Q&A: Tom Shelton discusses being named Fayette superintendent

Tom Shelton of Daviess County Public Schools was named after a unanimous vote by the board.
Tom Shelton of Daviess County Public Schools was named after a unanimous vote by the board.

Tom Shelton, who was named the new superintendent of Fayette County Public Schools on Friday night, is getting used to the idea of his new role starting Sept. 1, but he's already making plans for the move to Lexington.

Shelton, whose current post is head of the Daviess County Schools, took some time Saturday to answer a few questions from the Herald-Leader about succeeding Stu Silberman.

Question: What went through your mind when the Fayette board called Friday to say you had been selected?

Answer: I was at a meeting in Louisville, getting ready to drive home, and had begun to think I hadn't gotten the position because it was late and they had not called.

I was actually walking to my car and had pretty much accepted the fact that the opportunity had passed when the call came in. So I was very excited, but I also was very surprised.

Q: What did you do first?

A: I called my wife, Gwen, and then I called Frank Riney, the chair of the Daviess County board, because you have the responsibility of letting your board know, and I wouldn't want them to hear from anyone but me.

Gwen had been texting me all day, wanting to know if I'd heard anything. She was pretty excited because she has a brother and sister and their families living in the Lexington area, and I have two cousins living in Lexington. We're already up there pretty frequently.

Q: What are your plans for getting ready in the next few weeks?

A: I plan to be in Lexington next Saturday, and I've talked with Stu about getting a schedule together for me to begin meeting people and know the community.

I think the best place to start will be with the people who were on the different focus groups that met with the superintendent candidates. But I also want to get input about other people in the community that I need to coordinate and meet with as well.

I'd like to be up there every week during the summer. I'm going to propose in the transition plan with both school districts that I be in Lexington one or two days each week all summer. The more I can do before I officially start in September, the more I'll have my feet on the ground and be ready to go.

Q: Are there programs in the Daviess schools that you might like to bring to Lexington?

A: There is one thing I'd like to talk about that I think would be a great match for Fayette County. It's a program called Next Generation Learning, which we're doing through (the University of Kentucky). It's redefining the high school experience and creating more real-world opportunities for kids outside the traditional high school.

One of the issues I heard while I was in Lexington last week was overcrowding in the high schools. Next Generation could possibly help with that.

For years, our schools were structured to meet mainstream students, and our idea was that every student had to conform to our structure. But I think we have to be more flexible in meeting individual students' needs. I'd really like to talk about that.

Q: What about your own family's transition into the new job?

A: We have two daughters — Abby, 20, who is a junior at Georgetown College, and Audrey, who is turning 17, and will be a senior in high school this fall and is planning to attend the University of Kentucky next year.

Part of the transition we have to talk about as a family is that my wife has another year on her contract that she has to fulfill. She is an addictions counselor at a clinic in Owensboro.

So, since Audrey is going to be a senior and Gwen has another year in her job ... one thought is for me to come on up to Lexington, get an apartment and start work and get through the year. Audrey and her mom could transition on to Lexington next year. We haven't worked out the details yet, but the main thing is for me to get started in Lexington.

Q: What would you like to tell parents and citizens in Lexington as you prepare to join the school system here?

A: I believe, and I really mean this, that Fayette County can be the best school district in the country. It's obvious how passionate and supportive of the school district the entire Lexington community is. I'd just like everyone to know that I'm honored to become a part of that and to help continue to move that forward.

"I'm also very excited about the diversity of the district and the community, which is one of its greatest strengths. The chance to work in that kind of environment and build opportunities for kids is very exciting to me. The Equity Council is one of the first groups I'll meet with because there's a real passion there about closing the achievement gap, and I want to make that a heavy focus.

I think people will find in working with me that I really do believe in collaboration.