November 10, 2014

Involve Students in Search for Fayette County Superintendent

By Sahil Nair & Andrew Brennen

The news that Fayette County Public Schools Superintendent Tom Shelton is resigning and that his last day on the job will be Dec. 12 took many of us students by surprise, as evidenced by abundant social media posts.

Shelton's tenure was not without controversy, a fact underscored by this paper and his critics on the school board. However, he is also responsible for some much needed progress, overseeing the successful launch of FCPS' STEAM Academy and serving as a premier advocate for the adequate funding of public schools across the state.

Along with other members of the Student Voice Team, we wish Shelton well as he transitions into his next role as executive director of the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents.

As a district, we must be ready to move past Shelton's tenure and look to the future as we select our next leader. We need a superintendent to face the district's budget issues, combat problems like the pervasive achievement gap in our schools, and navigate the challenges surrounding the building of several new schools and the extensive redistricting effort.

This process should be transparent and include as many members of the community as possible. And those community members should include our schools' chief stakeholders: FCPS students.

According to Kentucky law, a superintendent screening committee of two teachers, one member from the board of education, one principal, one parent and one classified employee must be formed to assist the school board in selecting the district's next leader.

But while there is no current requirement to involve young people in this process, during a time when so many critical decisions will be made that will affect students, it is more important than ever that we have a seat at the table alongside the principals, the parents, the teachers and the staff. To that end, we recommend some specific strategies for engaging students in this work:

  • Commission an independent survey to distribute to students seeking feedback on what they want to see in their next superintendent, and support students as part of the survey design process.

  • Support allowing students to select a peer to serve on the legally mandated screening committee.

  • Hold a series of focus groups with students from a wide range of academic, ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds with the superintendent finalists to collect student feedback.

As board chairman John Price said, a great deal of community involvement is expected in the "very open process" to follow as the district searches for its next leader. We agree with that and would add that elevating the voices of students alongside those of parents, teachers and staff is paramount to ensure a process that selects the best candidate possible for all of those served by Fayette County Public Schools.

This op-ed originally ran in the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Andrew Brennen

Andrew Brennen

Andrew is a Senior Advisor and co-founder of KSVT. He is a former member and was previously the Student Director. Andrew graduated from Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in 2014 and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill in 2019. He is a student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Sahil Nair

Sahil Nair

Sahil is a co-founder of KSVT and former member. He was previously Chair of the State and External Affairs Committee. Sahil graduated from Paul Laurence Dunbar in 2015 and Georgetown University in 2018.