The superintendent of schools is an elected position in Sumter County and serves the citizens through a four year term. He can be contacted at (352) 793-2315 ext. 50208.
Richard A. Shirley, Florida's 2013 Superintendent of the Year, has served as the Sumter School Superintendent since 1996, making him one of the most experienced Superintendents in Florida. Mr. Shirley earned his Bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida, holds a Master’s degree from the University of South Florida, and has completed over 50 hours of coursework toward a Doctorate in Educational Leadership. He is certified as a Florida School Superintendent and meets the advanced degree requirements necessary for the Sumter Schools to continue to remain a regionally respected and fully accredited school district through the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
He and his wife of 38 years, also a longtime Sumter County educator, reside in the Webster area. They have two sons, two daughters-in-law, two granddaughters and a grandson. Their older son, and his wife are both educators working in Sumter County Schools. Their younger son is a Doctor of Physical Therapy in Georgia, and his wife is a registered nurse.
Mr. Shirley, a resident of Sumter County for over 50 years, taught for over a decade as an Elementary, Middle, High School and Adult Education teacher. He served nine years as a successful Principal at the elementary and secondary level before becoming Superintendent of Schools, giving him over 40 years educating children and serving the residents of Sumter.
His leadership has extended to the state, national and international level. He was state President of the Florida Elementary School Principal’s Association, and served nationwide as a Middle School Director of the National Association of Elementary and Middle School Principals. During the mid-90's, he was selected to provide training internationally to principals and directors from the Department of Defense Overseas Schools, serving American families in foreign lands. He was chosen by his peer superintendents as the 2013 Florida Superintendent of the Year, representing Florida and Sumter County at the national level. Always an innovator, Superintendent Shirley was also recognized as a finalist for Florida Data Leader of the Year as recognized by the Florida Department of Education.
Since his initial election in 1996, he has also served as a mentor to five Florida superintendents who were new to their position. His fiscally conservative leadership overseeing a complex $100 million dollar budget, in both good and bad economies, through several Governors, and many Legislators, has well served the stakeholders in Sumter County, as well as those Superintendents he has mentored.
By keeping costs associated with overhead and administration low, Sumter teacher salaries are ranked above the Florida average and small class size is maintained- a great recruitment and retention tool that ultimately benefits children- all this while maintaining a lower percentage of operating budget going to than is typical. He credits a supportive and fiscally conservative School Board for their leadership in these sound decisions as property tax rates continue to decline with taxes in Sumter County one of the lowest in the state.
With a strong instructional, support and administrative staff, caring parents and community, and great kids, graduation rates have been above the state average for several years, and the school district has been graded an "A" or a "B" for many years- in spite of a large percentage of students on free and reduced lunch, as well as other challenging demographics. The number of Career Academies at local high schools is growing to better meet the needs of students pursuing career paths as more local job opportunities have become available. Technology in Sumter classrooms is abundant, putting Sumter as one of the most progressive districts in Florida. He has also overseen the growth of the nation's largest Charter School in the workplace designed to serve the needs of employees serving the residents of The Villages, one of the largest retirement communities in the nation. Sumter also has the distinction of having one of the fastest growing student and adult populations in the state, due in large part to growth in The Villages. "The quality and dedication of students, teachers, administrators and staff are the real reason for the many successes in this school district," Shirley says.
Superintendent Shirley initiated an alternative school when first elected to provide disruptive students a second chance without allowing them to interfere with the learning of others. Safety initiatives have included bullying prevention training, cameras and communications on all buses, alternative educational settings, credit recovery options, school nurses, Resource Officers at secondary schools, as well as many other initiatives.
Construction projects are completed frugally using a prototype design, minimal change orders, and direct purchase of materials managed to save tax dollars. Competitive grants are aggressively pursued to minimize costs to the local residents and certain services are contracted when practical to minimize the risk and tax burden associated with long term salary commitments.
He has had numerous civic involvements with such agencies as the United Way of Lake and Sumter County, the Sumter County Economic Development Council and the Sumter County Chamber of Commerce. He is an active member of the First Baptist Church of Linden and has been for 50 years. He and his wife, Denise, a teacher for over 30 years, reside in the Webster area.