Portland, Caulk await word about Kentucky school chief job

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PORTLAND — School Department officials are waiting to learn if Superintendent of Schools Emmanuel Caulk will leave for a school district job in Kentucky.

On Friday, the department announced Caulk is one of two finalists for superintendent of the 40,000-student Fayette County Public Schools system.

While Portland hopes to know by the end of the week if and when Caulk will leave, a school official in the Lexington, Kentucky, district said a third finalist for its superintendent job is still a possibility.

School Board Chairwoman Sarah Thompson on Monday said the Portland board became aware last week that Caulk had been named a finalist in Kentucky. She described him as “go getter” and said it is not surprising that Caulk is interested in the post.

“We knew when we hired him this was his first superintendency,” she said. “We didn’t expect to hold onto him forever.”

The board will begin looking for Caulk’s replacement after it is certain he’ll be leaving, she said.

In Friday’s press release, Caulk sounded confident about the Kentucky job and said it has been a privilege to serve Portland.

“I will miss Portland, but I’m eager to take on a new career challenge that represents an opportunity for me personally and professionally,” he said.

According to the website for the Fayette County School Board, Caulk is one of two finalists. The other, Terri Breeden, is an assistant superintendent of Loudoun County Public Schools in Virginia.

Caulk was scheduled to be in Lexington on June 23 and 24 to tour the schools, meet with students and community members, and be interviewed by school officials.

Fayette County School Board Chairman John Price on Monday said the application process closed on May 15, which is when Caulk landed on their radar.

Price said Caulk’s record of student achievement was a large factor in making him a finalist.

“We want to close the achievement gap,” Price said. “He’s very passionate about all students being able to learn and achieve.”

Price didn’t say when a decision would be made, because they are still doing background checks and it is possible a third finalist could be named by early next week.

“But hopefully (we decide) fairly quickly once we finish our interviews,” he said.

It is not known if Caulk is also a candidate for other jobs.

Caulk, 43, became Portland’s superintendent in 2012. The School Board last November unanimously extended his contract to June 2019.

He joined the district after a rough time in its history, following a budget crisis that ultimately caused former Superintendent Mary Jo O’Connor to resign from her post in 2007. James Morse replaced her, and left after three years.

Before taking over in Portland, Caulk was an assistant superintendent in Philadelphia. He also previously served as the assistant superintendent in the East Baton Rouge Parish School System in Louisiana.

Thompson said she would have preferred to see him stay in Portland longer, especially since he has four years remaining on his contract, which has a clause requiring him to give notice of six months if he intends to leave.

But Thompson said it is unlikely he will be held to that commitment. She said she expects to know by the end of the week if Caulk will be leaving.

Caulk’s current salary is $137,500. If confirmed for the Kentucky post, his salary will be between $235,000 and $255,000, which Price said is in the range of what the former superintendent was paid. He said the district hopes to have a new superintendent lined up by July 1.

Caulk’s tenure in Portland has been marked by ambitious goals, and he often cited his desire to make Portland the “best small urban school district in the country by 2017.”

The schools recently announced a partnership with Metro for high school seniors to take city buses instead of school buses; have increased their science, technology, engineering and math curriculum, and expanded pre-kindergarten programs.

But last fall he was forced to scrap a plan to create an online school for the district following opposition from Mayor Michael Brennan and members of the School Board. The intent was to compete with virtual charter schools.

If Caulk leaves, Thompson said the School Board will begin looking at finding an interim replacement. She said candidates could come from within the district or outside the district, including retired school superintendents.

“We don’t want someone just to hold the fort, we want progress to continue,” Thompson said.

If he does leave, Caulk will join a growing list of city officials who have recently left their jobs.

In September 2014, City Manager Mark Rees resigned. His acting replacement, Sheila Hill-Christian, resigned May 8 to accept a job as assistant city manager in Cincinnati.

And most recently, in June, long-serving Planning Division Director Alex Jaegerman resigned to take a position in Yarmouth.

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

Sidebar Elements

Portland Superintendent of Schools Emmanuel Caulk is a finalist for the school chief job in Lexington, Kentucky.

Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net.