LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- A new era of leadership for Jefferson County Public Schools has begun as former Doss High School principal Marty Pollio took over as the district's acting superintendent on Monday.
The longtime educator wasted little time getting started, as he called his first news conference to outline several of his priorities and taken questions from the media. During the presser, Pollio said improving the morale of the district is at the top of the list.
"My top priority is to work with school-level and central office leaders to boost academic climate and culture," Pollio said, noting that recent survey data "shows us that culture and morale within our schools is at the lowest it's been in years."
He added that numerous research studies haven shown that a positive culture and healthy academic learning climate "lead to meaningful school experiences for children and increase student achievement."
Pollio, 45, was appointed by the school board and can hold his interim position for up to nine months, unless he's permanently appointed. He's now the top teacher in Kentucky's largest school district.
During his press conference, Pollio said he believes the district is at "a critical time and a critical juncture" but added that "as a community, we are very fortunate to have so many educators dedicated to the success of the students of JCPS."
He takes over from former superintendent Donna Hargens, who announced April 13 she would resign from the district effective July 1. She spent six years with the district.
Pollio has spent 22 years as an educator – the first two years working at Eastern Kentucky University as a teacher and coach and the two decades as a teacher, coach, assistant principal and principal in JCPS.
He had been the principal of Doss High since July 2015 and was previously the principal at Jeffersontown High and was a teacher at Shawnee High. He was also a teacher and athletic director at Waggener High from 1998-2004 before becoming an assistant principal at Waggener until he became the principal of Jeffersontown in 2007.
During his press conference, Pollio said he'll make sure all schools implement what he calls "deeper learning" -- and see that Vision 20/20 becomes a reality. He also talked about financial stability and relief for teachers -- and making sure all educators feel supported and have the necessary supplies to do their jobs.
He promised to work closely with principals, adding that he and his staff "must be present in schools as often as possible."
"Being there gives us the opportunity to listen and hear what people have to say," Pollio said. "I want to make sure every employee feels supported in their specific role and has the tools they need to be successful."
There are currently two positions Pollio needs to fill in his cabinet: chief academic officer to replace Lisa Herring whose brief tenure came to an end in May when she was named superintendent of schools in Birmingham, Ala. and chief business officer to replace Tom Hudson, whose contract was not renewed by the district in June.
Pollio says he hopes to name a chief academic officer by the end of the week, but says the chief business officer is "to be determined."
In terms of communication, Pollio said he is initiating a new era of transparency at JCPS, holding news conferences every two weeks to update the community about district initiatives and to make himself available to the media.
He also addressed the "unprecedented" audit of JCPS being conducted by the Kentucky Department of Education, saying he's already spoken with Kentucky Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt and has met with Hal Heiner, the state's secretary of education and workforce development.
Results of that audit, which could lead to a state takeover of JCPS, "must be used as a road map," Pollio said.
"We need to be honest and upfront about what our challenges are and focus on the areas in need of improvement," he said.
Several members of the school board say they are excited about what Pollio can do -- but the question of whether they will appoint him as the permanent leader of JCPS has not yet been determined.
Lisa Willner, vice chairwoman of the school board, attended Monday's briefing. She said she's "excited" about what Pollio said.
Chairman Chris Brady told WDRB News on Sunday that Pollio's approach is "something we haven't really seen in the past."
"That's something I'm really looking forward to," Brady said. "It really speaks to a more cohesive communication plan not only out to the public but our parents and students as well."
Brady says he's hopeful Pollio's leadership will be the change that has been needed in the district.
"Everything that I have seen from Dr. Pollio, even before he took this position, was moving schools in the right direction and make systemic change and improve that climate and culture," Brady said.
Reporter Antoinette Konz covers K-12 education for WDRB News. She can be reached at 502-585-0838 or @tkonz on Twitter.
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