It may come as a surprise to learn Fayette County has the 148th largest school system in the country.
“With 40,000 students, we’re twice as large as the next largest school district in the state,” said Fayette County Public Schools Superintendent Tom Shelton. “We rank fifth among large school districts in the state.”
These were just a few of the facts Shelton shared during his “State of Fayette County Education” presentation at the Lexington Forum’s first meeting of the 2014-15 membership year, held Thursday at the Hilary J. Boone Center on the University of Kentucky campus.
Some of the other numbers Shelton highlighted included 65 (the number of existing schools with five more slated to be built); 650 (the average number of students added to the school system each year); 5,576 (number of employees); and $17.5 million (the amount trimmed from the budget).
Shelton, Kentucky’s 2011 Superintendent of the Year, has headed FCPS since 2011.
“The main things we always want people to know about our school district is what our primary objective and focus is,” Shelton said. “We focus our vision around student achievement.”
FCPS seeks to foster diverse learning experiences that challenge and inspire in a student-centered school system, he said.
“We work very, very hard at building a collaborative community,” Shelton said. “We want to make sure we not have only our students and staff engaged but that we also have our families and our communities engaged.”
Shelton acknowledged there are still significant achievement gaps in the district.
“We’re working diligently on those in collaboration with our equity council and the community,” he said. “We want to make sure all students are successful and are prepared to excel in a global society. We realize they’re not only competing against students in the next county or even the next state but they’re competing globally.”
There were two issues Shelton wanted to bring clarity to during his presentation. One was the budget.
“Simply put, the budget situation was a lot like most of us can understand: Our spending had outpaced our revenue,” Shelton said. “We were at point where we had just a little over 4 percent higher spending than we did projected revenue, so we had to trim our budget.”
There were questions about what happened to the money, Shelton added. “There was no money missing,” he said. “I can tell exactly where the money was: It was being spent on our students.”
Another area of concern he sought to clarify was redistricting, or rezoning.
“I want to make sure people have a clear, consistent message about what we’re doing in that process because there have been a lot of rumors in the community,” Shelton said. “These rumors say we’ve already made decisions and moved certain neighborhoods to certain schools. I can tell you that’s not happened yet. The committee hasn’t even looked at scenarios yet of possible moves of any neighborhoods. They will not be making any recommendations until early 2015.”
The committee has already had two listening sessions and more are scheduled. People who are interested in sharing their input can visit the www.fcps.net and learn about the listening sessions, as well as find more details about the rezoning plans.
“I don’t want anyone to think the committee’s objective is to rezone or redistrict every address in the city of Lexington,” Shelton said. “Some people had the idea that we were creating all-new school zones for everybody in Lexington and that’s not at all what the committee’s objective is. They’re managing the growth and where our schools are overcrowded.”
Shelton pointed out several new programs that are showing positive progress, including the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) Academy, which began last August and works in partnership with the University of Kentucky; The Stables program at the Kentucky Horse Park, which, in conjunction with Central Kentucky Riding for Hope, works with students who thrive in nontraditional school settings, combining academics and equine-industry work skills; and Locust Trace, the agriscience center that centers around a pre-veterinary program.
Districts of Innovation is another exciting opportunity for FCPS students, he said. Students in Districts of Innovation schools do their own scheduling and help design their classes.
“Through the new state laws around Districts of Innovation, we have created Innovation Schools,” Shelton said. “We’re allowing those schools to have flexibility to rethink what schools look like, to create a new learning system that’s all about how 21st-century schools should look. It’s more about skill development rather than just pure knowledge.”
Shelton said he has encountered confusion about the state’s Common Core State Standards.
“People think these are some national standards that have been adopted and Kentucky is simply following some national model,” he said. “The states worked together to develop those standards and make sure they have alignment and focus around college and work expectations. Each state has flexibility in how those standards are implemented. Kentucky is so much farther along in implementation of the Common Core Standards than any other state.”
With all these programs in place, Shelton believes community engagement is also vital to the success of FCPS students.
“We need community volunteers in a lot of different areas,” he said. “What we need is for all kids to have a positive adult role model who will advocate for them because so many of our kids don’t have that.”Tanya J. Tyler is a freelance writer in Lexington. She is also pastor of Chalice Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in London.