Major online education provider K12 Inc., a favorite target of critics of the for-profit school industry, has named former Catapult Learning official Stuart J. Udell as its CEO.
Udell replaces Nate Davis, who K12 said would remain connected to the Herndon, Va.-based company by serving as executive chairman of its board of directors.
K12 Inc. has weathered a tumultuous period of changes over the past few years. Its enrollment numbers and overall performance have disappointed investors. This week the company’s stock was trading at $10 a share, down from $16.53 a year ago and $36.78 a little over two years ago.
In 2014 K12 suffered a big blow when the 10,800-student Agora Cyber Charter School in Pennsylvania ditched the private management company in favor of managing its own operations.
That same year K12 rebranded a number of its resources under a separate legal entity called Fuel Education, focusing on “personalized learning” platforms, as well as consulting, teacher professional development, and online courses.
Udell most recently served as CEO of Catapult Learning Inc., a commercial provider of instructional services and professional development, and an operator of schools. On its website, Catapult Learning describes itself as the largest provider of contracted K-12 services in the United States.
In July, Catapult Learning, which provides Title I and dropout-prevention services, announced that it would merge with Special Educational Services Inc., an operator of alternative schools. Combined, the companies said they would serve 300,000 students through direct instruction and proprietary technology programs.
Udell nearly doubled Catapult Learning’s revenue during his tenure, K12 said in a statement. He also worked for 11 years at Kaplan, at one point serving as president of Kaplan K12 Learning Services, building the organization’s school division, according to biographical information released by K12. From 1997-2001, he also served as president of the School Renaissance Institute, a subsidiary of Renaissance Learning focused on training, publishing, and research. He came back to Renaissance Learning in 2012, and served on its board of directors until 2014.
Davis said Udell’s “depth of experience and track record of success in education uniquely qualifies him to lead K12 and continue the progress we’ve made in improving academic outcomes, and preparing a new generation of students to succeed.”
Critics have pointed to the poor academic performance of students enrolled in K12 students on some states‘ tests, compared to those of students enrolled in regular public schools. They have also questioned the organization’s business practices, accusing it of focusing on aggressive marketing and recruitment rather than academic improvement. K12 officials have countered that their schools provide a valuable option for families whose children have struggled in traditional academic settings, and that comparisons between their schools and regular public schools don’t factor in the differences in the populations they serve, or students’ different academic circumstances.
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