LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — The NAACP Lexington-Fayette County Branch has expressed concern over the Fayette County School Board's search for a new superintendent, and detailed a lack of confidence that the district's search committee will adequately represent the community's diverse voices during its hiring process.
As a result, the NAACP suggested the district take one of the following actions:
- Halt the Superintendent Search Committee process during the COVID-19 pandemic;
- Postpone or expand the deadline to hire the next superintendent to the 2022-23 school year;
- Conduct a “listening tour” across diverse communities in Fayette County before choosing the next superintendent;
- Hire or contract with a local racial minority consultant that was directly involved with the district’s previous equity scorecard to advise the Superintendent Search Committee.
"The superintendent search process and final selection is an important equity issue for the Fayette County community," the organization said in a release. "All attempts to include as many voices as possible in developing the “profile” for the next superintendent must be exercised and handled with the utmost urgency."
Dr. Shambra Mulder, NAACP Lexington's education committee chair, said including those voices can only be included with engagement and in-person with the school board and community members.
The pandemic has made those conversations with the board extremely difficult, she added, especially since comments have been shut down on their virtual board meetings.
"So, if we want to have two-way conversations with the community, how are we going to do that? Mulder said. "And if you haven't figured out how to do that now, I don't think you're going to figure out how to do that once this superintendent search starts."
The NAACP said the next superintendent should be someone with a proven record of successfully leading an urban school district and ensure an equitable distribution of resources to high-poverty schools.
In addition, the organization said the new superintendent should have a proven record of holding principals accountable for hiring Black and Hispanic teachers who reflect the diversity of the city and schools, for closing the achievement gaps, and for lowering the number of exclusionary discipline practices and criminalization of racial minority students.
"We are more interested in a proven record of actions, as opposed to characteristics and personality for the next superintendent," the NAACP said.
Mulder added that the new superintendent search is simply too important for a decision to be made hastily during a pandemic.
"It's not just something that just checks the box and says, 'We have a superintendent in place,'" she said. "We need the right person at the right time. Because this is a very critical time for our district."
The search for a new superintendent began after former Superintendent Manny Caulk died in December. Caulk was hired to the position in 2015.
In the prior selection process, the NAACP said the equity challenges faced by the district were compiled based on previous Equity Council Score Cards and considered by the selection committee. The NAACP said that data was neither collected nor reported in the same manner during the most recent superintendent’s time of service.
"The district continues to be plagued with the same issues in 2021," it said. "Therefore, the next superintendent must implement policies and practices to turn these issues around."
Fayette County Board of Education Chair Tyler Murphy issued the following statement in response to the concerns:
The Fayette County Board of Education appreciates the active interest being shown in the process of selecting the next FCPS superintendent by the NAACP and other community groups even before the search has begun. In fact, our board chair has communicated a commitment to ensuring as many voices as possible will be solicited, heard and valued during the search in a message to the Vice President and Education Chair of the NAACP.
Board members have had similar conversations and offers of support from other local advocacy organizations, business leaders, and elected officials. Public engagement is a top priority for our board members and must be the centerpiece of this search in order to ensure we find the right candidate for our district.
In 2015, more than 5,000 students, employees, families and community members participated in the superintendent search that led to the hiring of Manny Caulk, and our intention is to garner even higher numbers this time.
We recognize that COVID-19 will require us to reimagine some of the ways we gather public input and feedback, but based on the active community participation in principal selections since the pandemic began, we have started initial discussions about multiple avenues for widespread stakeholder involvement. Members of the equity office have been active in that brainstorming process, but since the search is not underway, no specifics have been determined.
Under state law, the seating of a Superintendent Screening Committee must happen within 30 days of a vacancy. Congratulations are in order for:
• Parent Representative Thalethia Routt, who has two students in FCPS – one at Veterans Park Elementary and one at Henry Clay High. Routt is a member of the FCPS Equity Council who also serves as the Associate General Counsel at the University of Kentucky.
• Certified Employee Representatives: Jennifer Bolander, who teaches special education at Henry Clay High School, and Jessica Hiler, Fayette County Education Association President
• Classified Employee Representative: Kiyon Massey, Associate Director of Human Resources
• Principal Representative: Matt Marsh, Sandersville Elementary School Principal
They will join Fayette County Board of Education Member Tom Jones, who was appointed by Fayette County Board of Education Chair Tyler Murphy to the committee. The nomination and election process is laid out in statute and includes provisions to ensure diversity if none of the members represent minority groups. This additional step will not be necessary as the nomination and election process yielded a diverse committee.
The committee will review applications for the superintendent vacancy and make recommendations to the Fayette County Board of Education. Before they can begin that work, the board will consider hiring a search firm or executive recruiter to help conduct a nationwide search.
FCPS issued a “Request for Proposals” on Jan. 12 and the window for submissions closed this week. In the RFP, the board specified they were looking for “an executive recruiter or firm to recruit a diverse field of candidates that mirrors the diversity of our student population” and included “a demonstrated record of presenting a diverse pool of highly qualified candidates” as part of the selection criteria.
Board members are reviewing proposals from seven firms and a work session will take place at 2:30 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 8, to review the proposals, interview firms and determine next steps.
We want to affirm the commitment of our entire board team to involve all stakeholders in this critical effort. Input from students, employees, families, and community members will be critical as we move ahead.
The public will have a voice in the development of a candidate profile through surveys and focus groups, and will have the opportunity to participate in the interview process before the board makes a final decision.