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Board candidate Licata sees Medical Campus, other themed schools as leading to careers

Long gone are Buffalo’s steel town and auto manufacturing heydays.

Health care is the industry to focus on now, says School Board member John B. Licata.

That is why he introduced a resolution last summer to develop a Medical Campus High School near the burgeoning Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus for grades 5 through 12.

“As a town, we need to have a focus of quality medical care,” said Licata, who is running in the May 6 election for his second five-year term as an at-large member of the board after first being elected in 2009.

The opening of a Medical Campus High School is one of his goals. It is a way to invest in the neighborhood and in the future of the Medical Campus, he said, and could increase employment opportunities for students who go through the program.

The proposal, which is awaiting state Education Department approval, got a $3.5 million boost earlier this month from the U.S. Department of Labor. The money from a federal government Youth CareerConnect grant will be used to phase in the opening of a Medical Campus High School to replace nearby Martin Luther King Multicultural Institute on High Street, which would be phased out. State officials are awaiting more information from the district before approving the plan.

“The Medical Campus is a mini-city that has to have workers going from one end of the spectrum to another,” said Licata, 49. “There are a great number of jobs that intertwine with the Medical Campus simply to keep it running.”

A supporter of criterion-based schools, Licata favors developing more themed schools – such as a Medical Campus High School and the Emerson School of Hospitality – that focus on job training. Licata can envision Emerson students someday becoming food vendors on the Medical Campus.

He even sees a similar scenario for troubled Bennett High School, which has failed to meet state standards for years. Teachers have been clashing with new Principal Terry Ross, whom the district hired last summer from out of town to turn around the beleaguered school. The state last week rejected the district’s plan to relaunch Bennett this fall as a new school focusing on science and technology.

Licata would like to see Bennett turned into a finance and banking school.

“Bennett can take about 800 kids. Put a 7-through-12 school in there, and you create a financial literacy thread that would lead to accounting, that would lead to banking, lead to an entrepreneurial approach,” he said.

“Expose kids to these environments so kids can see it’s not so hard. It also says, ‘If you want more, it’s out there,’ ”

Even though Licata voted in favor of bringing in Pamela C. Brown as superintendent in 2012, he now thinks she should go.

“Pam came in with high expectations and enthusiasm. On paper she’s great. She has a degree from Harvard. She is bilingual,” he said, but, over time, has demonstrated “a lack of capacity.”

One of his main issues with Brown is how she brought back controversial interim Deputy Superintendent Mary E. Guinn after a contract ended last fall between the district and the consulting firm for which she worked.

Guinn returned in February, just two weeks after obtaining state certification to fill the deputy role, leading some board members to suspect that this was the plan all along.

Keeping Brown onboard would mean risking “another disruptive year,” Licata said.

“Brown is my employee. If you have to learn about your organization from a reporter, what is your response to that?” he said, referring to the Guinn saga. “What if it happens three or four times?”

Licata is against opening more charter schools in Buffalo and says their role should be as “incubators of new ideas” to find out what is working. Then, he said, the district could “get a memorandum of understanding with the Buffalo Teachers Federation,” implement the ideas developed in the charter school “and incorporate that into how we educate kids.”

Licata is the father of children who attend Olmsted and City Honors. He has support from the BTF, Citizen Action and the AFL-CIO.