Clark County Superintendent Elaine Farris is one of three finalists for the position of Fayette County’s public schools superintendent.
The school district made the announcement Thursday following a two-hour board meeting Wednesday night.
The other two candidates are also current superintendents from Kentucky: Lu Young of Jessamine County and Tom Shelton of Daviess County.
They were chosen from among 14 candidates from 10 states.
“We felt a national search was in the best interest of our students,” said Fayette County Board of Education Chairman John Price in a statement issued following the decision. “But after an exhaustive search and thorough review of the applicants, three from within the state appeared to offer the expertise we’re looking for.”
The one the school board hires will replace Stu Silberman, who is retiring after seven years with the district. He will become the new executive of Kentucky’s Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence.
“It was a tough decision,” to apply, Farris said Wednesday after the finalists were made public, “but it was an opportunity that I felt I didn’t want to pass up.”
“This is the second largest school district in the state, and having an opportunity to lead that district and work with that community is something many people would want to do,” she said.
“We’ve done some great things in Clark County,” she said. “I love this community and would love to continue to do the things I’m doing now, if it doesn’t work out,” she said, If she is fortunate enough to get the Fayette job, it would be a good career move, she said.
Based on Silberman’s current salary, it could nearly double her pay, which would make her retirement more, since state retirement is based on a person’s top three years of pay.
Farris met Wednesday morning with Judy Hicks, who chairs Clark County’s school board, and talked with principals and members of her staff. She had e-mailed board members the night before.
She hadn’t told the board previously that she had applied.
“I waited until the last minute to apply because people were asking, and I was still praying about it and meditating about whether it was something I wanted to do,” she said. “I hadn’t shared it with them because I didn’t want it to be a distraction from what we’re trying to do. I didn’t want to say anything about it until I was a finalist.”
Hicks was supportive of Farris’ decision.
She said the school district was fortunate two years ago when Farris returned home to Clark County, where she began her educational career.
“We were looking forward to a long relationship here. And that may still happen. But circumstances change, and they affect long-term plans and even short-term plans, and we never know when those opportunities are going to present themselves,” Hicks said.
She said she and Farris have “an excellent working relationship,” and it would be a loss for Clark County if the superintendent leaves, but she wishes her well whatever happens.
Hicks mentioned that she and other board members had tried to recruit Farris five years ago when Superintendent Robert E. Lee retired, but Farris had just become superintendent of Shelby County Schools, and said the timing wasn’t right.
“Later, the timing was right,” Hicks said, and Farris took the helm here at a time of great change for Clark County. The district is building a new high school and has plans to build other schools and consolidate elementary facilities, but more importantly, it has made improvements in student performance and curriculum.
“I think we have raised the expectations for ourselves and our students … for more rigorous courses and classroom instruction across the district,” Farris said. “The other thing I’m proud of is that we have been more transparent, and we have worked well to build positive relations with our community.”
Clark County has focused intensely on “accountability and responsibility” and improving student achievement, she said.
Her goals for Fayette County would be similar, she said, and she thinks Silberman and the current administration have built a “strong foundation.”
Since she worked as the Fayette district’s director for elementary education in the last decade, she said, “I’ve seen that school district improve student achievement by leaps and bounds.”
Farris, who grew up in Winchester, has been a teacher and principal, and in addition to the Fayette elementary director’s job and the superintendent positions for Shelby and Clark County, has held many other administrative positions.
She worked for the Kentucky Department of Education from 2007 until July 1, 2009, when she became Clark’s superintendent. At that time, she had been the state’s interim commissioner of education, and before that, she was deputy commissioner.
Hicks said Farris is a “competitive” finalist, but so are Shelton and Young.
“I think there are three very strong candidates for Fayette County,” she said.
Farris said she knows Young and Shelton well and also thinks they are good choices.
The three will be interviewed again next week. Farris’ interview is scheduled for June 9.
The board hopes to have a superintendent in place by July 1.