If chosen as Franklin County Public Schools’ next top leader, Assistant Superintendent Chrissy Jones says she has a 120-day plan to get started.
Though she doesn’t want to talk specifics until clearing the plan with the Board of Education, Jones says it encompasses just about everything, from academics to finances.
Jones, who describes herself as a planner and a workaholic, said sharing her vision with Franklin County’s principals is key to moving forward as a team.
“I know the district, I’ve been here 12 years, and I have, I feel, a lot of support among the staff,” she told The State Journal after a day of touring the school district and meeting staff members and the community at an open house.
“I know where we need to be going next, and I think I have the knowledge, the skills to do that.”
Jones spent the first 10 years of her career as a math teacher in Shelby County. She then worked as a middle school assistant principal, middle school principal and curriculum director for the school district.
She came to Franklin County in 2000 as principal at Western Hills High School, where she served four years before moving to Central Office for her current role as assistant superintendent overseeing curriculum and instruction.
Now she’s one of three finalists for the superintendent position, along with Kelley Ransdell, director of middle schools in Fayette County, and Mike Stacy, chief academic officer in Woodford County.
The job becomes vacant June 30, when Superintendent Harrie Buecker’s contract expires. She announced plans to resign in January.
Jones says she decided to apply for the job after encouragement from her colleagues, including Franklin County teachers. With more than a decade working for FCPS, Jones said she’s committed to the school district’s improvement.
“I love education, I love working with teachers, administrators and students, and I feel like I still have a lot to offer,” she said.
Jones said she’s the right person to lead FCPS because she’s a people person, a team player and a hard worker. She said she wouldn’t ask an educator to do something she wouldn’t be willing to do herself.
With every decision she makes, Jones said she recalls her time as a teacher and principal to help her gauge the impact.
“They talk about a CEO of a factory should start on the line and work their way up,” she said. “I feel like I’ve done that. I try very hard not to forget where I came from.”
Jones earned a bachelor’s degree in secondary education from the University of Kentucky, a master’s in education and principal certification from the University of Louisville and superintendent certification from Eastern Kentucky University.
She’s working on her doctorate at the University of Louisville and would like to finish it in the next couple of years.
Jones said the two most crucial issues facing FCPS are improving workplace culture and communication. Culture and climate were areas of concern for some school board members when they reviewed Buecker’s performance last June.
If selected, Jones said she plans to foster a team environment by meeting with stakeholder groups for their input. This summer’s annual administrative retreat will be a prime opportunity to collaborate with school principals, she said.
“I’m a firm believer that the more buy-in you get from your leaders in the building, that’s going to trickle down to your teachers,” she said.
Jones also hopes to meet every Franklin County teacher for his or her feedback within her first year as superintendent.
“They know me, they know how I operate, they know my beliefs, but I still feel like I can’t make assumptions, I need to get their input,” she said.
Improving communication with the Franklin County community is also key, Jones said. Quarterly mailers to area homes could help the school district get the word out about what’s going on in local schools.
“I think if we can start embracing the community to help us in our buildings – whether it’s mentoring programs, volunteering, whatever it may be – we’ve got to find a way to embrace our community,” she said.
Boosting student achievement on state assessments by 10 percent in 2013 is a goal of the Board of Education, and Jones said it would be a priority for her if selected as superintendent.
She said progress could best be achieved through collaboration with principals, who are “truly the instructional leaders” of their schools. By working together, she said the whole school district can succeed.
“I’ve had success – as both a middle and high school principal – at moving schools and increasing student performance,” she said.
“Not to say that I’m the expert, but I know what it takes. I’m not satisfied with where we are, but I think if we work together as a team, we will see improvement.”
A key component to the state’s new learning standards is college and career readiness.
Jones said a planned expansion of the Franklin County Career and Technical Center, a focus on science, technology, engineering and math, and existing programs at the high schools to get students in advanced courses will be a means to that end.
Schools must also identify struggling students earlier, she said.
“That’s where we’re going to have to expend some resources for our schools,” she said, explaining that could involve financial resources, professional development or other supports.
“Response to intervention,” a plan to target those kids, is the focus of Jones’ pending doctoral dissertation and also her proudest accomplishment in her current position.
The program has evolved over the years, she says, but she’s starting to see the positive results of focusing on individual kids’ needs.
“It (response to intervention) is not wonderful yet in all our schools, but we’ve made a lot of progress in this last year,” she said.
The school board has also set a goal of boosting attendance and graduation rates and reducing the number of dropouts and student suspensions.
According to the latest data reported, the dropout rate increased from 2.2 percent to 3.3 percent in Franklin County. A total of 58 county students dropped out during the 2009-2010 school year.
If chosen, Jones said she plans to look at dropouts in a systemic way, involving the community and the court system to get a handle on the issue. Kids also need to be identified as potential dropouts earlier than high school, she said.
“When they drop out without a high school diploma, you know the obstacles they’re going to face in life. In good conscience I can’t allow that without doing something about it,” Jones said.
In these tough financial times, Jones said all money spent must go to a good use. If chosen as superintendent, she plans to review the school district’s budget line-by-line to ensure that.
“I’m pretty conservative when it comes to money,” she said.
“One of the things that we will have to do as a district is when we make a decision about expending funds that it’s to meet the needs of our students.”
This week, each candidate will spend a day in the district touring the facilities and ending with a reception open to all staff, parents and community members.
Ransdell will tour the district today, and her reception will be at Central Office, 916 E. Main St., from 4-6 p.m.
Stacy will tour the district Thursday, and his reception will be at Central Office from 4-6 p.m.
The Board of Education chose the finalists from 21 applicants after a screening process and interviews last Saturday.
Board Chairwoman Michelle New said the board would interview the finalists for a second time Sunday and likely announce a decision by the end of next week.