Following negotiations with the school’s board of directors, Sarasota Military Academy CEO Dan Kennedy will take leave from his post beginning July 1.
The move comes after months of difficulty transitioning to new leadership at the school, board members said. Board Vice Chairman Herb Jones, who negotiated the agreement with Kennedy, said the group has been discussing a succession plan with Kennedy for two years now. The board agreed to move Kennedy from headmaster of Sarasota Military Academy to CEO of the high school and the forthcoming SMA Prep middle school in January. At that time, Christina Bowman was selected to replace Kennedy as head of school.
At a special board meeting Wednesday, held to approve the agreement, board members indicated issues occurred with Kennedy working alongside Bowman.
“Basically, we tried a couple of other avenues (to transition), and it didn't work on those avenues,” Jones said. “This is the culmination of about six months of trial and error.”
SMA Board Chairman Howard Crowell said the process of transitioning from one leader to another was an intrinsically difficult situation, particularly when both parties remained active. Crowell said there was a tendency for both leaders to think they knew better than the other, and that it was important to clearly define who was guiding the school.
“Two leaders is an impossible situation — you have to have one,” Crowell said. “You have to transition from one to another, and that's what this is really all about.”
Kennedy co-founded Sarasota Military Academy alongside Burt Bershon in 2002. Before leaving to start the charter school, Kennedy also served as principal of Sarasota High School. SMA board members said they were appreciative of the considerable work Kennedy put into making the school a success, and that his transition to an inactive employee was important for preserving the school’s — and Kennedy’s — legacy.
“This is not a punitive situation,” board member Carter Donavan said. “The roles are changing; life is changing. Dan created a wonderful school. Sometimes you need to protect that — that's what this is doing.”
As part of the agreement, Kennedy will use the rest of June to prepare for his leave. Beginning July 1, Kennedy will receive 18 weeks of paid vacation and take 26 weeks of leave as an inactive employee. On Nov. 30, Kennedy will meet with the board, at which time the two parties will discuss his future role at Sarasota Military Academy. Jones said that Kennedy indicated he might choose to go into full-time retirement, instead.
Jones said he was hopeful that Kennedy would be revitalized after taking time to relax and reflect away from the school.
“I think the future of what he’ll be able to do when he comes back, I think that looks pretty bright,” Jones said.
Woody Wolverton was the only board member who did not vote in favor of the agreement with Kennedy, choosing instead to abstain. Wolverton stressed the importance of Kennedy in the school’s history and said he wanted to see the co-founder continue to work with the school in some capacity.
“I think we all feel the same way about Dan and appreciate what he's done,” Wolverton said. “I hope that this satisfies him, and on the other hand I hope he can be a part of this organization.”
Several board members said they felt that, without a clearly delineated leadership transition in place, the reputation of both Kennedy and Sarasota Military Academy could be affected. After reaching this agreement, they were optimistic about the future of both entities.
“We appreciate what Dan Kennedy has done for the school, and this is our way of showing it,” Jones said.
Contact David Conway at [email protected].