Severn headmaster takes stock Sheppard plans his June departure

July 29, 1992|By Monica Norton | Monica Norton,Staff Writer

When Edson "Shep" Sheppard took over as headmaster of Severn School eight years ago, the school had a paltry $95,000 endowment and annual giving netted only some $80,000.

Today, the Severna Park private school is on much sounder financial footing, with an endowment increased better than 16-fold and nearly twice the annual giving.

Not a bad legacy to leave behind -- which is exactly what Mr. Sheppard plans to do when the next graduating class departs.

"It has been an extremely positive experience," Mr. Sheppard said. "But by next June, I will have nine years behind me. I believe things move in cycles. This cycle is complete for me. It is time to bring in someone new with a fresh perspective. And I will get my batteries recharged and seek a new challenge."

Mr. Sheppard, 61, came to the Severn School in 1984 after serving as headmaster of the Berkeley Preparatory School in Tampa, Fla. He earlier served as headmaster of the Hawaii Preparatory School in Hawaii. He also taught in Long Island, N.Y., where he first learned of Severn School.

"It was the attractive area of the school and the attractiveness of the school itself that first attracted me to the area," Mr. Sheppard said. "When I arrived and assumed my new position, the school had just completed its Middle States evaluation for accreditation. It was in good shape, but through the evaluation I became aware of some of its needs."

Mr. Sheppard saw the school's financial state as one of its needs. Severn, a private institution for students in grades 6-12, was funded primarily through tuition. Mr. Sheppard said he set about to rectify that problem.

During his tenure, the school's endowment increased from $95,000 to $1.6 million. Annual giving for the school increased from $82,500 a year to $160,000.

The creation of a middle school program for students in grades 6-8 also is a source of pride for Mr. Sheppard.

"There was not a separate program for students in those grade levels when I arrived," he said. "We were still operating under a junior high, which made students feel as if they were a junior part of the high school. When we created the middle school program, we acknowledged that students in that age range had special needs we needed to address."

The Severn School, with a staff of about 70 -- including 40 teachers -- and a student population of about 420, also has worked to improve its marketing, recruiting and admissions programs. An aggressive advertising campaign has helped increase the number of new students coming to the school by 40 percent over last year, he said.

Not that Mr. Sheppard is leaving totally without regrets. He will, after all, be leaving the friends, co-workers and students with whom he has spent the past nine years.

If money had allowed, Mr. Sheppard said, he would have liked to update some of the facilities at the school. A new student center for performing arts is needed, he said, as is additional parking space. Severn also needs to improve its athletic facilities -- including replacing the tennis courts removed to make space for additional parking.

Most of all, Mr. Sheppard said, he would have liked to replace the school's dining hall. It dates back to the 1920s; the school was founded in 1914.

Mr. Sheppard has given the school a year's notice to find his replacement. The year also will give Mr. Sheppard the opportunity to decide his next step.

"I'm not sure what I'll do or where I'll go," he said. "I'm looking at a number of opportunities. I wouldn't mind something on the international scene. I taught in Tokyo for a year. I'll be looking at things in the private sector. I'm casting my net widely."

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