Five things to know about Broward County Public Schools’ new superintendent

Howard Hepburn, former deputy superintendent for teaching and learning for Broward County Public Schools, unexpectedly became the new superintendent of the school district on Tuesday, April 16, 2024, after former Superintendent Peter Licata announced his plans to step down.

Unexpected news stunned the Broward County Public Schools community on Tuesday: Superintendent Peter Licata stepped down, citing health reasons, and Howard Hepburn replaced him.

Who is Hepburn, and why did the Broward School Board pick him to lead the sixth largest school district in the country, with about 260,000 students?

We’ve got five quick facts to help you catch up.

1. He likes ‘complex’ environments

In a press conference after the Broward School Board voted 8-1 to name Hepburn the new superintendent, Hepburn said he’s a native of Belle Glade. That’s a city in the western side of Palm Beach County that has historically experienced social challenges and as of 2022 had a population of about 16,700, according to the U.S. Census.

“You guys can look that up and see all of the challenges and complexities of such a small community in probably one of the richest counties in the state,” he said. “We have great teachers, great principals, great mentors. It took a village to really help kids like myself in that community grow up and prosper to change our trajectories. And that’s what I’m here for. I love complex environments, and I want to do the same for the kids that we’re serving here in Broward County.”

In 1985, when Hepburn, 45, would have been in elementary school, the Miami Herald reported Belle Glade registered the nation’s highest rate of AIDS.

According to a 2012 New York Times article titled “Muck City. The Way Out” about how joining the National Football League served as a way for young men to escape the area, the unemployment rate in Belle Glade hovered at about 16% then.

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Also according to the times article, the Palm Beach County sheriff’s office estimated that half of the young men in Belle Glade between the ages of 18 and 25 had felony convictions in 2010.

Asked why he wanted the superintendent’s job, Hepburn chuckled and said: “I love complex and challenging environments.”

“I feel like my contributions are best suited for that — to really impact student lives and to really impact their communities so they can move to greatness. I feel like my skillsets and my knowledge really contribute to that,” he added.

2. He recently joined Broward County Public Schools

Hepburn has more than 20 years of experience in education, according to a school district press release.

He served as a middle and high school principal in Orange County Public Schools from 2011 to 2016, according to his LinkedIn page. He then moved to the Palm Beach County school district as an instructional superintendent from 2016 to 2023.

He joined Broward County Public Schools as the deputy superintendent for teaching and learning on Aug. 1, roughly a month after Licata started his superintendency.

3. He wants to maintain the school district’s current priorities

Asked Tuesday about his priorities for Broward Public Schools, Hepburn said he and Licata have always aligned in terms of vision and mission, and that none of the school district’s priorities will change now that he’s at the helm.

He will still work toward improving academics and “redefining” schools, the term used to close or repurpose schools because of student under-enrollment.

“I am so elated to continue to focus to move our school district to an A,” Hepburn said, referring to the state-issued grade for performance. The state has rated Broward Public Schools with a “B” for about nine years and has yearned to improve since.

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4. He sees Licata as a ‘friend’

Licata and Hepburn appeared to have a close relationship on Tuesday, hugging after the board’s vote and praising each other.

At the press conference, Licata described Hepburn as “smart,” “charismatic” and “very focused on kids.” He said that because Hepburn is with him during most of his days, “this is the easiest way to transition.”

In turn, Hepburn described Licata as “a boss, a mentor and a friend,” and wished him the best.

5. He’s Florida-educated

Hepburn got a bachelor’s degree in science education and a master’s degree in educational leadership from the University of Central Florida. He also holds a doctorate in educational leadership from Florida Southern College, according to the Broward school district.