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Buffalo School Board member urges district to expand Emerson’s successful program

One of Buffalo’s most popular high school programs may soon be able to serve more students, with a proposal to replicate Emerson School of Hospitality.

School Board member Jason M. McCarthy, a vocal supporter of career-focused programs, wants the district to proceed with efforts to expand the Emerson program as soon as next fall. He plans to bring his resolution up for a vote at today’s 2 p.m. School Board meeting, which was rescheduled from last week because of the weather.

Emerson offers a successful culinary program that teaches students professional skills they can take with them into college or the workforce. They take classes in the culinary arts along with their traditional high school courses, and also operate a restaurant that is open to the public on the first floor of the Chippewa Street school. Students prepare all of the food, get practice working the serving line, interact with customers and staff the cash register.

“People understand that when it comes to getting students college- and career-ready, those goals are served at Emerson,” said interim Superintendent Donald A. Ogilvie. “When you put in the restaurant, all of a sudden there’s a transformation piece. All of a sudden, kids buy in to their future.”

Buffalo Public Schools leaders have been discussing the possibility of creating new Emerson schools for the last few years. The need has become increasingly apparent as the number of students who applied to Emerson has steadily grown.

The demand far outpaces the number of spots available. About 660 students applied – more than 2½ times the number who applied for a seat at City Honors School – for a space at Emerson for this school year. But each year the school enrolls only about 150 students.

District leaders are still in the early planning phases, but have talked about the possibility of opening satellite sites on either the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus or in Larkinville.

The proposal comes as the district struggles to offer students seats in high-performing schools that are deemed in good standing with the state. It is in the process of coming up with turnaround plans to revamp three struggling high schools.

A new Emerson would help meet that need, and McCarthy said the district hopes to have the school ready to open in time for the new school year in September.

“There’s definitely a need for additional space for a school like Emerson. We need seats in good standing,” McCarthy said.

“The stars are aligned at this point,” he added. “It’s the right time to do this. It’s an opportunity to grow a program that works.”

The proposal also underscores a growing interest in career-focused programs across the state and country. Earlier this year, the state Board of Regents approved a high school diploma option that will allow students to take a career course instead of one of the Regents courses in global studies.

Although it is still early in the planning phases, there is a possibility the new school would also include a hotel management component. School officials hope that would prepare students for work in what appears to be a growing industry in the region, and allow the school to tap into resources and internship opportunities that exist in the community.

“With the growth of Buffalo as a regional destination, you’re going to need more hospitality direction,” McCarthy said.

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Emerson School of Hospitality had to cancel its Thanksgiving pie sale because school was closed for most of last week because of the snowstorm. Deliverers could not get supplies to the school, and students were not able to prepare pies.

The good news, however, is that customers will have a chance to order pies for Christmas. The school will release information about the next holiday sale in the coming weeks.

email: tlankes@buffnews.com