Officials at Irondeqouit’s Bishop Kearney High School say they hope a new entrepreneurial partnership with local billionaire and philanthropist B. Thomas Golisano will reverse a trend of declining enrollment.
Golisano, who last year announced a $3 million donation to the school, held a Feb. 13 press conference during which he promised an additional $1 million to fund technology-infrastructure initiatives at the school.
He told those gathered that he’d like the donation used as seed money for technology and curriculum upgrades to make Kearney one of the top centers in the nation for entrepreneurship, leadership and civic engagement.
This business focus extends into a rebranding of the school, as Golisano also announced that the school would be known as “Bishop Kearney High School | A Golisano Education Partner,” or “Kearney | Golisano” for short.
Joining Golisano at the press conference was David Koretz, founder, president and CEO of the local startup BlueTie, which offers e-mail and calendar services to small businesses.
Koretz said technology improvements at Kearney will include laptops for every student, a schoolwide wireless network and interactive digital whiteboards for every classroom so students can automatically get copies of class notes each day. The news was greeted with cheers from the student body. The student cheers were a bit less enthusiastic when Koretz announced that a new extranet computer network will allow parents to monitor students’ performance from home throughout the school year.
The announcement also described several new ways to move classes beyond the classroom walls, including World Wide Web-based computer programs that will allow students to work from home at night and to keep up to date when out sick, and videoconferencing to facilitate distance learning. New technology also would incorporate a school security-system upgrade.
“We believe this will be the most technologically advanced high school in the country,” Koretz said.
Curriculum enhancements will be known as Core Plus, ensuring that such traditional core courses as math, science, English and social studies, including Regents courses, will still be taught, said Donna Dedee, Kearney’s president and CEO. Courses in entrepreneurship, leadership and other real-world skills will be added as electives students may opt to take.
“The plus comes with the integration of real-life lessons and practical business applications,” Dedee said.
School officials said the announcement is tied to pending agreements with Hartwick College and St. Bonaventure University to have Kearney | Golisano students mentored by college undergraduates and to experience a faster college-admissions process at those schools.
Dedee said she doesn’t expect the school to churn out 200 entrepreneurs a year, but that the leadership and business skills taught will have applications in many different corporate settings.
“We do expect that these graduates will think like Tom,” she said.
The school, which was founded in 1964 by Irish Christian Brothers and the School Sisters of Notre Dame, has recently faced declining enrollment, Dedee said.
“We have worked very hard to try to sustain enrollment, and we are always looking for ways to enhance it,” she said.
Golisano said he chose to support the school because it has provided a quality education with limited resources while attempting to control the cost of tuition. Tuition for the 2006-07 school year is $6,900, not including merit and need-based financial aid. Ninety-eight percent of graduates go on to college; Golisano said he’d like that percentage to be even higher and that he intends for the school to become a national educational model.
Golisano said the effort is prompted by the recognition that the work world has changed dramatically. Among the changes are shrinking of borders and boundaries as a result of technology, and the increase in the number of employees at small and medium-sized corporations. Although more Americans than ever own stock, most of which is held in 401(k) retirement-savings accounts, few can understand business financial statements, Golisano said.
“The traditional cradle-to-grave security of corporations is gone,” he added.
Golisano said he intends to be a hands-on contributor as the school develops its new curriculum, which will be in place by September. He said there might be other ways to partner as well, mentioning a possible meeting between the Kearney hockey team and the Buffalo Sabres, the professional hockey team Golisano owns.
“This program will be an economic engine in our community,” said Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks, who spoke at the event.
In a taped statement that was played at the event, Bishop Matthew H. Clark said the school has a long history of quality education.
“Today we are celebrating that wonderful history while teaching crucial skills for our ever-changing 21st-century world,” Bishop Clark said.
One alumnus said he agrees, based on his experience as an account executive, that students need to learn business skills before starting their careers.
“The biggest thing that’s needed is communication skills,” said Brian Garofalo of Fairport, a 1991 Kearney graduate, noting that most new graduates don’t have experience speaking in public in front of groups.
Students who enter Kearney | Golisano as freshmen this September will be the first class to complete all four years of the Core Plus program. New electives will be added in September.
“I think it’s awesome,” said graduating senior Steve Pignata. “I wish I could be a part of this.”
In light of the announcement, junior Caitlin Fager said she’s glad she recently transferred to the school from Our Lady of Mercy High School in Brighton. Mercy has several interactive digital whiteboards that became useful teaching tools, Caitlin said, adding that the technology has a lot of possibilities at Kearney | Golisano.
“I expect this is going to be a great change,” she said.