For Lynette Breedlove, the new director of the Gatton Academy, teaching was a passion she discovered accidentally. Originally, she studied to be a pediatrician.
“Since I was little, I have always wanted to work with kids,” Breedlove said.
She studied psychology at Rhodes College as an undergrad from 1989 to 1993 because she wanted to take a holistic approach to medicine. Once she got to medical school, she learned that it wasn’t for her.
“For me, medical school was very much about disease and not about people,” she said. “And I had a hard time making that connection.”
Breedlove left medical school and tried something different.
“I moved to a smaller town and found a job as a juvenile probation officer,” she said.
Breedlove spent a lot of her time teaching in several classrooms across three Texas counties in the late 1990s. It was an experience she loved.
“I thought ‘why did it take me so long to figure out I’m supposed to be teaching,’” she said.
After getting her teaching credentials, Breedlove began teaching special education in 1997. During her time as a teacher, Breedlove’s colleague suggested she become trained in gifted education.
Breedlove agreed and began taking courses. She said she was hooked from the first class.
“It was a six hour class in an auditorium on a Saturday, and I was riveted the whole time,” she said.
After becoming a gifted education specialist in 1999, Breedlove took the next step and became a Gifted and Talented coordinator in 2002 and then took another job in Houston as a director for Advanced Academic Studies in 2005. Finding the next direction was challenging for Breedlove.
She found clarity while implementing an idea for a school for gifted kids. Her efforts included researching how to address the needs of gifted students, which culminated in the founding of the Spring Branch School for Highly Gifted Students.
“That kind of helped me know the next step, and so I started looking for opportunities to lead a school specifically in gifted ed,” she said.
After eight years as a director for Advanced Academic Studies, Breedlove is at Gatton Academy where she has been since July.
“I don’t really have a plan for after Gatton,” she said. “I think my focus now is learning all the ins and outs of how things work here and then planning on how we continue to move forward.”
Breedlove replaced Tim Gott, the previous director of the academy, after he became principal of Palmetto Scholars Academy.
Guthrie junior Annie Wheeler was a Gatton student.
Wheeler works at the same office as Breedlove, and thinks Breedlove is a good fit for the position.
“I think she’s really trying, you know, to listen to the students,” Wheeler said. “I think she’s just trying to get to know everybody ‘cause it’s definitely like a big family.”
Julia Roberts, executive director of the Center for Gifted Studies, played a role in the search for a new director.
“She has a deep knowledge of gifted young people,” Roberts said. “That’s what she has developed as her expertise and her work in Houston was developing a school for highly gifted students. So she brings lots of experience with a similar group, and she has lots of leadership experience that she brings.”
Breedlove works closely with Roberts, as both Gatton and the Center for Gifted Studies share similar goals. Breedlove said it’s important for them to work together.
“So, she and I are working together a lot on how do we take Gatton to the next step and how do we bring in other stakeholders to share in building the vision of Gatton for the future,” Breedlove said.
Breedlove appreciates the summer programs the Center for Gifted Studies offers because it allows young students to see what the high school offers.
The academy was named the number one public high school in the U.S. for the third year in a row by The Daily Beast website in August. The ranking is based on several indicators such as graduation and college acceptance rates, college-level courses and standardized test scores.
Breedlove said earning the recognition was a result of focusing on the students.
The academy scored high in areas such as graduation and college readiness, but ranked 15 percent in the “free/reduced lunch” category.
Breedlove said free and reduced lunch is a federal way to measure low socioeconomic status.
“Gatton has not done a great deal of tracking our families’ financial status,” Breedlove said. “But that is something that we are going to begin looking at because we want to make sure that we are very accurate in knowing what percent of our students would qualify for free and reduced lunch.”
Breedlove said the school wants to remove any barriers that may keep kids from accessing the school, such as parents having to drive long distances to pick up their children when the academy closes for a weekend once a month.
Another priority, Breedlove said, is recruiting and marketing the school to students across Kentucky.
The school has had students from 113 of 120 Kentucky counties, but some counties have only had one student attend, she said.