Urban League chooses FCPS for 2019 Community Service Award
The Urban League of Lexington-Fayette County this fall selected Fayette County Public Schools as its 2019 Community Service Award winner. League President and CEO P.G. Peeples presented the award to Superintendent Manny Caulk at the group’s 51st annual empowerment banquet, where more than 480 business and community leaders gathered. “The award was created to recognize an entity for their efforts to enhance equal life opportunities for all,” said Annissa Franklin, CAO of the Urban League. “For students, that means closing the gap on achievement and opportunity.”
Months before Caulk joined the district in 2015, then-Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday warned that Fayette County Public Schools faced a state takeover if it did not make significant changes to address equity and achievement disparities. Four years later, current Commissioner Wayne Lewis told the state board of education that the work happening in FCPS is proof that children of color and children living in poverty can learn at high levels and suggested naysayers ask Caulk for advice.
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Under Caulk, FCPS has made systemic changes to accelerate the learning of students who have not reached proficiency and to push already-proficient students to become globally competitive. “His leadership is changing how we move all students forward,” Peeples said.
Caulk established the state’s first office for Educating Boys of Color, increased the number of students from underrepresented populations identified for gifted and talented services, cut disparities in the disproportionate discipline of African-American students by nearly half, and increased offerings in advanced programming and opportunities to underrepresented students by way of AP and dual credit classes and partnerships with post-secondary institutions. Meanwhile, the school board has not raised taxes in two of his four years of tenure.
“This award does not belong to me,” Caulk said of the Urban League honor. “This is a recognition for our entire school district team and the amazing work they are doing.”
As more and more students are achieving at high levels, Fayette County Public Schools has produced record numbers of National Merit Scholars, scholarship recipients, and students earning a perfect score on the ACT.
When considering performance on Advanced Placement exams, 72 percent of students tested scored a 3 or better, and that success cuts across race and socio-economic groups.
In comparing white students in Fayette County to white students across Kentucky, Hispanic students in Fayette County to Hispanic students across Kentucky, or students living in poverty in Fayette County to students living in poverty across Kentucky, Lexington’s students earn college-credit bearing scores 1½ times more often. For black students, the rate is 1¾ times greater.
The district has made significant investments to ensure equity and opportunity:
- Purchased new reading and math materials for all schools;
- Added state-of-the-art technology;
- Opened a dropout prevention and recovery center;
- Hired more staff to work alongside teachers and focus on quality instruction;
- Provided extensive professional learning;
- Opened after-school learning labs;
- Added leadership coaches and assistance teams;
- Increased oversight;
- Conducted external audits; and
- Developed targeted turnaround plans.
In 2018, seven schools were among the lowest performing in Kentucky. Six of those seven made substantial gains that moved them out of that state classification in just one year.
Additional efforts included:
- Hiring more staff to work with students who qualify for special education, students identified as gifted and talented, and students learning English. This year alone, that represents a $2.8 million investment.
- Collaborating with the YMCA to provide extended learning during the summer through the Power Scholars program. Participants demonstrated 2½ months of growth in reading and three months of growth in math in just five weeks.
- Partnering with Commerce Lexington to transform high schools into The Academies of Lexington, where learning is relevant and engaging and students are connected to whatever future they can imagine. During the past four years, the number of students obtaining industry certification has grown nearly 1,200 percent from 364 in the 2015-16 school year to 4,673 in 2018-19.
- Establishing Family University to encourage family engagement and support learning at home;
- Developing and distributing Family Learning Guides in eight languages to educate families on what their children should be learning at every grade level;
- Transforming Harrison and William Wells Brown elementaries into Promise Academies, where students have a longer school day and extended school year, and have more time for intervention and enrichment in world language, art, and science;
- Requiring training in culturally responsive teaching and learning for all employees;
- Hiring a minority recruiter;
- Increasing spending with minority, women, and veteran-owned businesses by 191% from $4.4 million in 2017-18 to $12.9 million in 2018-19;
- Launching Give 10, a program to encourage volunteers to give 10 hours a month in service to schools and students, through initiatives like REAL Men Read;
- Establishing the District Safety Advisory Council, representing a diverse cross section of Lexington. With support of the business community, Caulk sought a 5-cent property tax to generate a $13.3 million annual investment in hardening school buildings while softening schools.
- Changing the staffing formula so that schools serving a high percentage of students who qualify for free-and-reduced lunch receive additional personnel;
- Implementing a tiered model of support for schools including expert teams that meet regularly at the school and additional resources, such as more staffing and extended learning for students.
“I’ve been advocating for equity for 50 years,” Peeples said. “I’m excited to see so much meaningful activity in our school system to equalize life opportunities for all students.”
Although the district has accomplished much, Caulk said, the work continues. “We will not rest until we prove that demography, ZIP code, and neighborhood do not equal destiny and show the rest of the nation what is possible for each and every child,” he said.