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Brown Schools hires new CEO

Brown Schools is getting a new leader.

Kirk Zeppi, the company's chief executive officer for Florida and leader of Brown's local operation, has resigned and returned to private practice. He is a licensed mental health counselor.

Spokeswoman Denise Bedson said Brown has hired a replacement and announced the news to its management team last week. But the company is not yet in a position to publicly announce the person's name.

The new leader will start in mid August. Brown's interim director will be Bonnie Schlecht, an administrator from Brown's operation in Oklahoma.

Zeppi, whose last day was July 3, lives in the Sarasota area and wanted to work closer to home and spend less time away from his young family, Bedson said.

The new person, like Zeppi, will serve as chief executive officer for Brown in Florida and as head of the Lecanto facility, Bedson said. Brown's corporate offices for the state are in Lecanto.

Using the former Heritage Hospital building off County Road 491 as its base, Brown operates a residential treatment facility for adolescents who have severe emotional problems. The Department of Children and Families has hired Brown to serve that population.

Brown experienced a rough start, with residents vandalizing the building and sometimes escaping and committing crimes. Children and Families almost canceled the contract.

But Brown is on firmer footing with DCF now and has won a contract extension. Patrick Howard, the outgoing DCF chief for this region, praised the company Wednesday and called it a success story.

Founded in 1940, the Brown Schools offers treatment programs and services in 22 facilities in nine states and Puerto Rico.