New Rockingham County superintendent: ‘We can inspire our students to dream big’

Larry Shifflett has been assistant superintendent at Rockingham County Public Schools and will now take over the top spot. (Image from RCPS website)

By Kayla Brown, contributor

After Rockingham County School Board members interviewed superintendent candidates from as far away as Alaska, they ultimately selected someone close to home to be the district’s next leader.

The board announced in a special meeting Friday that Larry Shifflett, assistant superintendent of innovation and learning, will be the next superintendent beginning July 1. His term is set to expire in June 2026. 

Shifflett, a 1990 Spotswood High School graduate, has worked in the school district since 1997, where he has gradually taken on more responsibilities. He started as a long-term substitute, became a social studies teacher and then moved to administrative roles before joining the central office staff. After more than a quarter of a century, he’s now taking the top role. 

“He already had a background in Rockingham County Public Schools. He knows how we work, where we have challenges and what we need to focus on,” said Jackie Lohr, the school board’s chair. “He mentioned it’s about putting the focus back on kids moving forward and that really resonated with us.”

Shifflett will replace Oskar Scheikl, who served as superintendent since 2017. Earlier this year, Scheikl announced his retirement, effective at the end of next month. 

Shifflett expressed his gratitude for the position, attending the meeting alongside his wife and two children. 

He said his personal goal is “to be visible” within the community. Over the summer, he said the board will work to improve their collaboration as well as create a five-year plan for the district. 

“My top priorities as superintendent [are] to ensure that every student attends a school where they feel safe and receive a high quality education by design, not by chance,” he said. 

Nine students representing four high schools from across the county took the podium to ask Shifflett questions following the official meeting. The students asked questions based on a surveys they and their peers had answered. 

Some of the questions touched on his qualifications, as well as school policies, including about his views of students using their phones during the school day (he’s not a fan). 

Other questions focused on complex issues facing the district — and K-12 education nationally, such as about mental health and drug use.

Derrick Pence, a senior at Broadway High School, asked how Shifflett could better advocate for students struggling with mental health issues. 

Shifflett referred to a tiered support system the district has in place that “puts people [employees] where they need to be” to help students. He added that the system will continue, but he wants to “measure if it’s working and make adjustments as needed.”

Pence told The Citizen that in his experience, the overall mental health of students is the biggest issue in county schools that he wants administrators like Shifflett to tackle. 

“There’s a lot of different things mental health plays into. For example, another student asked about drug use. In my opinion as a nursing student, it’s a byproduct of mental health,” Pence said. 

In response to the question about drugs, Shifflett emphasized the existing drug policy and the consequences that come along with violating it. Like with mental health, Shifflett said the school board will re-evalute the policies to see how they can be improved. 

Another student asked about adjusting the school calendar to add or better disperse mental health days. 

Shifflett said that over the past two years, the district has worked to implement sporadic breaks in the schedule to “avoid long stretches” of class days, but he said he “welcomes the conversation” about what could be done differently.

After all these years, Shifflett said he “never in a million years” saw himself leading the district, but he’s excited for what’s ahead — and helping improve the county’s education system, which he called a “great equalizer, a powerful tool.”

“It is through education,” he said, “that we can inspire our students to dream big, to pursue their passions and to become compassionate, responsible and well rounded citizens of our community.”

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