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20121001-Sharyland-ISD-Dr-Virgina-Richter-001Dr. Virginia RichterDr. Virginia Richter has some lofty goals for the Sharyland ISD. As the new superintendent, she wants to build on what the district is known for – things like academic achievement, sports and UIL – while growing the number of students taking AP exams and dual enrollment courses.

“My goal is to take and capitalize on what Sharyland does very well, but then take it to the next level,” she said.

She’s also in the process of reaching one goal she set for herself: learning the name of each and every employee in Sharyland schools. It’s all part of her desire to build trust with the people she works with and earn their respect.

“Even though I’ve lived in the district – and have for 27 years – every district has its own intricacies that you don’t know or understand until you’re a part of it,” said Richter, who took on the position in July.

Looking back at Richter’s career in education, it’s fair to say she will be able to remember each principal, teacher and custodian in Sharyland by name. She did just that with Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD employees, where she served as a teacher, assistant principal, principal and area administrator for the past 24 years.

“When I take something on, I’m going to do it with all my heart and soul, and I’m not going to quit until the task is complete,” she said.

Richter is no stranger to hard work or challenges. She grew up the oldest of four girls in Banquete, an unincorporated town around 30 miles west of Corpus Christi that is now home to just over 700 people. With a family farm in nearby Agua Dulce and a ranch in McCook, every summer was spent chopping brush, hauling feed and helping with whatever was needed, whether on a horse or a tractor.

“There I was at 10 years old…throwing hay bales,” she recalled. “There was no one else to do it. I didn’t want my mom doing it by herself, and I was the oldest.”

Richter was the first in her family to graduate from high school and later from college when she earned her diversified agricultural degree from Texas A&M.

“Growing up around animals and farming, I had always wanted to go to A&M,” she said. “I didn’t know anything about it first hand, of course.”

Richter thought her next step would be a job in sales with a large agriculture company, but she pursued an alternative teaching certification when that plan didn’t come to fruition. Looking back, it’s hard for her to imagine where that would have taken her.

“Who knows where I would have ended up?” she said. “God has the plan, not us.”

Her first job in education was teaching third grade in Alton, where she started without the trove of posters and other materials teachers collect during their undergraduate years. She transformed the nearly bare walls to create a more inviting and colorful environment.

Admittedly, she earned a reputation as a strict teacher; the reputation followed her to her next classrooms in Mission and Alamo.

“I had very high expectations. If you set your expectations here, here or here,” she said--punctuating each “here” with a downward-moving hand, “[students] are going to meet them.”

It’s the strict teachers in her own life that Richter most clearly remembers, like Mr. Smith, her 5th grade band director, and Gerome Tymrak, her 8th grade agriculture teacher. They taught her how to be a good person and a good leader, she said, a legacy that being an educator has given her the chance to continue.

“I think it’s all of us, when you think back to a person that impacted your life other than your parents, who do you think of? I can think of teachers that helped shape me,” she said. It’s an opportunity “to be able to do that and leave that legacy of, ‘Yeah, she was really strict, and, yeah, she expected a lot, but I’m a better person because of that.’”

One of Richter’s former third-grade students went on to be a counselor and eventually a principal in the PSJA district. Another teaches high school physics and has been voted favorite teacher in The Monitor’s Readers’ Choice Awards.

Richter said that those two students, as well as others, still bring up their days in her classroom when they see each other.

“It made me stop and think about my life, and am I doing things that I should or shouldn’t be doing?” Richter said. “When your students come back and say things like that to you, that’s when you know you’ve made a positive impact.”

It’s not just Richter who has affected students. Over the years, her pupils have made their mark on her.

“I think about a lot of them. The ones that are really special to me are the ones who either have had to struggle and succeeded,” she said, “or the ones you’ve taught and [who have] succeeded and gone beyond.”

Throughout her career and now looking toward the future with Sharyland, Richter said she does it all while looking on the bright side of things and thanking God for a new day every morning.

“I hit the ground running and try to make the best of every day,” she said. “We never know when it’s our day to go to heaven, and [I want to] do everything on my bucket list so I can say I’ve lived life to the fullest.”

Someday, after the cake has been cut at her retirement party, Richter hopes to continue teaching at The University of Texas-Pan American, where she leads classes in educational leadership every summer. She also hopes to get a few more stamps on her passport to places like Costa Rica and China, even to travel to Antarctica.

Until then, Richter invites everyone to help her get a little closer to her goal of memorizing everyone’s name, parents and community members included, introducing themselves or taking her up on her open-door policy.

“I am very excited to have the opportunity to work and make a positive impact in my community,” she said, adding that her husband Jeff and their son are graduates of the district. “It’s the ultimate dream to be able to do that.”

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