Assistant superintendent Birkett retiring after 42 years with district
Published: Thursday, June 13, 2013 at 5:20 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, June 13, 2013 at 5:20 p.m.
Few people have spent more time interacting with Alachua County Public Schools than Keith Birkett.
His work in the district comprises his entire career. Before that, he attended the schools with which he now works.
And on June 27, Birkett, the district’s assistant superintendent for planning, budgeting and systems accountability, is retiring after 42 years with Alachua County Public Schools.
“Well, 42 and a half,” he said Wednesday. “But who’s counting?”
Birkett moved up through the ladder of the finance department, starting as a clerk at first, and later becoming budget officer, then director of finance, among other positions.
He assumed his current position in 2003. Scott Ward, chief financial officer for Alachua County Public Schools, has been recommended to take over when Birkett leaves.
At the district office in the Kirby-Smith Center, Birkett made many friends and will be missed, his colleagues said.
“He’s always a man of high integrity,” Deputy Superintendent Hershel Lyons said.
Born in Canada, Birkett moved to Gainesville with his family when he was in the fifth grade.
He graduated from Gainesville High School in 1966 and enrolled at Santa Fe Community College, where he was a student in the college’s first graduating class.
Birkett also holds a bachelor’s degree in education from the University of Florida and a master’s degree in education administration and supervision from Nova Southeastern University.
He graduated from UF in December 1970 and sought a job as a business teacher with the school district. No teaching positions were available, since it was halfway through the school year, so he was offered a temporary position in the finance department until the fall.
But Birkett did good work in the department, and over the summer, the comptroller asked him to stay, he said.
He started as an accounting clerk in 1971, with the standard technology of the time: a Victor adding machine.
Birkett recalled a breakthrough when, a few years later, IBM introduced typewriters that could record and retype previously typed letters.
The transition from paper-based record keeping to a completely digitized finance department was the biggest change he saw in four decades with the district.
“Going from a machine that just adds and subtracts to a smartphone ... it was pretty incredible,” he said.
Birkett helped streamline the budget process during the transition, an accomplishment for which he’s particularly proud.
Another pride point was learning how to drive a school bus.
Eight or nine years ago, he said, he remembers bus drivers expressing that district officials didn’t know how hard the job was.
So Birkett decided to get a commercial driver’s license.
“I wouldn’t ask anyone to do anything I wouldn’t do myself,” he said.
It was intimidating the first time he got behind the wheel of a bus, and the test was difficult, he said. But now he helps out whenever necessary, about five or six times a year, transporting students for field trips or taking the School Board and teachers union to Tallahassee.
“I always enjoy getting out and doing that,” he said.
The budget process is Birkett’s favorite part of his job. He says he took the “services” part of business services seriously — the department is there to serve the needs of the schools.
“We’re here to help them accomplish what they need to do to help kids,” he said.
Lyons says he saw that firsthand while he was an assistant principal at Buchholz High School in the 1990s. Birkett was a Buchholz parent at the time.
“Keith was just as great as a district-level administrator as he was as a parent,” he said. “If you called him, he just met your need.”
When Lyons became an assistant superintendent in 2010, Birkett showed him the ropes.
“All of us have friends, but some friends you can call on,” Lyons said.
And the friends are what Birkett will miss the most, he said. Education is like a family.
Birkett’s wife, Trish, also is retiring, from nursing, and the two hope to travel the United States and visit their children and grandchildren.
Retirement will be an adjustment, although a little bit of extra sleep will be welcome.
“I’m looking forward to going to the gym at 8 a.m., not 5 a.m.,” Birkett said.
Contact Erin Jester at 338-3166 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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