Union County Public Schools Superintendent Patricia Sheffer holds a trophy shaped like an eagle.

Union County Public Schools Superintendent Patricia Sheffer was named the 2021 Kentucky Superintendent of the Year by the Kentucky Association of School Administrators. Sheffer is the fourth woman to be named Kentucky Superintendent of the Year in the award’s 34-year history.
Photo submitted by the Kentucky Association of School Administrators

  • Sheffer is the fourth woman to be named Superintendent of the Year in its 34-year history.
  • She has spent her entire career in Union County and graduated from there herself.

By Jim Gaines

Union County Public Schools Superintendent Patricia Sheffer was named the Kentucky 2021 Superintendent of the Year by the Kentucky Association of School Administrators (KASA).

“I really accept this award on behalf of the wonderful team I have here,” Sheffer said. “I’m blessed to work with a respectful board that trusts the decisions I make. I think everything is built on trust.”

She received the award during a surprise virtual ceremony on Nov. 23. Sheffer is only the fourth woman to be named Superintendent of the Year since the award’s inception in 1988, said Rhonda Caldwell, KASA executive director.

This is the most prestigious award for public school superintendents, she said. It is provided by a partnership between KASA and American Fidelity Assurance Co.

Caldwell said the award pays tribute to Sheffer’s “visionary leadership in moving the Union County schools forward.”

Shaffer received a bronze eagle sculpture, a commemorative ring and a $2,500 scholarship for a Union County high school senior. The award also pays for her travel to the American Association of School Administrators National Conference on Education in February, where she will compete with finalists from other states for the National Superintendent of the Year Award.

“This award represents the hard work of all those around me, really,” Sheffer said. It has been a team effort by her staff and Union County teachers, she said. They all know and trust each other and have worked well together during the past year’s difficulties, Sheffer said.

Anyone can nominate a superintendent for the award, though nominations usually come from someone within that superintendent’s district, Caldwell said. In Sheffer’s case, the nomination came from Lu Young, chair of the Kentucky Board of Education who herself was the 2012 Superintendent of the Year. 

Sheffer and Young both are active in KASA’s Kentucky Women in Education Leadership program, Caldwell said.

Sheffer also is involved with the Kentucky New Superintendent Onboarding Program, KASA’s board of directors and AASA’s governing board.

Sheffer’s nomination was followed by an in-depth application process focusing on leadership in learning and communication, professionalism and community involvement.

“It is a very competitive process,” Caldwell said.

On the western edge of the state, Union County is largely rural and has about 15,000 residents. Union County Public Schools has about 2,100 students in a preschool center, three elementary schools, one middle school, one high school, an alternative school and a vocational high school.

“This is the school system I went through as a student myself,” said Sheffer, who has spent her entire three-decade career in Union County.

This is Sheffer’s 10th year as superintendent. In that time, she has worked to build community partnerships that pay great dividends for schools.

One result of those partnerships is visible in the school system’s new central office building.

Twenty years ago, Union County Fiscal Court worked with external groups to write a grant for construction of a technical education center, Sheffer said. The building changed hands several times over the years, but the grant required that it would eventually revert to county ownership.

When that happened, Sheffer asked county magistrates to let Union County Public Schools use it as a new central office. She felt it was important for the school district office to be located there, right behind Union County High School, for access and student safety.

The fiscal court agreed to an even swap. At no additional cost to the school system, Sheffer secured the 20-year-old, 12,000-square-foot building in exchange for the previous central office, a 3,900-square-foot building that dated back to 1969.

Sheffer said she wants to keep the original intent of the building by designating one room for training by community groups, such as police or a local business. Eventually it also could be used by student groups and for dual credit classes, she said.