Farris named Interim Commissioner

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By Nathan L. McBroom

A former Shelby County Public Schools Superintendent has temporarily been named to the highest education post in the state.

Elaine Farris has named as the interim commissioner of education as the Kentucky Board of Education looks for a permanent commissioner.

During a specially-called meeting on Wednesday, the Kentucky Board of Education agreed to accept the resignation of Kentucky Education Commissioner Jon E. Draud.

Draud announced in December that he would resign his position effective in early February because of health problems.

Farris will serve in that capacity until the position is filled permanently, but she will not be a candidate for the position.

This is the first time that an African American woman has held such a siginficant position in education.

Farris could not be reached for comment.

Shelby County School Board Chairperson Brenda Jackson said, "I think she is up to the challenge."

Farris has served in a similar capacity while Draud has been ill.  There are a lot of obstacles facing education in general and the department in particular.

This is not the first time Farris has made history.

In the fall of 2004, she became the state's first African American superintendent and, as a deputy commissioner, she is the first African American to be named to that post as well.

Farris, a native of Winchester, Ky., graduated from Eastern Kentucky University. She was an educator in Clark and Fayette counties for 20 years and had worked as a principal and an elementary director.

Farris was one of three people chosen to participate in the Kentucky Department of Education's Minority Superintendent Intern Program and also served as a Kentucky Highly Skilled Educator. She was a superintendent intern in Shelby County before she was chosen from among six candidates to replace former superintendent Leon Mooneyham.

Farris has said that she did not seek that new position but was asked to accept it.

She said that after she received the job offer, she discussed it with her husband Alvin, they prayed about it, and then sought to hear God's direction about the decision.

In a previous interview with The Sentinel-News, Farris said that her life has been a series of overcoming challenges.

She said that growing up in housing project she was faced with many obstacles. But because of her commitment to education, she made it through.

"It does not matter where you are from. Education really does make the difference. I'm a living witness," she said. "There is no barrier or obstacle that can't be overcome."