Lawrence County Superintendent Robbie Fletcher new Kentucky education commissioner

Lawrence County Superintendent Robbie Fletcher has been selected as the next Kentucky education commissioner, Kentucky Department of Education officials said Thursday.

“We sought a leader who embodies the qualities of an ambassador and statesperson, an expert instructional leader, a strong organizational leader and a visionary innovator. We are confident that Dr. Fletcher meets these requirements and are excited about the future of education in the Commonwealth under his leadership,” said Kentucky Board of Education Chairman Sharon Porter Robinson.

For the first time under a new state law backed by Republican lawmakers, the 2024 Kentucky Senate will be asked to approve the new commissioner.

Fletcher replaces Jason Glass who said in August 2023 he was resigning the job and leaving the state because he didn’t want to enforce the “dangerous and unconstitutional” Republican-sponsored Senate Bill 150 that critics called an anti-LGBTQ+ measure.

GOP lawmakers and politicians had called for Glass’ ouster over the department’s inclusive LGBTQ+ stances.

Senate Majority Whip Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, who sponsored the new law requiring Kentucky’s education commissioner to be approved by the Senate, said in a statement that he was optimistic about Fletcher being chosen as the nominee.

“Our previous commissioner focused far more on his personal political views than he did educational outcomes. That must not be the case moving forward,” he said in a statement after the announcement.

“Robbie Fletcher is from right here in Kentucky and is very familiar with the needs of students across the commonwealth,” Wilson said. “I and the rest of the legislature hope to meet him soon and, if confirmed, to work with him and the rest of the KDE on improving Kentucky’s educational achievements to secure a vibrant and working Kentucky future.”

In addition to Senate confirmation, the commissioner of education is subject to an annual review by the Kentucky Board of Education, and will serve an initial four-year contract that may be renewed pending Senate confirmation.

The commissioner of education is the chief state school officer who oversees daily operations of the Kentucky Department of Education and acts as superintendent of the Kentucky School for the Blind, the Kentucky School for the Deaf and the 50 area technology centers.

Like Fletcher, the other two finalists for commissioner, Buddy Berry and Jim Flynn, work in Kentucky.

Berry is the Eminence Independent Superintendent. Flynn is the executive director of the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents and former Simpson County Superintendent.

Both finalists told the Herald-Leader this week prior to the KDE announcement that they were not hired as commissioner.

Fletcher has been the superintendent of Lawrence County since 2014. Prior to that, he served as principal of Sheldon Clark High School in Martin County from 2009 to 2014 and as principal of Warfield Middle School in Martin County from 2005 to 2009. Fletcher started his career in 1996 as a math and science teacher before becoming the assistant principal at Inez Middle School in Martin County in 2004.

“I appreciate the Kentucky Board of Education selecting me for your next commissioner of education. It was evident in the interview process that each person on the board has a profound love for every child in the Commonwealth,” said Fletcher. “If confirmed, I will be honored to serve all of Kentucky’s kids and all those involved in our kids’ educational experiences alongside each Board member.”

He also was a part-time faculty member at Asbury University, KDE officials said.

The Kentucky Board of Education on Thursday conducted a special meeting to vote on the contract and name Fletcher.

Angela L. Billings, spokesperson for the Senate Majority Leadership, said “the commissioner will be confirmed through a Senate resolution like all other confirmations.”

She said Wednesday Senate leaders had already had some contact on the matter with KDE “through our policy staff.”

Robinson said state board members would support Fletcher’s state Senate confirmation any way they can and assure the Kentucky Senate they made their decision with great confidence after great due diligence.

“I am thankful to have a large network of people who were always willing to listen, to consult or to advise regardless of the professional title that I held,” Fletcher said in a statement. “I look forward to growing this network so we can collectively make the best decisions possible for our students.”

During his time as a school administrator, Fletcher has worked with the Kentucky Department of Education in several different ways, participating in the Kentucky Innovative Learning Network and the Local Laboratories of Learning.

Fletcher currently serves as chair of the Local Superintendents Advisory Council and is a member of the Superintendents Advisory Council.

He was part of the state assessment and accountability advisory committee from 2022-2023, working as part of a group to recommend accountability cut scores.

He served as a member of the commissioner’s Kentucky Coalition for Advancing Education.

Fletcher also has experience working with state lawmakers as a member of the School Funding Task Force in 2021 and with the U.S. Department of Education as chairman of the Appalachia Regional Advisory Committee, a news release said.

“As a department, the staff of KDE will strive daily to build relationships so we can better serve our 171 school districts and more importantly, our future leaders that are inside our classrooms every day,” Fletcher said in a statement. “As commissioner, I will bring the same ‘ALL IN’ attitude every day as I have in Lawrence County because our 600,000-plus students deserve nothing less.”

Fletcher earned his doctorate and his superintendent certification from Morehead State University. He earned a master’s degree in education from the University of Kentucky in 2002 and a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Morehead State University in 1996.

Fletcher will begin his role on July 1, pending confirmation by the Kentucky Senate.

Lawrence County Schools had 2,269 students in spring 2023. In 2023, elementary and high schools received green ratings in Kentucky’s school accountability system which is above average. Middle schools received a yellow rating which is average.

EPSB inquiry

Documents the Herald-Leader obtained under the Kentucky Open Records Act showed that in 2019, the Education Professional Standards Board voted to dismiss a case against Fletcher involving school grounds grass mowing bids.

He told the EPSB in a letter that in the violation of a procurement code case, the Lawrence County school board voted to enter into a mowing contract without his recommendation.

Fletcher and another district employee took model procurement training in 2018 after the Kentucky Office of Education Accountability found the violation.

A separate EPSB case involving Fletcher involved the renewal of his teaching certificate, records show.

As part of his state certification renewal in 2020, Fletcher had to submit character and fitness documents. In a letter, he told the board that a former employee had alleged that the non-renewal of her contract was a violation of her rights, EPSB records show.

Fletcher said in the letter the district was reducing the number of special education teachers. He said that state child protection officials had substantiated a complaint against the teacher for neglect while performing her job duties as a teacher.

Documents show EPSB moved forward with renewing Fletcher’s state certification.

Fletcher did not immediately comment on either case.