Dr. Rick Surrency, District School Superintendent at Putnam County School District

Dr. Surrency is in his 46th year of education serving as the elected superintendent of the Putnam County School District in his 2nd term. After serving as a school teacher, assistant principal, and principal for 38 years, he retired and ran for the office of superintendent in 2016. Putnam County has an enrollment of 10,000 students with 13 schools. Dr. Surrency has made significant improvements in his district by improving the district graduation rates from 54.9% in 2015 to 92.5% in 2021, the largest increase in the State of Florida during the same time period.  Under the leadership of Dr. Surrency, construction has begun to build 9 new schools over the next 10 years as part of the district’s revitalization program. He led a campaign to raise $300 Million in a referendum to build 6 of the schools. The other 3 will be paid with state appropriations.  In December 2022 Dr. Surrency was named the 2023 State Superintendent of the Year for Florida.


 A bridge spans the north-flowing St. Johns River in the center of Putnam County, Florida. Putnam County School District (PCSD) is a 10,000-student district located in NE Florida with 13 schools. As a 100% Title I district, PCSD student’s families face many challenges. PCSD, like many other small, rural school districts, is crossing the bridge and embracing the future in PreK-12th grade STEM education despite the economic situation in our nation.

As many small, rural school districts it is imperative to build partnerships to leverage resources in providing the highest quality STEM education. Our community and business partners began to realize a positive change was taking place in the district that would lead to many other changes. One of the largest changes in the district was the development of a system to inspire all our K-12 students about their future. Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) opportunities became the key to igniting the passion for learning and visualizing a reason for on-time graduation.

In 2017, PCSD developed an amazing partnership with a regional non-profit organization designed to build a pipeline for jobs of the future. The non-profit focused on providing STEM opportunities for rural, underserved communities that are prevalent in our county as well as many other locations. This partnership as well as ones with local business organizations, opened many opportunities for our students.

The effort to provide STEM opportunities in small, rural school districts is essential for 21st Century careers for the following 5 reasons:

  1. Future Workforce Preparation:  The job market increasingly demands skills in STEM fields. Many of the fastest-growing occupations, such as software developers, data scientists, and healthcare professionals, require a strong STEM background.
  2. Innovation and Problem-Solving: STEM education fosters critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Students learn to approach problems methodically, think creatively, and develop innovative solutions.
  3. Technological Literacy: In today’s technology-driven world, technological literacy is as fundamental as reading and writing. STEM education equips students with the knowledge to navigate and understand the technology that permeates everyday life.
  4. Diverse Opportunities: Supporting STEM education can help bridge gaps in educational equity by providing all students, regardless of background, with opportunities to pursue high-paying and fulfilling careers.
  5. Global Challenges: Many of the world’s pressing challenges, such as climate change, healthcare, and sustainable development, require STEM solutions. Educating students in STEM fields prepares the next generation to tackle these global issues effectively.

As school district leaders, it is imperative that we provide a vision for the future that others may not see. Students must be prepared for careers that have not been created yet. Researchers indicate that 65% of our current careers will not exist in the next decade. Students will learn the 21st Century skills to allow them to pivot and meet the needs of an ever-changing job market.

Content Disclaimer

Related Articles