Kelley Ransdell says her collaborative leadership style and background in finance make her ideal to take over the reins as superintendent of Franklin County Public Schools.
Since 2009, Ransdell, formerly Kelley Crain, has served as director of Fayette County Public Schools’ 12 middle schools.
She’s the only of three finalists with experience as a school superintendent, leading 2,400-student Fleming County Schools for the seven years prior.
“If I were blessed to have this opportunity, I would come in listening and learning from the experts that are there,” she told The State Journal from her office in Lexington earlier this week.
“I would want to meet with different groups from the community … to really learn what’s going well for students in Franklin County, what’s going well for adults and what the school community needs and wants from the superintendent.”
Ransdell started her career in 1990 as a math teacher at Fleming County High School, her alma mater.
She later served as coordinator of technology, school councils and federal programs for the school district. The job allowed her to gain experience in many different areas, she said.
Ransdell took the role of finance officer in 1999, a position she held for three years before taking over as superintendent. She has also worked as an independent education consultant and a part-time instructor at Maysville Community and Technical College.
Ransdell is one of three finalists for the superintendent position, along with Chrissy Jones, assistant superintendent in Franklin County, and Mike Stacy, chief academic officer in Woodford County.
The job will come vacant June 30, when Superintendent Harrie Buecker’s contract expires. She announced her plans to resign in January.
Though she said she loves her job in Fayette County, Ransdell said she’s ready to get back in the superintendent’s seat.
She said she decided to leave Fleming County for Fayette County to gain experience in an urban setting and learn from “expert leader” Stu Silberman, who was superintendent of Fayette County Public Schools at the time.
“I really do feel like I have grown as a leader through my time in Fayette, and I believe that I really have something to offer Franklin County,” she said.
“I’m really excited and grateful for the opportunity to be considered. I will certainly work very hard with the school team to provide the best opportunities possible for the students.”
Ransdell completed most of her education at Morehead State University – bachelor’s and master’s degrees in secondary education, and certificates to work as supervisor of instruction and superintendent.
She’s now working on her doctorate at Northern Kentucky University and plans to finish in the fall.
Ransdell said Franklin County faces many of the same issues as other school districts, like improving student achievement and managing finances amid declining state revenues.
That’s also a priority of the Board of Education, which last year set a goal to boost achievement on state assessments by 10 percent in 2013.
To achieve that, Ransdell said she would “build on the successes that are already in place.” She said she will support the existing improvement plan until it needs adjustment.
She said she plans to tap into existing staff to find ways to improve instruction, provide training and build relationships.
“I really think the superintendent’s role is to oversee and support the plan that is in place, and then over time, to help influence that plan based on the needs that are in the district,” she said.
Ransdell said her time as a finance officer in Fleming County prepared her to “ensure financial stability” in Franklin County.
She takes a “zero-based budgeting” approach, analyzing every item of expenditure annually to confirm that money is spent to advance student learning.
Ransdell said she doesn’t support funding programs or initiatives “just because we’ve always done it.”
The school board has also set a goal of boosting attendance and graduation rates, and reducing the number of dropouts and student suspensions.
As superintendent in Fleming County, Ransdell said she led an effort to reduce the dropout rate from 4.21 percent to 0.89 percent.
Key to achieving that was meeting individually with at-risk students and their parents, making class work more relevant to kids and integrating technology into lessons, she said.
“When students are engaged and they see the relevance of what they are learning in the classroom, they’re less likely to drop out,” she said.
“But also through getting kids involved in the school community, through extracurricular and co-curricular activities, setting goals that all students are going to be involved in some way.”
Similar techniques could work in Franklin County, she said. 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 students dropped out during the 2009-2010 school year.
Behavior could be improved through use of a positive intervention system already in use in some Franklin County schools. Ransdell has provided support to Fayette County schools with the same system, and said she would continue to support the method.
“It really is research based that suspensions and discipline referrals are reduced when it’s implemented,” she said.
If selected as superintendent, Ransdell said one of her primary roles would be to foster a collaborative, student-centered culture in the school district.
“That can have a positive impact across all the schools,” she said. “The collaborative approach, I think, is important to a strong school culture.”
She plans to form advisory councils for staff, students and other school-related groups for monthly meetings during the school year. Participants would get the chance to share news about successes, ask questions and make suggestions for improvement.
“I believe it improves communication, because folks on the advisory council really serve as a liaison to help clear things up if there’s misinformation in the schools,” she said.
Providing educators with rich professional development and training would also promote “a culture of lifelong learning for the entire school community,” she said.
Ransdell said that if she lands the job, she would get involved in Franklin County, joining organizations and getting to know people in the community. She said she has extended family here, and the town “holds a special place” in her heart.
“The superintendent’s role is a busy role, but I think part of it is to make time to be active in the community,” she said.
Ransdell said she could also offer the district expertise in hiring the right people. Her pending doctoral dissertation focuses on the disposition of effective teachers and leaders.
“Sometimes staff and (school) councils charged with making important hiring decisions don’t have the proper support and training to make the best decisions,” she said.
“I think one role of the superintendent is to provide quality training for hiring managers in how to identify the candidates that are going to be the most effective in the position.”
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 and Jones have already toured the district.
Stacy will tour the district Thursday, and his reception will be held at Central Office, 916 E. Main St., 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.