, Acting Senior Director of Administrative Services Kyna Koch is addressing the problems Kentucky Auditor Adam Edelen found in a special examination. Every month, Koch updates school board members on improvements to everything from anti-nepotism policies to the budget information that board members receive.

And Marlene Helm, who spent the last several months as acting superintendent, is staying on as a consultant to work with state education officials to close the achievement gap between minority, disabled and poor students and others.

Helm said at a school board meeting recently that 4,500 of the district's nearly 40,000 students are reading at a novice instead of a proficient level.

She said the district is developing a plan for each of those students.

Teams from the district are going to each low-performing school.

District officials are trying to pinpoint why Fayette County does not have the system it should have, Helm said.

Every 30 days, district officials will reassess student by student, point by point the progress that's been made, she said.

"It's going to fundamentally change the way we are addressing the learning needs of our children," said school board member Daryl Love.

Caulk, meanwhile, has been visiting every school, talking to teachers, principals and students.

The economic divide between schools that he wants to bridge was never more apparent, he said, than when he saw a kindergarten student arrive at one school without supplies, without a preschool experience and without being preregistered. At another school, a child with school supplies in hand told him he knew he was ready to attend kindergarten because he had graduated from preschool.

Caulk recently announced that he was having sinus surgery. The recuperation could take several weeks, but Caulk said he would work from home.

District spokeswoman Lisa Deffendall said Thursday that the surgery and recuperation would not affect the entry plan.

"We're still on track," she said.

Of the date or the outcome of the surgery, Deffendall said, "I haven't gotten any updates."