Caulk encourages group effort for continued success
In the district’s first-ever State of the Schools address, Fayette County Public Schools Superintendent Manny Caulk credited employees, families, and community partners with making tremendous progress in a few short months and urged them to keep the momentum going.
“As I looked around the room this morning, I had a vision of Atlas, who held the world on his shoulders and didn’t shrug,” Caulk told a packed ballroom of more than 400 attendees. “Not that I’m Atlas. You are. We are. All of us coming together to lift our students up.”
In an effort to establish public accountability and an expectation of delivering on results, Fayette County Public Schools joined with the Lexington-Bluegrass Association of REALTORS (LBAR) and the Mortgage Bankers Association of the Bluegrass to host the inaugural event June 29, 2017 at the Embassy Suites in Lexington.
“‘Children are only 24 percent of the population, but they're 100 percent of our future,’” Caulk said, reminding attendees of a quote by Ed Markey.
During his speech, Caulk provided an annual report of the 2016-17 school year and presented the district’s five-year strategic plan to an audience that in addition to students, employees, and those with children in the school system, included Mayor Jim Gray, Kentucky state senators and representatives, Urban County Council members, Realtors, business partners, faith leaders, community advocates, nonprofit organizations, government representatives, and family engagement champions.
“You are here this morning, just as you are here every time our students need you,” Caulk said, crediting all those who played a role in the current success and make a bright vision for the future possible. “You have demonstrated that together we can make the difference that matters in every child’s life.”
Caulk spoke of the world-class offerings available in FCPS. With orchestra instruction beginning in fourth grade, band in fifth grade, art in every school, and K-12 world language instruction in Spanish, Chinese, and Japanese, the district gives students “a caliber of education that you simply do not find in most communities.”
Last year, less than 1/10th of 1 percent of students who took the ACT across the nation scored a perfect 36. But 11 FCPS students scored a perfect score last year, which is more than four times the national rate.
Although Fayette County accounts for roughly 6 percent of the student enrollment in Kentucky, nearly 25 percent of the state’s National Merit semifinalists, Governor’s Scholars, and Governor’s School for the Arts participants come from the district.
“Fayette County has a long and proud history of academic excellence, routinely leading the state in student achievement, and posting ACT scores, state test scores, and national test scores higher than state averages,” Caulk said. “But we have parallel truths in our schools.”
Caulk reminded those gathered that six weeks before he was hired, the district received a sternly worded letter from the commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Education, threatening state action if drastic improvements were not made to address the needs of all students.
“I read that letter every morning to maintain my focus on those priorities and keep that sense of urgency alive,” he said. Last month, after its fourth and most exhaustive audit of the district in as many years, KDE concluded that district leaders now have the “capacity” to lead future improvements and released FCPS from state oversight.
“It would normally take a district of our size three to five years to accomplish what we’ve done in just one,” Caulk said to applause from the audience. But he cautioned that the work is just beginning. “It will take five to seven years of hard work and consistent leadership to implement deep, systemic, transformational change.”
To ensure that intentional and systemic progress continues, the Fayette County Board of Education in February adopted its first Strategic Plan. It focuses on delivering five imperatives:
- Excellent student opportunities: Provide a rigorous curriculum with aligned instructional materials and assessments in core subjects and all grade levels.
- Excellent staff: Hire and retain a talented, effective workforce with diverse cultural and experiential backgrounds, and provide them with meaningful professional learning.
- Excellent schools: Set and uphold high expectations for schools.
- Excellent supports: Provide efficient and effective central supports to schools.
- Excellent relationships: Establish a culture of transparency, trust, and mutual respect.
During the State of the Schools event, attendees received copies of the 2017-21 Strategic Plan and the 2016-17 annual report, the first such document in at least two decades.
Caulk noted that the Strategic Plan affirmed the district’s mission and vision and, for the first time, included an Equity Statement to establish a shared understanding of equity in the areas of inclusion, access, process, and outcome. The school board also approved a Portrait of a Graduate to clearly set expectations for what qualities every FCPS graduate must possess in order to succeed in this rapidly changing, increasingly diverse and global society.
During his address, Caulk shared some of the accomplishments of the past year, including the completion of most of the 100 strategies included in the Blueprint for Student Success. Among the highlights in the annual report:
- Adding College and Career Coaches in every high school.
- Hiring more teachers to work with students identified as gifted and talented, students with special needs, and student whose home language is not English.
- Providing PSAT testing for all ninth- and tenth-graders.
- Investing $6.4 million in ELA textbooks for every classroom in every school for students in grades kindergarten through 12, and $3 million for a challenging new math curriculum selected for Algebra, Geometry, and Algebra II.
- Establishing summer learning programs at 21 schools.
- Offering a New Teacher Induction program in partnership with the Fayette County Education Association and an executive leadership program in partnership with the Fayette County Association of School Administrators.
- Developing district and school scorecards.
- Opening two new elementary schools.
- Producing 37,745 Family Learning Guides in seven languages, outlining what students should know and be able to do.
- Creating Family University to provide classes, workshops, and other informational events.
- Partnering with community members to establish First 5 Lex to support school readiness.
- Launching Give 10 in collaboration with the United Way of the Bluegrass.
- Working with community groups to support families in crisis.
- Receiving a $600,000 grant from the William R. Kenan Charitable Trust to support boys of color.
“In Fayette County Public Schools, we are committed to helping every student reach his or her unlimited potential. That begins with helping them discover their unique strengths and talents and giving them the experiences they need to connect those passions to a future vocation. I can’t snap my fingers and make it happen, but if we all roll up our sleeves and get to work, together we can," Caulk said.
“Our schools can’t provide the early learning experiences to ensure that every child comes to school ready to learn, but together we can. Our cafeterias can’t serve enough for breakfasts and lunches to fill the tummies of our children who go home to empty cupboards, but together we can. School guidance counselors can’t meet the extreme mental health needs of our students, but together we can. School librarians can’t put enough books into the hands of our children or create a community of readers that encourages them to read instead of watch television or play video games, but together we can. Teachers and principals can’t close the gaps alone, but together we can, and together we will.”
In addition to the event sponsors, Lexington-Bluegrass Association of REALTORS (LBAR) and the Mortgage Bankers Association of the Bluegrass, FCPS appreciates the following organizations for sponsoring a table June 29 at the State of the Schools address: Bluegrass Sotheby’s International Realty, Building Industry Association of Central Kentucky, Commerce Lexington Inc., John Groft, Realtor, Milestone Realty Consultants, Office of the Fayette County Sheriff, United Real Estate Lexington, United Way of the Bluegrass, and Weichert Realtors — Towne & Country.
(photos by Andre Thomas)
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