Board member: Interim Fayette schools superintendent will tackle achievement gaps

Fayette County Public Schools central offices at 701 East Main Street, Lexington.
Fayette County Public Schools central offices at 701 East Main Street, Lexington. Herald-Leader

Fayette County Public Schools board member Daryl Love said Tuesday that the district's soon-to-be-named interim superintendent will begin implementing 10 recommendations for closing achievement gaps among various groups of students.

Love said he hoped that an interim superintendent would be named this week. The candidates are former Fayette interim Superintendent Marlene Helm and former Anderson County Superintendent Ronald "Sonny" Fentress.

The school board hopes to name a permanent superintendent by July, but Fayette Equity Council chairman Roy Woods said he called a news conference Tuesday because he was concerned that some district officials wanted to wait for the new superintendent to be hired before implementing the recommendations.

"We've got six months. We've got to make sure that the recommendations that we have already approved by the board are implemented. We don't need to wait," Woods said.

Equity Council member Ron Langley was among several people at the news conference who gave impassioned pleas for district officials and the community to keep a focus on the equity recommendations. Langley called the recommendations "a positive start."

"We keep hearing about how we want to have a world class public school system in Fayette County and I think we all agree we do," said Langley. "But a world class public school system doesn't fail significant numbers of its children."

Members of the equity council, a group charged with analyzing equity gaps and advising the Fayette County Board of Education, have said that decades of initiatives and talk of reform have led to little progress for black, Hispanic, poor and disabled students.

In October, the school board approved the recommendations, which range from placing attention on mental-health issues to holding leaders of schools with the highest achievement gaps accountable.

Superintendent Tom Shelton recently announced a timetable for implementing the recommendations, with many changes scheduled for the first half of 2015.

Notably, beginning in January, officials from schools with the highest gaps and their district directors are scheduled to share the schools' gap-reduction plans with the school board and Equity Council.

Shelton's last working day is Dec. 12. Shelton has resigned to become executive director of the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents.

Shelton said during the news conference that working with the Equity Council has brought him "a great sense of joy, but it's also brought me a lot of sorrow as we talk about the fact that a number of kids are continuing not to be successful in our school district."

"We're not going to make any changes by doing things the way we've always done them before," said Shelton.

He said the district, among other things, had to review its staffing formula and how it allocates resources.

Love said the interim superintendent will be asked to make significant progress on the recommendations and other initiatives, including redistricting school boundaries and responding to a state audit that found chronic financial mismanagement.

An analysis of the student performance in school years 2005 to 2013, called an equity scorecard, showed that the achievement gap had widened. Fewer students from all groups scored distinguished and proficient on state achievement (called K-Prep) tests than in previous years. Most of the gaps were larger than in previous years.

"The sad fact is we are not making a whole lot of progress," said Langley.

Langley said that minority students, low income students, and students with identified disabilities are less likely to be proficient and distinguished in reading and math on tests. Those same students are more likely to be suspended, they are less likely to be enrolled in gifted and talented programs, and they are less likely to take advanced placement classes, he said. And he said those students are less likely to graduate or to be ready for college and careers. The gaps are not only large , they are persistent, Langley said.

Langley said the new superintendent has to be intentional about closing the achievement gap.

Jan Clark, a staff attorney for the Children's Law Center, said after the news conference that there is a lot of work to be done and it will take a community effort.

"I don't think the school system alone, without the support of this community, is going to be able to pull it off like it needs to be done," said Clark.