Terri Breeden, a candidate for Fayette County Public Schools superintendent, said she has a "theory of action" when it comes to closing the achievement gap — the gap between low income, minority and disabled students and other students.
It involves a rigorous curriculum taught by high-quality teachers to engage students. Students need to know they are cared about and supported, but also that educators have "high expectations," she said.
Breeden, 59, has been assistant superintendent of Loudoun County Public Schools in Virginia for the past year. She is one of two candidates being interviewed this week by the Fayette school district; Emmanuel Caulk, superintendent of Portland, Maine, public schools, visited Lexington earlier.
The school board is finding a replacement for Tom Shelton, who resigned last year.
Breeden met students, teachers and parents on Thursday as part of the interview process.
She said the fact that she is also a finalist for superintendent of Charleston, S.C., schools does not mean that she does not want to come to Fayette County.
"I would stay forever," she said. "This would be a dream job."
Breeden's parents were originally from southeastern Kentucky, and she has relatives here.
Breeden's husband, Frank Breeden, came with her to a reception at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School on Thursday.
Breeden said her work in large urban districts prepared her to be Fayette County's next superintendent. The budget for the department she leads is larger than Fayette County's.
"I understand growth. I understand the achievement gap," she said.
"She's had experience in schools with a pretty diverse set of students," said parent Chris Begley, a professor at Transylvania University who met Breeden at the reception. "One of the challenges here, I think, are the inequities and differences between schools.
"It's going to take somebody who is sensitive to that and has had experience with that to be successful," Begley said.
Breeden started working in Loudoun — a school district of 80,000 students outside Washington, D.C. — in 2014. She previously was an assistant superintendent in Fairfax County, Va., a district of 181,000 students, and was director of grades 5-12 in the Nashville district, which has 84,500 students. Fayette's enrollment is about 40,000.
Breeden had been Fairfax County's assistant superintendent for professional learning and training, and she taught elementary and middle school in Nashville for 12 years and was an assistant principal and principal.
The Rev. C.B. Akins Sr. said Breeden had sterling past performances, and he said he did not doubt that she was "very well qualified."
"She obviously has a passion for education and a love for children," Akins said.
Parent Hazel Compton said Breeden told her she would support specialized programs such as Locust Trace, where Compton's son Dion studies agriscience.
"That was exciting to hear," Compton said.
Breeden's interview process continues Friday with closed interviews with parents, students, teachers and community leaders, a public forum and a news conference.