Interim Kentucky Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis said his priorities include getting high school graduates ready for college and work, and closing the state’s achievement gaps.

At the Louisville Forum Luncheon Wednesday, Lewis also answered questions from the audience about his recommendation that the takeover management of Jefferson County Public Schools.

“It is extremely difficult to get to a place where a management review is even warranted,” Lewis said. “The decision then was to go into a management audit. It’s even more difficult to qualify to go into a management audit.”

Two of Kentucky’s 173 public school districts — Breathitt and Menifee counties — are currently under state management.

Lewis said he has heard criticism about a potential sate takeover of JCPS, but he said no one can deny that the district has major problems. 

“Most of the pushback that I’ve heard around my recommendation has been around local control,” he said. “I’ve not heard much conversation around refuting the extremely, I mean, extremely serious deficiencies identified in that audit.”

The audit, released in April, detailed problems with instruction, restraint and seclusion of students; it also found growing achievement gaps between white students and students of color, as well as inequities in the way students are disciplined.

“The findings of the audit make it clear that for some time, many children in JCPS have neither been protected nor served well,” Lewis wrote in his audit summary. “I am confident that we can work together under the state management model to create and implement needed systems for compliance, monitoring and continuous improvement.”

In May, the school board voted to appeal Lewis’s recommendation for state takeover. A hearing is expected on the matter later this month. The Kentucky Department of Education will have a final say on the decision.

Lewis declined to answer questions from the audience on Wednesday about a proposed plan if a state takeover was approved. 

JCPS is Kentucky’s largest school district with more than 100,000 students.