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Strong leadership, career orientation make Emerson a model for city schools

There’s no doubt that the Emerson School of Hospitality has found academic success, unlike so many other Buffalo schools. The remarkable achievement by Emerson’s leaders is generating great interest among students across the city. So much so that in recent years there were 600 applications for only about 125 slots.

It was a formula worth replicating, and now it has been. As News staff reporter Jay Rey recently wrote, 130 freshman culinary students moved into an old elementary school in South Buffalo rechristened Emerson Annex@28.

That will be their home for the next couple of years while the Buffalo School District is busy with plans to build a second Emerson to follow in the footsteps of the original facility on West Chippewa Street. The district recently sought requests for proposals with an eye toward developing a new or existing building in a high-traffic area with a big base of potential customers, possibly in Larkinville or the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus area.

Emerson began as an annex on Chippewa more than 15 years ago when Principal James G. Weimer Jr., then a teacher, grew it out of the now-closed Emerson Vocational High School on Sycamore Street. The hospitality program has been a big hit with diners at the restaurant inside the school. Students prepare all the food and serve it to the public for breakfast and lunch. They also are in the business of catering and handling banquets.

And not lost in the vocational program is the education students are getting.

Emerson achieved an impressive 85 percent graduation rate in 2014, compared with the district’s abysmal 55 percent graduation rate. The fact that 80 percent of the students are minority and a quarter are special education students shows that determination and the right formula can make a difference.

The district is answering demand for hospitality training by expanding Emerson. Next up should be an effort to replicate Emerson’s success in other career fields. “It takes time,” Weimer said, “but the idea that you can get the young people to come to school for something other than sitting in a classroom all day is the difference maker.”

Not every Emerson student is going to go into the hospitality business. But that interest in hospitality is getting students through high school and setting them up to succeed in life. Some students may very well graduate straight into hospitality or other jobs. Others may head on to college. Whatever the next step, Emerson has created a winning recipe for its students.