If you ask Shane Andrew, he will tell you he never set out to be the superintendent of Alachua County Public Schools (ACPS).
Weeks before the school board appointed him in 2022, Andrew was adjusting to his still-new role as the district’s chief of operations. But in his role, he attended every school board meeting, so he watched as three of the five members soured on Superintendent Carlee Simon.
Simon is the one who had elevated Andrew amid a controversial shakeup at the district. Two weeks after the School Board of Alachua County (SBAC) fired her, the board elevated Andrew again, selecting him as an interim superintendent over several other nominees.
“I don’t know that I necessarily set out that this was my journey and my destiny,” Andrew said in an interview. “But definitely, when called to serve in our school district, I’m going to do whatever I can wherever I can.”
Robert Hyatt, the SBAC chairman at the time, said the new school board that would be sworn in later in 2022 should have the opportunity to look for a permanent superintendent.
“I think Mr. Andrew would be a good person to transition us,” Board Member Tina Certain, who would succeed Hyatt as chair, said at the March 2022 meeting.
As it turns out, Andrew’s tenure has lasted longer than expected. The new school board identified other priorities upon taking office, and even among mixed performance, voted to keep Andrew as interim superintendent through next June—making this the first time since 2018-19 and 2019-20 that ACPS has had the same superintendent for two consecutive school years.
Andrew said he came out of the review experience looking forward to finishing out the year strong, remembering how much he had enjoyed the celebrations at the end of a school year when he was a high school principal.
“It was nice to walk out and know I’m going to be at graduation, because… after a hard year as a high school principal you get to graduation like, ‘Oh yes, that’s why we did it,’” Andrew said.
Andrew said he does not see himself as a symbol of stability, any more than other superintendents have been. He said he is part of a team, one of almost 4,000 district employees working to meet needs, and he wants people to trust in that team.
“I have confidence in all of our colleagues, so I’m a firm believer that Alachua County Public Schools is going to be fine, no matter who is the superintendent, because of all the employees I have worked with,” Andrew said.
Andrew is a Buchholz High School graduate who began his career at ACPS in 1990, coaching freshman baseball and substitute teaching at Gainesville High School. The next year, he became a full-time social studies teacher at Hawthorne Middle/High School, and by 1999 he was named dean, then promoted to assistant principal.
In 2009, Andrew became principal of Mebane Middle School, then Newberry High School the following year. He joined the district office in 2013 to serve as executive director of facilities for three years before taking over as principal of Eastside High School.
As superintendent, Andrew now oversees a district with 26,000 students and achievement gaps that have dogged the district for years—making the ACPS superintendent the frequent subject of harsh criticism and controversy. A split school board fired Superintendent Karen Clarke in late 2020, and it split again when making her replacement, Carlee Simon, permanent in March 2021.
The school board split again, 3-2, when deciding to fire Simon, who spent a tumultuous 16 months on the job. Her tenure included a controversial restructuring plan, a battle with state officials over mask policies, a spate of student bomb threats and a community petition calling for her removal.
Andrew has faced his own controversy. In late April, just before the school board was set to discuss his contract, the Gainesville Sun reported that he had brought a Bible to an administrative meeting and read passages implying staff was betraying him as Jesus was betrayed. The Sun later amended the account to be a reading from the biblical book of Joshua, with the same implications of betrayal.
At the same May 2 meeting where the board chose to keep him on, Andrew told the board that the Sun’s report was false.
“That’s an inaccurate statement,” Andrew said in the meeting. “I’ve never opened a Bible, in 32 years in this school district, and read to my employees out of that Bible. I do, I would say I let my light so shine, but I’ll leave it at that.”
In his interview with Mainstreet, Andrew declined to comment further on the Sun’s claims.
The decision to retain Andrew came after lengthy discussion of his performance. Board members cited the ongoing comprehensive rezoning process as a key reason for allowing him to continue his work—although not without another split vote, after Certain and Board Member Sarah Rockwell raised concerns about Andrew’s project management and communication.
Some tension continues to arise at SBAC meetings as board members have complained to administrative staff about documents not being finished in time for the board to review them properly before meetings.
Andrew told the board in May, and reiterated to Mainstreet, that he has fallen short in some areas, but he said he uses criticism as a step toward improvement. He said he is sure to be criticized because people are passionate about their children, but if he gets caught up in emotional conflicts he will miss the core of the critic’s message.
“I’m not that bad, and I’m not that good… I’m just going to come to work and keep working hard,” Andrew said. “It’s one of those that, you know, I’ve learned a long time ago that you listen for the message, not how it comes across.”
Andrew said the district’s administrative staff entered this school year with the same top two priorities as always: safety and achievement.
To help improve assessment data, Andrew said staff is looking into district-wide common assessments so they can see where students improve and struggle in real-time, instead of just looking at the state progress monitoring system. Administrative meetings have turned into small group think sessions to share best practices and ideas, and district leaders learn how to improve their schools at the Transformational Leadership Academy.
Andrew also pointed to last year’s establishment of turnaround principals as a move for improved learning. These leaders come in with district support to help administrative teams, instructional coaches and intervention specialists.
Andrew said ACPS has been partnering with many community organizations and institutions, as well as Florida’s Bureau of School Improvement, to build up practices for improving student support and evaluation.
Working in the school system runs in Andrew’s family. He has cousins who are educators. Both of his grandmothers and his great-aunts taught in one-room schoolhouses as homesteaders in Colorado. His father was a professor at the University of Florida.
Andrew said he sees the education field as a way to serve people and connect with others. After working in ACPS for more than 30 years, he now sees the children and grandchildren of his former students in the schools he helps lead.
“Every person you come into contact with ends up being part of your fabric,” Andrew said, “And my fabric is really strong because there’s so many threads of so many different people that I’ve had the honor to share so many things with, and that’s from heartbreak to celebration times.”
From kindergarten through 12th grade, Andrew is himself a product of ACPS, but he spent his preschool years in Bogota, Colombia. The Andrew family lived in South America for three and a half years while Andrew’s father taught ag economics for UF/IFAS.
Andrew said he has vivid memories from his childhood in Colombia, seeing poverty and military marches, surrounded by other children who did not look like him. He said in this environment, his parents taught him to give and to serve, loading up a little red wagon with food and toys for their neighbors.
At five years old, he began kindergarten in a newly desegregated Florida, “clueless” about how new it was for many older students to be attending school with peers who did not look like them.
“We’d all been at school together since we were young. We were a pretty formidable powerhouse because we had such close relationships,” Andrew said. “That’s what always gives me hope. I know that each generation, like a family and poverty, a family that’s struggling, is one generation away from breaking out of that.”
Andrew said helping students break a cycle to improve their futures is part of education, and he hopes to “change the trajectories” for young children in Alachua County Public Schools. One way he and his wife do that is through godchildren they support, providing opportunities and outings like Gators football games that the children would not normally have.
“We don’t have kids, but we were blessed to help others, blessed to continue to pay it forward,” Andrew said.