Former Danville Independent Schools Superintendent Carmen Coleman and longtime educator Marlene Helm are in the running for interim Fayette County superintendent.
The Fayette County school board interviewed Coleman on Thursday. Helm and another candidate, who asked not to be publicly identified by the board, will be interviewed Friday, chairman John Price said.
Price described the candidates as "exceptional."
"It's a good reflection of the strengths of Fayette County," Price said. "We have a lot of challenges right this minute, but we also have a lot of good things going on in Fayette County."
Coleman, an associate professor at the University of Kentucky, is co-director of UK's Next Generation Teacher and Leader Academy, Center for Innovation in Education.
She was director of elementary schools for Fayette County from 2006 to 2009 and was the Danville superintendent from 2009 to 2014.
Under Coleman, Danville Independent led the state in a concept called project-based learning, a model that requires students not only to learn content but to prove that they can apply it so they are prepared for college or a career.
Coleman was principal at Scott County's Anne Mason Elementary School from 2002 to 2006. During her tenure, Anne Mason ranked high in the state's testing system.
Helm was the interim Fayette County superintendent in 2004. She has more than two decades with the district as a teacher, director of state and federal programs, assistant to the superintendent and director of elementary schools.
Other leadership posts include director of elementary curriculum for Scott County Schools; social services commissioner for the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government; state education, arts and humanities cabinet secretary; and interim education dean at Eastern Kentucky University. Helm also has taught graduate teacher-education courses at Georgetown College and UK.
Fayette County Superintendent Tom Shelton announced his resignation Nov. 6 to become executive director of the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents.
Among the challenges for the interim superintendent are a recent state audit that found chronic financial mismanagement, a longstanding achievement gap for poor and minority students, and a school with the lowest test scores among elementary schools in the state.
Coleman told the Herald-Leader that the board reached out to her and she did not apply. She said that along with Fayette County's challenges "there are incredibly smart, talented children and adults" in the district.
"The potential there is without limit."
Helm, a branch manager for the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, said the district reached out to her as well. She said she was willing to serve during a national search for a permanent superintendent because she had an affinity for the district.
"The children of Fayette County deserve to have an educational system that is outstanding," Helm said. "I am willing to offer my services and my time and effort. It's a heartfelt commitment."
Helm said that she was in a fairly similar situation in her interim role in 2004. Helm said that because she knew the district so well, she was able to help resolve some problems that had been plaguing the district before Stu Silberman started in the position.
Price has said the board hopes to have an acting superintendent in place by about a week before Shelton's last day, Dec.12.
But he also said the board wanted to take its time to find the best candidate for a position that could last six months. The board is likely to rank candidates in closed session Monday and might even conduct second interviews.
"This is such an important decision" that the board needs two or three days to consider strengths or weaknesses of candidates, he said.
It's "the right thing for us to do for our kids," he said.