UK educator drops out as candidate for interim Fayette schools superintendent

Applicants for Fayette County interim superintendent from left, Sonny Fentress, Marlene Helm and Carmen Coleman.
Applicants for Fayette County interim superintendent from left, Sonny Fentress, Marlene Helm and Carmen Coleman.

Former Danville Independent Schools chief Carmen Coleman dropped her bid for interim Fayette County superintendent, opting instead to "consider very strongly" applying for the permanent position in a subsequent search, she said Saturday.

"She contacted us to let us know that given her love for FCPS (Fayette County Public Schools) and excitement about the limitless possibilities for the district, she would prefer to apply for the permanent position, rather than the interim post," Fayette School Board chairman John Price told families in an email.

Currently the co-director of the Next Generation Teacher and Leader Academy, Coleman is also an associate professor at the University of Kentucky and works extensively with the National Center for Innovation in Education.

Coleman said leaving the academy now could be difficult for the organization.

"I was so flattered and honored that the board asked me to meet," Coleman said. "I am in the middle of several projects with UK and with the Center for Innovation. The timing to leave right now would just be really, really hard. I'm committed to them, and I just don't feel like it would be right to do that."

Price said he appreciated Coleman's commitment to UK and hoped "that she will indeed apply for the superintendent opening this spring." The board hopes to fill the job by July 1.

"I would certainly think about it," Coleman said. "It is something I would consider very strongly."

Coleman was director of elementary schools in Fayette County for three years before going to Danville.

"I had a fantastic meeting with the board," she said. "Thinking about what is possible there is so, so exciting."

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.

Educator Marlene Helm and former Anderson County Superintendent Ronald "Sonny" Fentress remain in the running for the interim job. Superintendent Tom Shelton is resigning to become director of the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents.

"Our remaining two candidates ... are excellent educational leaders with proven records of success and deep understanding of the Kentucky education system." Price said Saturday. "The board remains confident that we will select an acting superintendent who will ensure we make immediate progress and do not lose ground over the next six months."

The school board interviewed Coleman in closed session on Thursday and Fentress and Helm on Friday. Price said the board could choose to interview more interim candidates.

The interim superintendent will be dealing with the aftermath of a state audit that found chronic mismanagement in the school district. Other challenges include low student achievement at several schools and an achievement gap for poor, disabled and minority students. In addition, the district is redrawing school assignment boundaries for the first time in more than 10 years.

The Fayette board members under Shelton's administration were sometimes split, with Doug Barnett and Amanda Ferguson questioning Shelton's decisions more than Melissa Bacon, Daryl Love and Price.

The interim superintendent could serve for six months or longer during the wider search for candidates to replace Shelton, who leaves Dec. 12.

The board is working to have the interim in place by Dec. 5, Price said previously. The board would discuss the candidates in closed session Monday night, he said. Board members were expected to make reference checks over the weekend.

Fentress was superintendent in Anderson County from 1986 to 2005. He was principal at Anderson County High School for the previous six years. Fentress has spent 42 years in education as a teacher, coach, assistant principal, principal and superintendent, most recently as interim superintendent in Muhlenberg County in 2013.

Helm served as interim Fayette County superintendent in 2004. She was with the district more than two decades as a teacher, director of state and federal programs, assistant to the superintendent and director of elementary schools. Her other leadership posts included director of elementary curriculum for Scott County Schools, social services commissioner for the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government, secretary of the state Education, Arts and Humanities Cabinet, and interim dean of the College of Education at Eastern Kentucky University. Helm is now branch manager with the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services.

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