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Rochester School Board President to Convene Advisory Committee to Explore Proposed Military Academy

Rochester School Board president Van White
Rochester School Board president Van White

Rochester School Board president Van White will soon be announcing the appointment of a special advisory committee to explore the idea of a full-time military academy for high school students in the city school district.

White calls this one of the "bold ideas" he wants the board to consider in 2016 after the district has struggled for years with low test scores and graduation rates.

White sees a military school as an opportunity to open doors that are often closed to children in an urban setting.

"You can go into the military and you can become an electrician, a doctor, or a lawyer through JAG. There are so many opportunities that can occur, even if you don't decide to make a career out of the military," he said.

White tells WXXI News that individuals across the county from a wide array of professional backgrounds have tentatively agreed to sit on the panel. He expects the committee to submit a report within 45 days after they begin working.

Part of what they will consider is what the formation of a military academy would cost the district.  Another potential obstacle is buy-in from whichever branch of the military would be asked to participate.

White visited the Western New York Maritime Charter School in Buffalo about 90 days ago. According to a recent report in the Buffalo News, that school has the highest attrition rate of any charter school in Buffalo. Roughly one out of every four of the school’s students were either expelled, suspended or withdrew last year.  The school has a graduation rate of 85 percent.

White said he hopes that if a military academy is proposed for Rochester, it would be a traditional public school rather than a charter school. 

White, who was chosen unanimously Monday night by the school board to serve another term as president, said the district has had poor results for decades because, "We have essentially done business the same way year in and year out and we've gotten the same result. It's kind of like Einstein's definition of insanity. I'm calling on this board and interim superintendent to be bold and take risks, informed risks."

One of those risks, White said, should be consideration of a management partnership for a school at the elementary level, like the current arrangement between the district and the University of Rochester to manage East High School.

He has been talking to a "high profile organization" in New York City about a possible sponsorship of such an arrangement for one of the lowest achieving RCSD elementary schools.

"If this works, if these conversations I'm having with these folks work, you and the rest of this community would say, 'Wow!'  This is really gonna excite our understanding of our capacity to provide the best educational opportunities for our children."

White said if such a partnership is formed on the elementary school level, a series of best practices could be developed there and at the secondary level through the East High EPO (Educational Partnership Organization), and used by other schools in the district.

The school board president is not convinced that Rochester schools should or will be losing students.

He wants the district to test in the next month or two a smart phone app that could be used by parents, "That allows (them) to find out if their kids are in the classroom, find out what grades they're getting, find out when the next basketball game is, find out when the chess club has its next meeting. These are the kinds of things that can excite folks and stop the hemorrhaging, and in fact, bring parents back to our district."