Riverside Military Academy had a few things going its way in regard to its transition to a new president.
First, the man tapped to lead the college preparatory school in Gainesville for the next several years was no stranger to the military, academic leadership or the academy itself.
“It’s not as complicated as it could be,” said Lt. Col. James Corbin, vice president of enrollment management at Riverside. “He is exceedingly qualified.”
The hiring of retired U.S. Army Col. Stanley C. “Stas” Preczewski last fall from Georgia Gwinnett College, where he had served as president since 2014, was a coup of sorts.
He had served as a trustee for the academy for three years, establishing a presence at the school when the opportunity to lead it wasn’t yet in the stars.
Corbin said Riverside was “sensitive” to the needs of Gwinnett College as Riversie lured Preczewski away, and wanted to make sure he was able to leave there in good standing.
Preczewski was “very much attuned to the strengths and opportunities” at Riverside, Corbin said.
Preczewski served 26 years in the United States Army, retiring in 2006.
His awards and decorations include two Legion of Merit awards, four Meritorious Service Medals and the Army Commendation Medal, among others.
When he was hired, Preczewski told The Times his experience at Georgia Gwinnett allowed him to see what kinds of students K-12 school systems are producing, and his move to Riverside now allows him the opportunity to educate students about what is required of them when they matriculate to a liberal arts college, trade school or the military.
“Leadership at any level … the principles are the same in terms of resource management, allocation, strategic guidance and vision,” Preczewski said. “That’s all the same.”
Preczewski was on a “listening tour” these last few months, learning more about Riverside, its culture and mission, until he finally took the reins March 1.
He has met individually with stakeholders to get a feel for the school’s culture and “hit the ground running,” Corbin said.
Corbin and other Riverside leaders handling the transition described an interim period that saw the academy set enrollment records, add new curriculum and establish new feats in athletics.
As of early March, Riverside was on pace to exceed its all-time record in scholarship awards for a graduating class with $5.9 million already earned by about 100 cadets in 2019.
“We think we’re going to smoke it,” Corbin said.
Every senior on the football team has some scholarship offer to play at the collegiate level, including standout wide receiver Khalid Duke, who plans to attend Kansas State University.
And at least three students will be attending a college service academy, such as the Army, Navy or Air Force, next fall.
That’s about on par with the yearly average, but that speaks to the school’s traditions.
Teaching the art of leadership and responsibility, however, requires staying true to the needs of modern youth.
It’s what keeps the influence from waning “because of the important role (students) are ready to take in their communities and homes,” Corbin said.
In the last few years, the school has focused more instructional attention on science, technology, engineering and math education, and has continued to expand its public speakers’ program.
But school leaders are getting even more creative.
Offered as an elective course, students can receive real-world experience and build independence by learning how to grill a steak, tie a bowtie, escort a woman, change the oil and a tire on a car, read an apartment lease, hang a door, balance a checkbook and exercise phone courtesy, among other skills.
The practical experience is coupled with seminars in leadership and service training, as well as historical profiles that exemplify physical and moral courage.
An evolving video production course is also popular among students, who are given the opportunity to create weekly new shows and long-form features about school and campus life, Corbin said.
“It’s really cool to see what they’re doing,” Corbin said.
Riverside currently has students from 30 different countries and 30 U.S. states.
But, that’s nothing new. It’s just one more reminder of its legacy and traditions.
“Diversity remains one of our greatest strengths,” Corbin said.