Sheppard assumes role as MCSEC director

David Sheppard has chosen a professional path that differs from both his father and siblings.

?The background of my family?almost everyone is in medicine, except me,? said Sheppard, who took the helm July 1 as director of Marion County Special Education Cooperative.

Sheppard, instead, has invested his career in the field of special education.

?I really do believe that all kids can learn,? he said about the core of his educational philosophy. ?I believe that?quality of life is important.?

Sheppard replaces Chris Cezar, who resigned from the position in April and completed his last day June 30.

Marion County Special Education Cooperative, according to its Web site, provides for children who ?require special education and related services to assist them in obtaining their full human potential? for five school districts in Marion County: Centre USD 397, Peabody-Burns USD 398, Marion-Florence USD 408, Hillsboro-Lehigh-Durham USD 410 and Goessel USD 411.

Professional experience

Prior to MCSEC, Sheppard served for four years as director of Tri-County Special Education Services in Larned.

Tri-County SSC, which supports five school districts in the counties of Pawnee, Hodgeman and Edwards, operates as a cooperative while the structure of MCSEC is interlocal.

?The difference here?it?s like we are more our own entity,? Sheppard said, adding that budgeting, hiring and negotiations for MCSEC are separate from the school districts it serves.

Also, Sheppard answers to the MCSEC board, while at Tri-County he was under the authority of the five districts in the cooperative.

?That?s my learning curve, because now I?m working with a different governing (structure),? he said.

Personal background

Sheppard is a life-long Kansan. He was born and raised in Smith Center, about two hours north of Salina, the youngest of three children.

While in high school, he said he worked on farms in Nebraska. His father was a physician in the Smith Center community, where his sister still lives. His brother resides in Great Bend.

?It?s a long trek that brought me here (to Marion County),? Sheppard said.

After graduating from the University of Kansas with degree in psychology and minor in biology, he later pursued a master?s degree in counseling at University of Missouri-Kansas City. He then worked at an in-care psychiatric lock-down unit in Kansas City where patients were in rehab for drug and alcohol addictions.

?I think that?s where I got a good background for medication interactions and individuals on medication,? he said.

His interest turned toward education, he said, after one day playing golf with as a friend and then meeting someone who was involved in school psychology for the Shawnee Mission district.

?The more I talked to him about that, the more interested I became (in school psychology),? he said.

Sheppard decided to study educational psychology at Pittsburg State University, where he earned an education specialist degree, a requirement for those who wish to become school psychologists.

?That?s really what led me to special education,? he added.

After finishing his Ed.S. degree, he took a position at Eureka as a school psychologist transition coordinator?a ?kind of a quasi-administrator position,? he said.

He then enrolled at Emporia State University, where he completed all the certifications required of school administrators.

?I?m going to end up by telling you that I?m really a professional student,? he said with a laugh.

His first administrative job in special education was as coordinator of Tri-County Special Education 607 Caney, Cherry?vale, Coffeyville, Fredonia, Independence, Neodesha and Parsons.

Attracted here

Asked what attracted him to the MCSEC director position, Sheppard said he had several connections to Marion County in the past.

While earning his doctorate in educational administration at WSU, he worked on a couple of research teams with former USD 410 superintendent Gordon Mohn, now director of the McPherson County Special Education Cooperative.

?That was great getting to meet Gordon and setting up that connection,? he said. ?So when (Gordon) jumped into special ed, we?d meet at conferences, we?d talk, and we?ve communicated back and forth, kind of solidified the relationship.?

Sheppard became more familiar with Marion County when he and Mohn were on a team that studied the Goessel district regarding the viability of maintaining quality school education during declining enrollment.

?Again, it kind of emphasized the area to me,? he said.

Another connection to Marion County school districts is Goessel Superintendent John Fast, who also was in the WSU doctoral program. Fast served on Sheppard?s dissertation committee.

Choosing to come to Marion County also involved personal connections.

Wife Marla, an elementary teacher, was born in Marion and lived in Marion County through fourth grade.

?There was a family farm south of Florence that would have been her grandfather?s,? Sheppard said, adding he remembers coming to the area for family reunions.

About family

He and his wife have an 11-year-old daughter, Madison, at home and two grown daughters.

?We?re looking for a place where we can stay?my daughter is with us?in the same community,? Sheppard said.

?We?re still looking for (a house),? he said, adding that they need to sell their home in Larned.

So in the meantime, Sheppard said has been staying at the local motel until his family can decide on a place to live in the county.

In assuming his position as director, Sheppard said one challenge will be recent federal and state changes in funding and Medicaid reimbursements for services.

?That?s a concern,? he said.

But his primary goal will be supporting his staff, which includes 120 certified and classified employees.

?I want to be highly visible,? he said, promoting an environment that is supportive of teachers. ?I?m very much for getting what we need.?

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