Academy Prep St. Petersburg is a rigorous private school for low-income boys and girls that is known for its long days and emphasis on character education. Since its founding in 1997, the school at 2301 22nd Ave. S has served hundreds of students, most of them African-American, who attend on scholarships funded by individual and corporate donors.
Later this week, the school's trustees will host a private reception for DeVere Beard, who has just been named the fourth head of school in Academy Prep's history.
At first glance, Beard might appear to be a curious choice for the job. After all, he comes from a top post at a private school atop a winding stretch of Mulholland Drive in Los Angeles that bills itself as "one of the few schools in the country devoted to the education of highly gifted children" ages 5 to 14.
But Beard — and the trustees who voted to hire him — believes he is well-suited for the Academy Prep job. He is a product of private schools himself, he says, and "my dream has always been to be head of school."
At 40, Beard is the youngest head of school since Academy Prep was founded by a small group of educators and philanthropists 13 years ago.
"We had about 30 applications and resumes and narrowed it to 16," said Linda Marcelli, chair of the board of trustees for the school. "In the end, we interviewed two people and their spouses and voted hands down for DeVere."
According to Marcelli, the search committee included a teacher, a parent, board members and staff.
Beard, who has been in town since Aug. 1, said he "once worked for Mike Murphy, (now) head of school at Shorecrest (Preparatory School). Months ago, he told me, 'I have something really interesting that I want to share with you,' '' said Beard. That something was a description of Academy Prep.
In Los Angeles, Beard was dean of the upper school at Mirman School for Gifted Children. Most of the students, he said, had IQs of 150 or higher, and some would leave for college at age 14. "It was a special place."
Beard said working with noted educator John T. West, the headmaster at Mirman, is "why I'm at Academy Prep today."
Originally from Baltimore, Beard describes his hometown as "the land of gold teeth and marble steps."
Beard attended private school as a child and went to college at another private school — Dartmouth in Hanover, N.H.
After college, Beard worked for T. Rowe Price as an analyst until his boyhood school asked him to return to help make its student body more diverse.
"We helped to start change in the schools and increase the numbers of minorities in the school," he said. "It caused a bit of controversy as some thought it was black folk getting together, but it was actually about telling our stories."
He later spent 10 years teaching at a private school in Atlanta, where the surrounding "population was basically 90 percent African-American and impoverished," before moving to Mirman.
Asked to share his goals for Academy Prep, Beard was succinct.
"One is to increase our numbers and really spread the word about what Academy Prep is doing. The other is to build on the work that the foundation has started. I just think it's wonderful and one of the most noble things a person can do.
"The commitment we make to children is just incredible," he said.
Of great concern to Beard is the recent finding by the Schott Foundation for Public Education. It gave Pinellas County's public school district unwanted notoriety in asserting that Pinellas graduates a lower rate of black males than any large district in the country.
"The plight of African-American education (in this community) is so sad," said Beard. "We spend more money incarcerating them than educating them. I thought we were beyond that."
This is the first time he has been at a school that is predominantly African-American, Beard said, and his first opportunity to effect change for his people. He said he's looking forward to the challenge.
"I'm here to stop the bleeding. So I'm very excited about that."
Sandra J. Gadsden is Assistant Metro Editor, Community News. She can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8874.