On the way to an ‘amazing education’ for all

Principal Lester Diaz, aided by Mayor Jim Gray and others, cut the ribbon this month, opening the new Frederick Douglass High School in Lexington.
Principal Lester Diaz, aided by Mayor Jim Gray and others, cut the ribbon this month, opening the new Frederick Douglass High School in Lexington. palacala@herald-leader.com

When I began my tenure as Fayette County Public Schools superintendent two years ago this month, the district was reeling from a scathing rebuke in which the state education commissioner questioned the system’s commitment to equity and threatened state action if “immediate and significant” changes were not made.

Since then, we have intentionally engaged students, staff, families and community members in an examination of the district and strategically built the structures and systems necessary for sustained success.

Last spring, the state conducted its fourth and most exhaustive audit of the district in as many years, and concluded that FCPS has demonstrated the capacity to lead future improvements.

With that vote of confidence, we’re moving full speed ahead to deliver on the promise of equity and excellence for all.

We have twin moral imperatives:

▪  Accelerating the achievement of students who have not yet reached proficiency.

▪  Moving students who have reached proficiency to global competitiveness.

We have expanded opportunity and access for students by investing $6.4 million in a K-12 English language-arts curriculum that will put cutting-edge instructional resources in every school and $3 million to bring the math curriculum used in the nation’s top school districts to our algebra, geometry and algebra II classrooms.

Challenging every student to achieve his or her unlimited potential requires a change in how we approach instruction. To that end, principals and teachers have dedicated time to professional learning this summer during our first-ever Teaching and Learning Conference and second annual Superintendent’s Leadership Institute.

Teams from 20 schools have traveled to Harvard to study school-turnaround efforts, instructional rounds, data usage and urban leadership.

This month, Fayette County Public Schools will take another step on our journey to transform the way we prepare students for success after graduation. In collaboration with Commerce Lexington and the Business and Education Network, we will debut The Academies of Lexington at both Bryan Station and Frederick Douglass high schools.

While one also happens to be a new facility, both schools will offer a completely new approach to preparing students for success after graduation.

Unlike traditional high schools where students take classes in isolation, students at Bryan Station and Douglass will enroll in smaller learning communities that connect them to the future they envision for themselves.

By combining the academic rigor of college preparatory programs with the relevance of career-focused education, The Academies of Lexington will give students an experience as innovative, immersive and engaging as the world around them.

For years, Fayette County has been known for its world-class magnet programs, offering advanced science and math learning where high-school juniors conduct graduate-level research, K-12 language immersion where students receive certificates from the Consulate of Spain, and exceptional arts education in music, dance, literary arts, drama and visual arts.

While we are proud of these exceptional programs, we must also ensure that we are providing an amazing education for all of our students. We must personalize education in a way that helps all children discover their individual strengths and find their path to a successful future.

That’s why we’re giving every student access to a high-quality core curriculum in English and math. That’s why we’ve hired college and career coaches and more teachers to work with our students who have special needs, have been identified as gifted and talented, and whose home language is not English.

That’s why we’re paying for all ninth- and tenth-graders to take the PSAT and establishing a re-engagement center for high school students who are not on track to graduate. That’s why we’ve developed a new teacher induction program and an executive leadership program for school leaders.

And that’s just the beginning.

We want every school to be a place where we would feel comfortable sending our sons and daughters . . . because every student in the Fayette County Public Schools is one of our children.

Emmanuel “Manny” Caulk is superintendent of Fayette County Public Schools.