A wide grin, calm demeanor and a wealth of wisdom made Frank Chester a popular figure around the East Baton Rouge School System’s Central Office.
Chester, the district’s chief operations officer since February 2021, died July 24.
“It’s a big loss for the district for sure,” says Monique Scott-Spaulding, the EBRPSS’ administrative director of facilities. “Everybody respected him not only for his years of experience and wisdom but just his presence. He was a very calming man.”
Those who worked closest to him quickly came to discover it was the little things that made Chester unforgettable, like referring to himself in the third person when asked how he was feeling. “Frank Chester is doing fine,” Keyon Brown, Chester’s administrative assistant adoringly recalls.
Brown goes on to explain that no accomplishment was too big or too small for Chester to celebrate. “He was full of life,” she shared.
Chester’s compassion for children and urban education was evident.
“It was always about the children — always,” says Scott-Spaulding. “He was able to calmly, succinctly, and very eloquently bring us together to be able to have conversations that helped us to look at the big picture, to focus on the children, to be able to execute the goals that we had. That will be sorely missed.”
Education was not the first career path for Chester, a native of West Virginia. After graduating from West Virginia State University, Chester served in the U.S. Army, eventually reaching the rank of captain.
He then worked for several Fortune 500 companies in senior management and executive roles before embarking on his journey into the educational field.
For Chester, that journey to help impact the lives of young people in schools began as the chief human resources and talent officer in the Pittsburgh School System. During his time in Pittsburgh, Chester was honored as one of the “50 Men of Excellence” by the local newspaper.
“Mr. Chester had various amounts of experience in corporate America and also in urban education as well,” Scott-Spaulding says. “He had an incredible way of being able to take a team that was loosely assembled and newly working together and taking that team and bringing words of wisdom and helping us to work collaboratively, and understand the importance of not only Dr. Narcisse’s mission but the tenets of urban education.”
“I leaned on Mr. Chester to help me process through work challenges along with helping me to be balanced,” said Dr. Narcisse, superintendent of the EBRPSS. “Having such a tremendous talent and voice of wisdom will be something I will truly miss.”
Chester was also a career coach and chief human resources officer for public schools in Bridgeport, Connecticut. A member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, Chester also enjoyed fishing and golfing.
Several exemplary words such as “Wonderful, fabulous and patient,” have been used to describe Frank Chester.
“Frank was a man of very few words, but when he spoke, I had to listen” explains Nichola Hall, chief of human resources. “His knowledge of how to manage people was insightful.” Hall goes on to recall how Frank would often say to her, “young grasshopper, be patient and stop trying to triage people’s personalities.” His advice also included what could be considered old-school tactics that yielded optimum results. “Sometimes a simple paper map is the best navigation tool, or an in-person discussion is more effective than a zoom call,” he would say.
Hall cherishes how this advice has helped her grow in her career. “Frank will remain in my heart forever. His quiet but notable presence will be a constant reminder that still rivers run deep.”