Consider the modern classroom and its array of tech-driven resources. Things like smartphone apps, tablets, podcasts and Chromebooks. A tap here, a swipe there, and the teaching and learning continues in earnest.
But when Larry Shepard started his first job in West Aurora School District 129, only one tool was required for him to complete that day’s assignment.
“November 22, 1971,” Shepard recalls of his first day touching up D129 facilities. “I remember that day vividly, like it was this morning.”
Fast-forward 47+ years – 33 of which were spent in dean of students and assistant/associate principal roles, all in West Aurora schools – and you’ll still find Shepard deeply engaged with the Aurora community.
He currently serves as coordinator of the Fox Valley Park District’s Employee Development Transition Program, which supports nearly 20 individuals across several Park District locations. This unique program – promoting social equity, inclusive community and opportunity for all – is offered to students in the East and West Aurora, and Indian Prairie school districts’ Secondary Transitional Experience Programs (STEPs); members from the Association for Individual Development; Fox Valley Special Recreation Association; and developmentally challenged residents in the community.
“You know,” says Shepard, “this position certainly is an opportunity that provides me contact with people I’ve been associated with my entire career: students and educators, alike.”
His devotion, commitment and passion haven’t gone unnoticed. In fact, those qualities have resonated all the way to Aurora’s top. On Feb. 22, Aurora Mayor Richard C. Irvin presented Shepard with the 2019 Mayor’s Lifetime Achievement Award – a prestigious honor presented annually to a longtime African-American leader in the community who has committed his/her life to service and has paved the way for others to do the same.
“Larry Shepard has devoted decades to students and families in Aurora,” Mayor Irvin says. “Raised on Aurora’s west side, he went on to become an iconic educator in West Aurora School District 129. Even after retirement, he continues his community advocacy through the Fox Valley Park District. Larry sets a new standard for service we all can emulate.”
Shepard – a 71-year-old devoted husband of 43 years, father of five and grandfather to 12 – was humbled by the recognition.
“You don’t go into your career expecting accolades like that,” says Shepard. “And who would’ve thunk it when I was walking the halls at West High? Or painting them?”
Following his graduation from West Aurora High School (Class of ’66), and four years of enlistment in the United States Army, where he served on the military police force, Shepard earned degrees from Waubonsee Community College, Aurora University (then Aurora College) and Chicago State University.
So, from 1971 to 2019, what in education has remained largely unchanged?
“The kids, the students,” Shepard says. “They’re eager to learn, they want discipline and guidance. They don’t always show it, but they want that.”
And the message he has for today’s educators?
“Get to know the student – it’s so very important,” Shepard says. “School is their safe haven and they just naturally look for leadership. I tried to know the skateboarders, the kids standing across the street on ‘smokers’ corner,’ the heavy metal fans, the athletes, the theater students, the band members and cheerleaders … I tried to know them all. I tried to get to know their inner person and let them know I cared about them individually.
“My biggest reward is when former students come up and say, ‘Thanks, Mr. Shepard.’ That’s my paycheck.”
If you know someone who might benefit from the Park District’s Employee Development Transition Program, please contact Larry Shepard at (630) 966-4509 or firstname.lastname@example.org.