Van Henri White is the School Board President for the Rochester City School District, and Chair of the Council of Urban School Boards Association. He is also the Director of the National School Boards Association.
Van Henri White grew up in Rochester, New York. As a child he attended Abraham Lincoln School No. 22, Helen Barrett Montgomery School No. 50 and Brighton High School. After graduating from Brighton High School, Mr. White attended college at the State University of New York at Albany where he obtained his undergraduate degree in education. After a brief career in teaching, Mr. White went on to law school and graduated from Georgetown University Law School in Washington, D.C.
In 1990, Mr. White returned to Rochester, NY, to work as a Monroe County Assistant District Attorney and to raise his family. Two of his children attended schools in the Rochester City School District for kindergarten through grade 12. Both of his children are proud graduates of Wilson Magnet High School's IB Program. Throughout their education, Mr. White served on his children's school based planning teams and various parent organizations.
In 1994, Mr. White left the District Attorney's Office to serve as the City of Rochester's Special Counsel on Crime and Violence Initiatives. In his role as the City's “Crime Czar,” Mr. White was the Mayor's principal adviser on comprehensive crime prevention and control strategies. In that position he did everything from close down drug houses to start ground breaking youth violence prevention and intervention programming like Late Night Basketball, Teen Court and Pathways to Peace.
After leaving City Hall, Mr. White opened his own private law firm where he began specializing in cases involving school safety issues -- the most significant of which was Givens v. RCSD. The successful verdict in the Givens case, involving the only student killed on City School District property, redefined the legal responsibilities of school districts as it pertains to school safety.
However, in 2006, believing that greater change was possible by working within the system, Mr. White ran a successful campaign for a vacant seat on the City of Rochester School Board. Since being sworn in January 2007, he has served as an effective change agent in the areas of school safety, graduation rates, truancy, lead poisoning, and addressing racial disparities in special educational placement and out of school suspensions.
Having served as Board Vice President for two non-consecutive terms in 2008 and 2013, Mr. White was elected as Board President in 2014. Since becoming Board President, White and his colleagues have redefined the role of School Board member. Convinced that decades of failure was caused by their own occasional passivity, the Rochester City School District Board of Education has taken a more proactive approach to solving the District most challenging problems.
In 2014, Mr. White was elected Chair of the Council of Urban Boards of Education. During his tenure as Chair, CUBE has had an unrelenting focus on "equity, excellence, and unity in public education". For Mr. White and his fellow CUBE Steering Committee Members this is more than a slogan. Over the last two years CUBE has conducted several conferences, webinars, and now, using next generation technology, CUBE has convened a yearlong class on civil rights which gathers students from across the country into one digital classroom.
Even though his work on the school board and CUBE consumes a good amount of his time, Mr. White maintains a thriving civil rights law practice. That practice has Mr. White as busy in the courtroom as he is in the boardroom. His successful efforts in civil and criminal courts have resulted in the release of persons who were wrongly convicted; acquittals of persons who were falsely accused; and multi-million dollar civil judgments against public institution and private corporations who use their power to abuse or neglect our most vulnerable citizens.
Much of this legal work is conducted out of the 4,000 square foot Center for the Study of Civil and Human Rights Laws (CFSCHRL). In addition to serving as his law office, Mr. White purchased and restored this property to serve as a museum on civil rights and human rights. In 2010, Mr. White added the Civil Rights Museum of Wheels (the same make and model transit bus that Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat) to his civil rights educational arsenal. The Civil Rights Museum on Wheels has traveled across this country educating young and old alike on our nation's amazing civil rights history.
Mr. White has combined all of his classroom, courtroom, and boardroom experiences to author two books. In his first book "Frustration in America" he discusses the challenges faced by men of color from the school house to the jail house. In his second book, "Marching Forward by Looking Back: The 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington", White gathers the powerful and thought provoking remembrances of 50 persons who participated in the 1963 March on Washington.