K12 Inc. CEO Stuart Udell Resigns After Board Changes His Duties

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The CEO of the major for-profit online education provider K12 Inc., Stuart J. Udell, has resigned his post after the company said that its board decided to “redefine his responsibilities.”

The publicly traded Herndon, Va.-based company announced the shakeup Tuesday. It said that the company’s chairman of the board, Nathaniel Davis, who served as CEO from 2014 to 2016, will take over the post again with Udell’s departure.

Udell’s resignation will take effect on March 2, the company said in a statement.

The company’s board had sought from Udell a “narrowing of his responsibilities” that would have been a departure from the “original scope of his work,” said Michael Kraft, K12’s vice-president of finance, public relations, and corporate communications, in an interview.

Davis will assume the CEO role on a permanent, not an interim basis, holding that position “for the foreseeable future,” Kraft said.

K12 Inc. is one of the most polarizing companies operating in the school space. It is the largest commercial operator of online schools in the United States, but the lackluster academic record of its schools has come under fire in many states. (See Education Week’s reporting on the scrutiny of K12-operated online schools in Indiana, and the company’s political influence, in our in-depth series on shortcomings in the cyber charter world, as one example.)

The company has argued that measures of its performance fail to account for the academic struggles that many students bring with them to their programs. It also says its programs are responding to demands from parents whose children have struggled in brick-and-mortar settings, and from policymakers.

K12 is also a big provider of online courses and curriculum as well as tech-based platforms designed to provide customized lessons to students and data about their learning experiences.

Udell took over as CEO at K12 in February of 2016, after holding executive positions with a number of other education companies. He previously served as the chief executive officer of Catapult Learning, and before that, he was the president of postsecondary learning at the Princeton Review.

He also was the CEO of Penn Foster, a provider of high school and career-oriented online learning, which he sold to the Princeton Review. He spent 11 years at Kaplan, where he built the K-12 school division.

In its statement, K12 officials praised several aspects of Udell’s captaincy of the company.

“Stuart has been instrumental in establishing a strong foundation that will allow K12 to prosper for years to come and we have enjoyed an exceptional working relationship,” Davis said.

K12 officials credited Udell with strengthening the organization and its operations. They said he played a critical role in changing the company’s go-to-market approach for one of its brands, Fuel Education, and brought “critical focus to the student learning experience” through acquisitions and development of curriculum, the corporation said.

Davis said he intended to continue the company’s focus on developing “personalized learning” technologies—a huge focus and omnipresent slogan throughout the K-12 landscape today, as well as the company’s academic goals.

He also said that K12’s board has asked him to look at a “long-term acquisition and business-development strategy that puts our cash to use improving shareholder returns.”

Kraft declined to comment further on the board’s motivations for wanting to alter Udell’s duties, beyond the statement put forward by K12. The change was based on the company’s thinking about its “long-term strategy,” he said.

The company is sticking to the financial guidance it has offered investors for the third quarter and the full fiscal year 2018, Davis said—excluding the impact of the severance agreement for Udell.

The company is “right where it needs to be,” Davis said, at mid-year, in achieving its goals for fiscal 2018.

Nothing about the management change will disrupt the operations or content delivered in K12’s schools, Kraft said in the interview.

“The transition will be very seamless,” he said. “We’re a mission-driven company, and the focus is on educating students…The management team we have in place is very tenured.”

This post has been updated with additional comments from K12.

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