Fletcher brings “All In” attitude to commissioner of education role

Meeting notice graphic featuring the Kentucky Department of Education and United We Learn logos

News Release

Media Contact: Jennifer Ginn

Director of Communications

Office: (502) 564-2000, ext. 4601

Advisory 24-172


July 1, 2024

Robbie Fletcher poses for a photo with three children and some baby chickens in his hand

Robbie Fletcher, the new Kentucky commissioner of education, poses with children in Lawrence County who, as part of their science curriculum, named a baby chick "Dr. Fletcher" after him. Photo courtesy Robbie Fletcher

Fletcher brings “All In” attitude to commissioner of education role

(FRANKFORT, KY) – The love of math started early for Robbie Fletcher, Ed.D.

Growing up in Martin County, Fletcher – who became Kentucky’s commissioner of education and head of the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) on July 1 – said he remembers grocery store trips with his mother when he was about 5 or 6 years old, marveling at how she could calculate their budget so quickly.

“If we went in with $100, she would go to the counter – no paper or pencil; she’d have everything in her mind – and come back with less than a dollar in change,” he said. “She was a brilliant math mind and that amazed me early on.”

Even though his parents’ circumstances did not allow them to attend high school, both parents, Robert and Ellen Faye strongly encouraged Fletcher to attend college. 

“It was just no question,” said Fletcher. “I can remember as early as elementary school … (they said) do whatever you want to do, but you’re going to go to college.”

Once the fascination with math started, Fletcher said he started feeling a bit competitive with his mother, aiming to do mental math as quickly as she could at the store. His skills grew over time and Fletcher would go on to participate in his high school’s academic team, which he credits for exposing him to several different opportunities and life experiences.

“The first time I was on an escalator was with my academic team. The first time I was in a movie theater, our academic team took us to the movie theater. The first time I was on an airplane, academic team,” he said. “First time I saw a Major League Baseball game was in the Houston Astrodome with my academic team during a week of competition at Rice University.”

Fletcher credited his academic team coach, Frank Baldridge, with emboldening his interest in education.

“Seeing a man like Frank Baldridge provide so many opportunities to so many students – and again, we were a variety of economic backgrounds – everybody got the opportunity,” he said. “But it was so important to see those students that may not have had that opportunity if it hadn’t been for Frank Baldridge with such a drive for them.”

Fletcher said he discovered a passion for teaching when he helped a fellow student out with a math concept in high school.

“I enjoyed seeing someone else learn mathematics, even as a high school student,” said Fletcher. “And very quickly it went into I want to be a teacher because I enjoyed seeing other people learn a new concept. I enjoyed seeing the lightbulb, if you will.”

Fletcher said he enjoyed helping other people navigate what can be a frustrating subject.

“You hear so many people say, ‘Well, I’m just not good at math,’” he said. “My argument back with them is you just haven’t had the right teacher.”

Fletcher said he wanted to stay close to home with his career in education. He earned a bachelor’s degree at Morehead State and a master’s from the University of Kentucky, then returned to Morehead State for his doctorate and his superintendent certification.

Fletcher said his high school principal – and future father-in-law – John Haney also played a critical role in helping him pursue his career. He even met his wife Melissa on the academic team, even though they didn’t start dating until both were in college. Now they have three children together.

“Oddly, Mr. Haney – I still call him Mr. Haney sometimes – he was instrumental in helping me get a scholarship to Morehead State University,” said Fletcher, “but he sent his daughter to Georgetown College, so I give him a hard time about that.

“But he was always behind the scenes, not with just me, but with so many students and making things possible for them.”

Fletcher said he tried to take after his role models in education when he became a teacher full-time in 1996 for Williamstown Independent. He also spent time as a math teacher for Bourbon County High School and Inez Middle School (Martin County) before moving to administrative roles. In 2014, Fletcher became superintendent of Lawrence County. During each step, he tried to make student interactions a priority.

“One of the things I realized, the further you move into education, up the administrative ladder, the further away you move from students as it relates to that day-to-day relationship,” he said. “So really with each role that I’ve had, I’ve tried to make opportunities so that I can interact with students as much as possible.”

Robbie Fletcher takes a selfie with a gymnasium full of students

Robbie Fletcher said one of his top priorities as a school administrator was to make time to connect with students. Photo courtesy Robbie Fletcher

But he said he also appreciated the fact that as an administrator, he was making decisions that impacted the entire student body and could make a noticeable change in school culture, not just the culture in his classroom.

“I could see changes in teaching behavior. I could see changes that overall made it a better experience for students,” he said. “Even though I wasn't teaching every day in the classroom, I felt like I was making a difference for more students each day.”

The drive to make a difference for more students has led Fletcher to participate in several statewide initiatives, advisory boards and task forces, including KDE’s Local Superintendents Advisory Council, the Kentucky United We Learn Council, the School Funding Task Force created by the Kentucky General Assembly, and the Appalachia Regional Advisory Committee created by the U.S. Department of Education.

Once he took over as superintendent at Lawrence County Schools, Fletcher started his “All In” social media campaign to further drive his dedication to students. He said he prioritized going to school events and being with the students as much as possible, and the tight-knit community bought in right away, cheering along with the “All In” chants during sporting events and pep rallies.

“We want to support everything going on in our schools. We want to make sure our kids are successful. We want to give them every opportunity we can,” he said. “So even though I may have used the ‘All In LC’ (social media) handle, the culture was already there.”

After 10 years with the district, the role of education commissioner opened up. Fletcher said he hadn’t really considered it, but after a few other superintendents approached him about the role, he started praying about it and discussing the move with his wife.

The chair of the Lawrence County school board, Jim See, eventually had a meeting with Fletcher and told him he needed to apply for the commissioner position.

“My comment back to him was, ‘Well, Jim, I don’t know how to handle my boss telling me to find another job,’” joked Fletcher.

But See continued to encourage Fletcher. After several conversations with educators and superintendents across the Commonwealth, including past commissioners, Fletcher said he decided to apply.

“While I’ll make mistakes, undoubtedly, I do feel that I’ve been led to do this position,” he said. “Now when I say ‘I,’ I should say ‘we.’ I feel like there’s so many intelligent, so many gifted people that work in education across our state, that we need to make sure we pull all of them in to make sure that we make decisions that are the best for students and give our students more opportunities.”

Fletcher said among his main priorities, developing a new assessment and accountability system is at the top.

“Whenever I retire from this position, I’d like to be able to walk out and say that we have an accountability system that everyone believes in; that has a true reflection of what each community believes is important for their student, but also too that can impact instruction immediately,” he said.

He also praised the work the Kentucky United We Learn Council has done toward a new accountability system.

Fletcher said he also plans to be active with state lawmakers as they look at potential reforms with the Support Education Excellence in Kentucky (SEEK) funding formula and the balance between property-poor and property-rich districts.

“We want to make sure that every single district has the resources that they need, but some districts have more needs than others,” he said.

Fletcher said he plans to continue the work of former Interim Commissioner of Education Robin Fields Kinney, who will stay on as an advisor to Fletcher during the transition period.

“She has dedicated a lot of time in this transition period to help me personally as far as understanding the Kentucky Department of Education a little better,” he said. “I think Interim Commissioner Kinney has done a phenomenal job in building relationships with legislators and maybe mending some relationships which will allow me to strengthen those relationships in the future.”

Fletcher said he plans to bring the “All In” mantra to KDE and bring in as many voices as possible to better the education of the Commonwealth’s children.

That also means he plans to keep students at the forefront.

“Don’t be surprised if you see me at a Friday night football game,” he said. “I enjoy watching students compete, both academically and athletically. I enjoy band and choir concerts.   We have so many gifted students across our Commonwealth, and I am ‘All In’ for supporting and celebrating each.”