By Brandi Underwood
FAYETTEVILLE — Fayette County Schools Superintendent Keith Butcher announced Thursday that he would be leaving that position to take on the same role for Nicholas County Schools, beginning July 1.
“I have always lived in Nicholas County,” Butcher told The Register-Herald. “I have family roots there; that’s where I worked as a teacher and a principal, so when the superintendent’s position came open this time, I decided that I would like to work closer to home.”
Butcher, who has served as Fayette’s superintendent since July 2012, said he has witnessed much progress during his time with the Fayette Board of Education, “particularly in the areas of curriculum instruction, personnel and finance.”
“I’ve really enjoyed working in Fayette County, and there are great educators, parents and students here,” said Butcher. “It was a tough decision.”
During his two-year service, Butcher said that he and the board have worked hard to improve attendance, the graduation rate and student performance on the WESTEST 2.
“We’ve seen improvement in all of those areas, and particularly the dropout rate,” said Butcher. “We’ve seen fewer and fewer students who have dropped out over these past two years.
“Real progress has been made.”
Butcher said that before he can set goals on what needs to be accomplished in Nicholas County, he needs to review the data and see how the Nicholas school system is performing.
“I’ll be working with the board and together we’ll review data and student outcomes, and we’ll take a look at areas that need to be improved,” said Butcher.
Butcher said that one area in particular he looks forward to looking into further is the career and technical education available in Nicholas County.
“The Fayette Institute of Technology is an outstanding career and technical school, so that’s one area that I want to take a look at,” said Butcher. “I want to make sure that we’re offering opportunities for students that want to complete a concentration in a career and technical education area, but also make sure that kids are prepared to go to college.”
Butcher said that in the wake of his departure, he hopes to see Fayette County continue to fight the battle of improving its nearly 20 school facilities.
“That’s one area that I wish I had been able to accomplish more in,” said Butcher. “Many of our schools need major renovations, or locations where schools need to be replaced.
“There’s just a lot of work that needs to be accomplished in facilities, and while some small projects have been completed, there’s still work that needs to be done on a major scale.”
Butcher said that there needs to be “consensus built throughout the county to move forward in a direction that the voters can support, that the citizens, parents and the state can support ... .”
He does not, however, attribute any of the county’s ongoing challenges as motivators for his resignation.
“It’s work that’s left undone, but I really felt that it was time for me to move home to work in Nicholas County, and I’m thankful for the opportunity to do that.”
Butcher acknowledges that his job as the Fayette County Schools superintendent has been “a very challenging job,” but it was a role he took in anticipation of the hard work ahead of him.
“If you look at my career, I have accepted those challenging positions and I enjoy working with a challenge, but there are still challenges to be faced here, and I’m not sure how that will be accomplished.
“There’s declining enrollment — last year we lost 57 students just due to a drop in enrollment — and if that continues, it will not be possible to operate 18 schools, and especially in the condition that they are in now. The county will have to come to a consensus on how best to move forward.”
Butcher stressed that more attention needs to be placed on the quality of the classroom environment, and consolidation at the high school level would allow students to have a better setting to learn in.
“We want to have students grouped and housed in certain ways so that we can offer the best curriculum for them, and having five high schools at the present time is not the best way to do that.”
Butcher ended by saying that he has enjoyed greatly working in Fayette County.
“There is such potential here. It is a great, great community to work with,” said Butcher. “There are excellent educators, outstanding student achievements, and I’m just grateful for my time here.”
According to The Nicholas Chronicle, the Nicholas County Board of Education voted unanimously to hire Butcher on a two-year contract at a May 26 special meeting.
His contract includes a salary of $108,000 per year, the same as that of current superintendent Beverly Kingery, who will retire June 30, The Nicholas Chronicle reported.
“I’m sorry to see him go, but I can’t blame him for leaving,” said Fayette County Board of Education Vice President Lou Jones. “You have to advance, and this is a good opportunity for him. I wish him all the luck in the world.”