LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) - Ten months after the former chief academic officer for Jefferson County Public Schools resigned, the district has hired a longtime educator from South Carolina to help address declining test scores and close the achievement gap among student groups.

Lisa Herring, who most recently served as deputy superintendent of the Charleston County School District, started her new job as JCPS chief academic officer today. She will make $165,707 annually. 

"I’m excited about the work in achievement, equity and excellence that is being led by JCPS and I look forward to supporting and building on those initiatives to ensure student opportunity, growth and achievement,” Herring said.

WDRB previously reported that Herring was the top candidate for the job in June, when she was brought to Louisville to interview and meet with officials. Herring said that she accepted a job offer from Superintendent Donna Hargens "weeks ago" but that it took awhile for her to get her out of state certifications approved.

"I'm looking forward to getting to know the landscape of JCPS, making strong relationships with principals and teachers and looking at the data and analyzing where our opportunities are for success," she said in an interview while touring Jacob Elementary School. "I'll be looking at things we've done that we are proud of and also looking at where some of our opportunities to improve exist."

JCPS Superintendent Donna Hargens has been searching for a chief academic officer since the resignation of Dewey Hensley last October.  She told WDRB on Monday that "about 50" people applied for the job, but it was Herring's experience and background that stood out.

"Dr. Herring is a data-driven leader focused on continuous improvement and promoting academic student success and I’m thrilled to have someone with her background and expertise join our leadership team," Hargens said. "She's been a chief academic officer, she's been a deputy superintendent and has had experiences in many different districts."

When asked why Herring didn't start the job before Monday -- the fourth day of the 2016-17 year -- Hargens said that "transitions take time."

Hargens added she is grateful to assistant superintendents Karen Branham and Alicia Averette and their teams for helping with academic support services since Hensley's resignation.

"They did not skip a beat and they've continued to support schools," Hargens said. "We had a great team in place that kept everything going and we kept moving. They did a fabulous job."

Hensley's resignation caught Hargens and members of the Jefferson County Board of Education by surprise and came just a week after test scores were released. 

Test scores in JCPS declined during the 2014-15 year and the district's graduation rate remained the same as last year, while the number of students considered college and career ready increased by about 2 percent.

While Herring said she is "fully aware" of the reasons why Hensley left JCPS, she doesn't "compare someone else's experiences to my opportunity."

"I see this as an opportunity to lead, to step in, to fill a position that had a void," she said. "In public education, it does not come without its share of challenges."

Herring had been in Charleston since 2009, first serving as executive director for student support for about five years until she was promoted to associate superintendent of academic and instructional support and then chief academic officer by former Charleston School Superintendent Nancy McGinley, who also resigned from her job.

Last summer, she hired an attorney to renegotiate her contract soon after Charleston County Schools named its new superintendent in July 2015 and in September, Herring was named deputy superintendent of academics in Charleston after she accepted a buyout worth more than $220,000 from the school board, according to an article in The Post and Courier and her LinkedIn profile

Herring's buyout came six months after she was named one of the candidates for the superintendent job in Charleston, but was not hired by the school board. Around that same time -- April 2015 -- Herring was also a finalist for the superintendent job in Birmingham City Schools in Alabama.

Herring's contract with Charleston expired June 30. The Charleston district paid Herring a $45,000 severance package and up to $35,000 in attorneys’ fees that were incurred during the negotiation process.

She told WDRB that leaving Charleston was simply a chance to "seek the opportunity to lead in other places."

"I have not left Charleston with any negative or disciplinary issues, it's been a very beautiful experience for me," she said.

In December, Herring's name was mentioned in an article about a $18 million budget shortfall in Charleston County Schools. Of the $8.75 million in overexpenditures last school year, at least $4 million took place in departments that answered to a subordinate of Herring, the newspaper article states.

According to the article, Herring said she did not oversee the departments’ budgets.

Recent test scores for Charleston County Schools -- a district of approximately 50,000 students -- show a large achievement gap between student groups, particularly black and white students.

Herring acknowledged that Charleston did have trouble decreasing the achievement gap, adding that it's "not a problem unique to Charleston or JCPS."

"It's a national concern," she said. "We are concerned about the progress of all children, regardless of their background."

"I need to take the time to analyze the data and have authentic relationships with teachers and school leaders and the community," Herring said.

When asked if she was happy with a chief academic officer position as opposed to seeking a superintendent job someplace else, Herring said yes.

"I intend to be the best chief academic officer I can possibly be for JCPS," she said. "I am not looking for other positions. I am looking to serve here, it's a position I realize I can do well and I want to just that for the citizens of Louisville and for Dr. Hargens."

Herring holds a doctorate in education administration from Georgia Southern University; a specialist degree in counselor education and a master’s degree in school counseling from the University of South Carolina; and a bachelor’s degree in English from Spelman College in Atlanta.

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