Education

Mom airs concerns about radon in Lexington public schools

Gabrielle Williams, left, and Gianna Taylor-Martin, center, who attend Fayette County schools with high radon levels, joined their mother, Sarah Williams, outside Central Office on Monday to draw attention to the problem.
Gabrielle Williams, left, and Gianna Taylor-Martin, center, who attend Fayette County schools with high radon levels, joined their mother, Sarah Williams, outside Central Office on Monday to draw attention to the problem. vhoneycutt@herald-leader.com

Sarah Williams stood outside Fayette County Public Schools’ central office Monday before the monthly school board meeting with a sign that read “Radon is poison.”

Daughters Gianna Taylor-Martin, who attends Harrison Elementary, and Gabrielle Williams, a student at Lexington Traditional Magnet School, also held signs: “Schools should be safe,” one said. “Stop Poisoning Our Future,” read the other.

Their schools are among nine in the district where high radon levels were found recently, requiring an emergency fix.

“You send your children to school believing they are going to be safe. To find out they’ve been exposed to this is actually pretty bad,” Sarah Williams said.

Radon is a cancer-causing, radioactive gas, according to the EPA website. It comes from the natural decay of uranium that is found in nearly all soils. It moves up through the ground to the air and into buildings through cracks and other holes in the foundation.

During the board meeting, Williams told the board that the schools with high radon levels also were in neighborhoods with high numbers of black and low-income students. The other schools are Bryan Station High, Booker T. Washington Intermediate, Leestown Middle, and Mary Todd, Russell Cave, SCAPA and Sandersville.

Board members did not respond to Williams’ comments, but chair Melissa Bacon and vice chair Amanda Ferguson noted that the board on Monday approved spending $571,846 to remediate the problem.

The levels of radon at the schools are higher than the 4 picocuries per liter limit recommended by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The highest level, 15.8 pCi/L, was found at Harrison Elementary.

Myron Thompson, acting senior director of operations and support, has said work will begin during spring break and continue over the summer, when students are not present.

I do wish the exposure hadn’t occurred to begin with, but that is water under the bridge. ... All that we can do is address the issue, and that was done tonight.

Sarah Williams

Last year, high radon levels were found at the district’s Locust Trace AgriScience Center and Yates Elementary. Since then, district officials have been checking school properties continually.

After Monday’s meeting,Williams said she was satisfied with the outcome.

“I do wish the exposure hadn’t occurred to begin with, but that is water under the bridge. ... All that we can do is address the issue, and that was done tonight,” she said.

Superintendent Manny Caulk described Williams’ concerns as “a community voice that supports a board action.”

He said he and school board members want all students to be safe.

Also on Monday, Caulk announced that new principals have been named for three Lexington schools and a key district staff post has been filled.

“Our team keeps getting stronger,” Caulk said in a news release. “Every school deserves a great leader, and I believe that we have four more transformational leaders joining our ranks.”

The new principals are Paul Little, Henry Clay High School; Grant Davis, Clays Mill Elementary School; and Stephanie Urbanek, Meadowthorpe Elementary.

William “Billy” Buchanan, was named director of data management, planning and program evaluation

Little has more than 21 years’ experience in education. He taught math, reading, social studies, health and special education at Morton Middle, and business education at Tates Creek High. He was named assistant principal at Lexington Traditional Magnet School in 2004 and assistant principal at Henry Clay High School in 2005.

“Paul Little will be a familiar face to the students, staff, and community members as he accepts the title of principal at Henry Clay High School. His years of service as the associate principal have prepared him well to assume his new role,” said school director Randy Peffer, who oversees Henry Clay. “Mr. Little possesses all the skills and attributes needed to lead Henry Clay and continue its tradition of being one of the premier high schools in the state and nation.”

Davis has more than 11 years of experience in education. All of his work has been at Clays Mill Elementary, where he has been a fifth-grade teacher, instructional coach, response to intervention coordinator, administrative dean, professional growth and effectiveness coach, and acting principal.

“Grant Davis is a leader to watch,” said school director Jimmy Meadows, who oversees Clays Mill Elementary. “A student-centered and accomplished administrator, Grant possesses a vision that will take Clays Mill to another level in the area of student achievement.”

Urbanek has more than 12 years of experience in private and public schools and higher education. She was a teacher and guidance specialists at Mary Queen of the Holy Rosary and teacher and assistant principal at Sts. Peter and Paul Regional Catholic School. In 2011, she became the response to intervention coach, behavior coach and a teacher at Meadowthorpe Elementary. Since 2013, she has been the professional growth and effectiveness coach at Breckinridge Elementary.

“We’re so excited to have Stephanie joining the Meadowthorpe team,” said school director Heather Bell, who oversees Meadowthorpe. “Her unique leadership experiences make her perfectly suited for this new leadership opportunity.”

Buchanan, currently a data scientist with Minneapolis Public Schools, has been a strategic data fellow with the Mississippi Department of Education and a research associate with Baker Evaluation Research Consulting Group.

“Data will be a key leverage point for continuous improvement in our district,” Caulk said. “We had a national search that yielded an outstanding data person who brings experience at both the state and district level. Clearly, his skill sets, knowledge, expertise and acumen is going to be an asset for the district.”

As director of data management, planning and program evaluation, Buchanan will oversee the data team and be a member of Caulk’s cabinet.

Buchanan, Little, Davis and Urbanek will officially assume their duties July 1.

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: 859-231-3409, @vhspears

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