A variety of experience in education is what Mike Stacy says makes him a viable candidate for superintendent of Franklin County Public Schools.
Stacy, chief academic officer for Woodford County Public Schools, said he decided early on that if he wanted to become a superintendent, he needed to take on leadership roles at both elementary and secondary schools and in Central Office.
“The right person will definitely have to be decided by the board, because I don’t know every internal aspect that they would have to understand within a candidate,” he told The State Journal earlier this week from his office in Versailles.
“Why I think I’m a decent applicant for the position is that I have elementary, middle and high school administrative experience, I’ve worked at the district level through pretty much every different aspect, and I think that I have a decent rapport with most of my staff people in the past.”
Stacy has worn many hats during his education career, which started in 1997 with a job teaching high school history in Powell County.
He moved to Grant County a few years later, where he worked as a teacher before becoming assistant principal at a middle school and assistant athletic director for the school district.
From there, Stacy became an assistant principal at Scott County High School, and then moved to Central Office to work as assistant director of pupil personnel. The next year, he became principal of Meadowthorpe Elementary School in Fayette County.
He took his current position with Woodford County in 2010. He also works as an adjunct professor at Georgetown College.
Stacy is one of three finalists for the superintendent position, along with Chrissy Jones, assistant superintendent in Franklin County, and Kelley Ransdell, director of middle schools in Fayette County.
The job will come vacant June 30, when Superintendent Harrie Buecker’s contract expires. She announced her plans to resign in January.
Stacy says his strengths are in relationships, creativity and communication. If chosen as superintendent, he’d like to give principals some creative freedom too.
“I’m a big picture (person),” he said. “I’m much better at analyzing a system and finding problems than I am in some other areas – I’m a big picture thinker and a big picture doer.”
Stacy earned a bachelor’s degree in communications and sociology from Georgetown College, a master’s in education from the University of Kentucky, and certifications to work as a superintendent and director of pupil personnel certification from Xavier University.
He has a Doctor of Education from Spaulding University.
Stacy is hesitant to discuss what he sees as the most important issues facing FCPS. He cautions that as a candidate for the position, he doesn’t have enough inside knowledge to answer for certain.
“I would say that Mike Stacy doesn’t know every detail well enough to say that to the paper, but I can tell you that there’s some data things, some clear data that I would be concerned about if I were the superintendent,” he said.
He commended the school district for reducing the number of students scoring at the novice level – the lowest – on state exams.
But he said data shows that too many Franklin County kids are testing in the proficient range on state exams without climbing to distinguished – the highest level of performance. Pushing students to the top would improve Franklin County’s rankings statewide, he said.
“The data suggests there’s something missing with the top third (of students), and that’s as much as I can say,” he said.
“There could be 10 variables that are causing that that are not necessarily that much of a problem, it’s just for some reason, our top third aren’t performing to their capability based on the data.”
Stacy said he believes the Board of Education’s goal of boosting achievement on state assessments by 10 percent in 2013 is realistic. If chosen as superintendent, he said he’d like to also set a goal of increasing the number of distinguished students.
Providing training on teaching techniques could allow hardworking teachers to focus on quality of instruction, not quantity, he said. Strategies must be “vastly different” for kids in the top, middle and bottom third of ability, he said.
“I do know that historically Franklin County has had strong teachers and has had a strong history, so in no way do I think that they need a complete overhaul,” he said.
“The only thing I can do is look at data and then say I always want to have a team approach to anything. We always want to be seen as a school system, not a system of schools.”
Stacy said he’s proud of the work Woodford County Public Schools has done to get a head start on the state’s new, tougher learning standards.
Administrators began early to prepare students for the new exam format and spent time writing rigorous assessments related to the new learning standards, he said.
“I think we’ve gotten ahead of rolling out the Common Core standards in a way that our staff and our students will see benefits that other districts won’t see,” he said.
He also noted Woodford County’s fiscal responsibility in tough economic times.
“We are financially sound … I think that’s something that we’re all very proud of right now, in a time when districts are having to go through cuts and that fiscal conservative nature has held us in a position not to have to do that,” he said.
But Stacy said saving money doesn’t necessarily mean cutting programs. He said he’d tap into creative thinking to balance the budget, if selected for the superintendent position in Franklin County.
He said, for example, if three classroom aides retired, he could fill those vacancies with five half-time employees instead.
“Number one, I save a half time position right out of the gate, but number two, I save insurance and benefits on three people,” he said.
“Because with five part-time people, I save a ton of money because our biggest hit on many of our staff is insurance, especially right now that the state is asking us to pay even more as a school district for a lot of these benefits.”
Stacy said he would re-evaluate programs every year to see if they belong in the budget, consider adjusting bus routes to save on fuel consumption, and look for energy-efficiencies to cut back on utility costs. Saving in that way could mean more money for teaching jobs, he said.
He said he would also look at the district’s staffing formula to make sure it’s effective and equitable.
“The harder the economic times, the more careful we have to be at the district level about not answering a problem with money,” he said.
“Maintaining a staffing formula that is fair and consistent, and sticking to that, and looking for other ways to solve that other than additional staffing.”
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.
Stacy said the key is keeping kids on track academically from a young age, and establishing a mindset that dropouts happen much earlier than high school.
“I used to be a coach – now that isn’t always popular in the academic ranks, but I can tell you one thing: If I wanted to have a good high school team, I had to work on my feeder programs,” Stacy said.
Stacy said, if selected, he would also work to establish a positive, team culture in FCPS. That means being visible, he said, visiting schools, meeting with principals and talking to students.
Looking back at his time as a principal, Stacy said he was the happiest when he knew somebody above him in Central Office was looking out for him and supporting his decisions.
“I think the first thing I would want to communicate is that Central Office exists because of schools,” he said. “Our only purpose is to support schools within that process.”
He said he would also set clear expectations and work to be predictable – in a good way. Basing his decisions on the facts would result in more buy-in from the staff, he said.
“I always hope that a decision is made objectively based on data and time, and not subjectively based on emotion or thinking/feeling,” he said. “Those subjective decisions can create a lot of disagreement and animosity.”
This week, each candidate spent a day in the district touring the facilities and ending with a reception open to all staff, parents and community members.
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.