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SAIS Announces 2018 Distinguished Service Award Recipients

Tuesday, October 2, 2018  
Posted by: Christina Mimms
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The SAIS Distinguished Service Award is given by the SAIS Board of Trustees to a head of school or senior administrator in recognition of a long and distinguished career in independent education as well as service to SAIS. Recipients are recognized at the SAIS Annual Conference.

The creation of this award in 2012 was inspired by the life and work of Dale Regan, who devoted 34 years of her life to the Episcopal School of Jacksonville, and who, posthumously, was the award’s first recipient.

This year, SAIS is honored to recognize Dr. Sandra Adams and Dr. Bob Shirley. 


Dr. Sandra Adams

Dr. Sandra Adams began her independent school career teaching Latin at Summit School in Winston-Salem, NC, in 1967. Known for her warm smile, she could put students at ease in what some consider a challenging subject area. 


With a BA in English and Latin from Wake Forest College, she returned to her alma mater to earn a master’s degree in counseling and later earned her Ed.D. from the University of North Carolina, Greensboro. 


In 1990, Adams was named head of Summit School and over the next 18 years, she led the school to raise more than $22 million and build a library, an athletics center, a dining room, a 2nd-3rdgrade building, a playground, and renovate the junior high building. 


Adams served on the SAIS Board of Trustees from 1994-2006, including appointments as treasurer, secretary, vice chair, and chair (2004-2006). She chaired 12 accreditation visits. She also served on the boards of NAIS and NCAIS, and she was the first female member of the Southern Heads Association.


In 2008, North Carolina Governor Mike Easley awarded The Order of the Long Leaf Pine to Adams upon her retirement from Summit School in recognition of her 41 years of service. The award, which is the state’s highest civilian honor, is given to those who have a proven record of extraordinary service to the state, contributions to their communities, extra effort in their careers, and many years of service to their organizations. 


The Summit School Board of Trustees commissioned a local artist to design a garden on campus in her honor, known as “Sandra’s Space.” The inscription in the space reads “Scientia Pluit – Fluit Sapientia,” which translated from Latin means “Knowledge Rains – Wisdom Flows.”  



Dr. Bob Shirley

With 50 years of experience in education, Dr. Robert “Bob” Shirley has served many with his vast knowledge. His longest term was as head of Heathwood Hall Episcopal School in Columbia, SC, from 1978-2000, where he was well known on campus. 


Heathwood alumnus David McCoy spoke about his positive experience with Shirley: “Dr. Shirley definitely made a huge impression upon me. I did not have him as a teacher, but it was his work ethic, dedication and positive attitude for HHES. You did not go anywhere at Heathwood without running into Dr. Shirley.”


From 2000-2012, Shirley was the executive director for the National Center for Independent School Renewal but also held other school positions during that tenure. In 2000, he took the role of interim head at Gaston Day School in Gastonia, NC, and in 2001 filled the role of interim head at Bimmer and May School in Chestnut Hill, MA. In 2003-2004, Shirley took a short departure from education as the interim executive director at the Columbia Museum of Art. He served as head of Charleston Collegiate School in Charleston, SC, from 2005-2011, and as interim head at Woodlawn School in Davidson, NC, from 2014-2016. Not one to retire fully, Shirley is currently co-teaching a class on Plato’s Republic with Heathwood Hall Upper School Head George Scouten. 


Shirley served students first and foremost. When a Heathwood parent was unable to pay tuition for his three children, Shirley told him not to worry about it. He then challenged the school’s leadership team to rearrange the budget and cover the cost of the three tuitions. 


Upon his retirement from Heathwood, the staff rewrote the lyrics to “My Girl” to be “Bob Deal” and serenaded him in tribute to the “deals” he often made on behalf of the school. 


Shirley served on the SAIS Board of Trustees from 1994-2000. He holds the record for chairing the most accreditation visits with 26.


Shirley earned three degrees: a BA from Furman University (1958), an MA from Wake Forest University (1970), and a Ph.D. from the University of South Carolina, Columbia (1990). 

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