Baltimore School for the Arts names new director

The Baltimore School for the Arts has named a longtime music instructor to take the helm of the renowned public arts high school, officials announced Tuesday.

A nationwide search for a new Baltimore School for the Arts director ended on the school's campus when its Board of Overseers appointed Chris Ford, current music department head, to succeed director Leslie Shepard when she vacates her post after more than a decade.

Ford began working at the school as a saxophone instructor in 1981 and has served as head of the music department since 1990, according to a release from the school. In addition to 30 years of music instruction at the school, Ford has also headed the TWIGS after-school and weekend program, which provides free arts education and exposure to more than 700 Baltimore students and their families a year.

The Board of Overseers was unanimous in Ford's appointment, after considering 185 applicants. The Baltimore school board approved the appointment at its meeting Tuesday night.

According to the release, Ford said of his appointment: "The school is a dream job. This is what the arts are all about."

Shepard announced in September that she would retire as the school's director at the end of the year — she has been with the school since it was a concept 30 years ago — leaving behind a host of accomplishments, including a $30 million expansion and renovation. In addition, it was named as one of the top five public arts high schools in the country during her tenure.

The school has graduated notable Baltimoreans such as actress Jada Pinkett Smith and was the home to various arts scholars who have graced stages, museums and orchestras around the world. While the school bases its admissions on auditions, it maintains some of the best academics and student scores in the state.

"In my view, no one is better qualified to meet the challenges ahead; more eager to take on the challenge and more hardworking and passionate about the students and the mission of the school than Chris," Shepard said in the release. "He has demonstrated that he is not a status-quo leader."

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