JCPS names Carmen Coleman acting chief academic officer

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Acting Jefferson County Public Schools Superintendent Marty Pollio has tapped a longtime educator as the district's interim chief academic officer who will be tasked with helping him tackle declining test scores and finding better ways to improve instruction for all students.

Carmen Coleman -- the former superintendent of Danville Independent Schools who has more than two decades of experience as a teacher, principal and administrator -- will start next week and make $168,805 over the next year.

She will take a one-year leave of absence from the University of Kentucky, where she is an associate professor in the College of Education and has worked with the National Center for Innovation in Education and the Next Generation Leadership Academy.

"I am honored to have Dr. Coleman join our JCPS team," Pollio said.  "She is Kentucky's foremost expert in implementing deeper learning strategies and her level of professional accomplishment and history of instructional leadership will help move our district forward and increase student achievement."

Coleman, 45, told WDRB News in an interview she met Pollio earlier this year as part of Jefferson County's effort to create personalized, deeper learning opportunities for every student and teacher in the district. 

"I started working with JCPS earlier this year through the Next Generation Leadership Academy and met Dr. Pollio, who has been a leader in implementing deeper learning strategies at Doss High School and across the district," Coleman said, noting she has been "intrigued" by efforts the school board and teacher's union have made with this effort.

"To have both the union and the district united in this effort to design better learning experiences for all of our children is exciting," Coleman said. "When he approached me about working with him as chief academic officer, I had a hard time saying no. He is an incredible leader who shares the same beliefs that I do. I think the possibilities for JCPS are endless."

Coleman said she was apprehensive about agreeing to come to the district long-term because Pollio is currently in an interim role himself. The school board appointed him acting superintendent in May, following the resignation of former superintendent Donna Hargens

Pollio took over the interim role on July 1 and has said he is interested in the permanent role. He's indicated he will "take every day like it is the most important job until they ask me not to do it.”

"No one knows beyond six to nine months if he will be the permanent superintendent," she said, adding that she loves her work at UK and "would not consider doing this any other way" than with Pollio at the helm.

"I have missed being on the ground and working directly with educators and schools," she said. "Jefferson County has a lot of challenges, but I truly believe that if we can show that this deeper learning effort can work, it will be a game-changer for our kids."

Indeed, recent test scores show that more than half of the district’s students are not performing on grade level in reading and math. Data from the 2015-16 year showed that only 66 of the district's 139 tested schools met their annual performance goal set by the state – down from 74 schools in 2014-15 and 96 schools in 2013-14.

Prior to working at UK, Coleman was the school superintendent in Danville from 2009-2014. A native of Georgetown, she began her career as an elementary teacher in Scott County, eventually moving her way up to principal of Anne Mason Elementary. She was director of elementary schools for Fayette County Public Schools for three years before going to Danville.

Coleman was a candidate for interim superintendent in Fayette County in 2014, but later withdrew her name from consideration.

"I had just started my work at UK and was nervous about leaving that for an interim role," she said. "I didn't feel the timing was right."

She did, however, apply for the permanent job in Fayette County in 2015, but that job ultimately went to Emmanuel "Manny" Caulk in June 2015.

Coleman will take over a job that has been vacant since May, when former JCPS chief academic officer Lisa Herring was named superintendent of Birimingham City Schools in Alabama. Herring, who had moved to Louisville from South Carolina, had been in the position for less than year

The district spent most of the 2015-16 year without a chief academic officer, following the resignation of Dewey Hensley in October 2015.

Coleman will work directly with assistant superintendents Karen Branham and Alicia Averette, as well as the district's six area superintendents. She will report directly to Pollio.

"In order to improve, we have to be thinking not about reform, but transform," she said. "

Coleman holds a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Kentucky; a master’s degree in elementary education and a bachelor's degree in education from Georgetown College.

Pollio has one more opening on his superintendent's cabinet, but he in a tweet on Friday morning that he has "no plans to post or fill the chief business officer position" that was vacated by Tom Hudson, whose contract was not renewed by the district in June.

"Instead, I will redirect those funds to schools," Pollio said.

Reporter Antoinette Konz can be reached at 502-585-0838 or @tkonz on Twitter.

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