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Executive Q&A: Rob York enjoys helping students achieve

A native Californian, Rob York worked for Oklahoma City-based American Fidelity Assurance Co. before joining Advanced Academics 10 years ago.
by Paula Burkes Published: October 14, 2012

To Rob York, it almost seems as if his roots and different career branches have led him to his current position as president of Advanced Academics — an Oklahoma City company that offers round-the-clock online courses so overachievers and would-be dropouts can climb their own trees of knowledge, on largely their own terms.

York's parents, and York himself, would have been candidates for such flexible, custom-made alternatives, he said. His mom was in her last semester at Columbia University, studying to teach English and Spanish, when the Great Depression cut her college, and dreams, short, York said. His dad — though smart — bucked structure, so he never graduated from high school, he said.

Meanwhile, York was a sort of dropout himself, fleeing midway through high school to a rural town whose school had limited curriculum, he said.

Advanced Academics — which was started by two teachers in Ponca City 12 years ago and acquired four years ago by Chicago-based DeVry Inc. — partners with hundreds of school districts in Oklahoma, Minnesota, New York, California, Washington and 25 other states to deliver to tens of thousands of sixth- through 12th-grade students one-on-one online instruction in core and higher-level math, social studies, science and English courses. Students can study from their personal computers, laptops, smartphones or iPads wherever there's Internet connectivity and whenever, York said. Peak hours are 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., he said.

The company, which has annual revenues of $20 million, employs 185, 145 of whom are based in its Bricktown offices, he said.

York, 57, recently sat down with The Oklahoman to talk about his professional and personal life. This is an edited transcript:

Q: Can you tell us little about your ancestry and childhood?

A: My dad was from the West Coast and mom, the East Coast. They met after she relocated from New York City to San Francisco to take a job as a legal secretary with a corrugated box company, where my father worked as a salesman. I was their only child. I started high school in Oakland with 3,000 kids. I played every sport and all my buddies were black; 85 percent of the school was. But, prompted by my father's drinking problem, I decided to leave home at age 15 and move 125 miles north of San Francisco to rural Middletown. I lived with teachers I'd met in summer camp, and graduated valedictorian in an all-white class of 18. My experiences at the two very different schools, urban/black and rural/white, gave me a balanced view of the world that I still hold today.

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by Paula Burkes
A 1981 journalism graduate of Oklahoma State University, Paula Burkes has more than 30 years experience writing and editing award-winning material for newspapers and healthcare, educational and telecommunications institutions in Tulsa, Oklahoma...
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Position: President, Advanced Academics

Birth date: Aug. 4, 1955.

Family: Barbara, nurse and wife of 33 years (they met as summer camp counselors before his senior year in college); daughters Carly Sowecke, 27, of Laramie, Wyo., and Kasi York, 25, of Camden, Maine.

Education: San Diego State University, bachelor's in recreation administration with an entrepreneurial emphasis.

Board member: The Clemson, S.C.-based National Dropout Prevention Center/Network. Of students who start ninth grade, a whopping 35 percent drop out before graduating, York said.

Pastimes: Reading (reference books captivate him), golf (he has a 10 to 12 handicap), hunting (he and his 3-year-old drahthaar, Buddy, crisscross Oklahoma hunting everything from ducks to dove, fly fishing in Colorado and Wyoming, and travel (he and Barbara have journeyed to Lithuania, Greece and elsewhere to cheer for Carly in world rowing championships).

Dream dinner party guests: Phil Mickelson, Larry Bird, Will Rogers and a few founding fathers whom he'd question about their intentions and whether those aims are being met today.


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