Advance Baton Rouge announced the resignation of Chief Executive Officer Henry “Hank” Shepard in a news release late Tuesday.
According to the release, Shepard’s resignation was accepted Monday by the executive committee of the board of directors of the charter school association, which operates five charter schools, four in Baton Rouge, all of them low-performing schools formerly operated by the East Baton Rouge Parish school system.
Spokesman Matthew Broussard of the organization, which goes by the acronym ABR, described Shepard’s resignation as a mutual agreement between Shepard and board members regarding the future direction of the organization, but gave no further details.
“I want to thank Mr. Shepard for his commitment and dedication to improving the educational options for the parents and students of the greater Baton Rouge area,” said Jeff English, president of the group’s board.
English said the board is already looking for Shepard’s replacement and that his departure will not affect summer programs and preparations for the 2011-12 school year.
The Advocate emailed Broussard several questions about the resignation and asked to speak with English and Shepard. Broussard said he would try to get answers as soon as he could, but none were forthcoming as of press time.
East Baton Rouge Parish Superintendent John Dilworth said he was surprised by the news.
“Got to know Hank a little bit,” he said. “My relationship with him was one of professionalism and mutual respect.”
Shepard arrived in Baton Rouge in May 2009 after serving as the head of the Algiers Charter School Association, a charter school group formed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina to run public schools in the Algiers area of New Orleans.
Shepard came in after a problematic shift of Advance Baton Rouge from a group with many education initiatives into one that ran charter schools.
In 2008, the organization, then led by Kristy Hebert, took over Prescott and Glen Oaks middle schools in Baton Rouge, as well as Pointe Coupee Central in Morganza.
It was a tough year that saw much disorganization, teacher and administrative turnover and complaints from parents and students. In 2009, the state handed the organization two more schools to run, Dalton and Lanier elementary schools in Baton Rouge.
Hebert took some of Advance Baton Rouge non-charter school initiatives and formed a new group, Advance Innovative Education, which is still in operation. Advance Baton Rouge then became strictly a charter school management group, and hired Shepard to run things.
Shepard brought in all new principals and hired mostly new teachers. He also brought over a few people he worked with in Algiers. Shepard said the 2009-10 year was a restart year in his view and asked for patience.
“We’re talking about schools like Prescott (Middle) with patterns that go back possibly a decade,” Shepard told The Advocate in October 2009. “Turning that around takes time.”
Turnover became less of a problem, and the school’s leadership stabilized. Shepard quickly settled on the Teacher Advancement Program, a whole school reform promoted by the Santa Monica, Calif.-based Milken Foundation, to help the five ABR schools improve.
Lanier Elementary gained attention last year when it was featured on NBC’s reality TV show “School Pride,” getting a substantial makeover in the process.
Enrollment, however, continued to be roughly half of what these schools had when operated by the East Baton Rouge Parish school system. Test scores, with a few exceptions, did not improve from the already low scores ABR inherited and remain far from meeting state minimum academic standards.
The students who left Advance Baton Rouge and other schools operated as part of the Recovery School District ended up overcrowding other East Baton Rouge Parish schools, particularly middle schools.
Dilworth said he tried unsuccessfully to talk with Advance Baton Rouge and the state Department of Education about returning one or more ABR schools to local control.
In the news release, English credits Shepard for bringing in the Teacher Advancement Program and making other improvements.
“Our goal is to build upon our foundation of creating strong schools of academic excellence,” English said in the release.
Shepard worked as an elementary and middle school principal for 12 years, and later worked as a principal, coach and administrator with the Algiers Charter Schools Association in New Orleans. He has served as a principal for 12 years at both the elementary and middle school levels.