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Breakfast with Steve Perry

 

100 Black Men of Metro New Orleans recently hosted a breakfast with Steve Perry, CEO of Capital Preparatory Schools, in Hartford, Connecticut. He is a commentator on CNN, MSNBC and a motivational speaker.

Given Perry’s upbringing, it is surprising he has accomplished all he has. His mother was 16 when he was born and he grew up in the projects of Middletown, Connecticut. Despite such adversity, Perry has become a leader who is focused on finding solutions to close the academic achievement gap that face low income minority students in our educational system, specifically young black men.

Our morning began with sipping mimosas and eating shrimp and grits. The standing room only crowd welcomed his candid, yet sometimes controversial viewpoints (Perry is against teachers unions), on the current path of education, why so many schools that educate minority low income students are failing and why his are not.  

Perry talked about visiting all the top ranked schools in the Connecticut area, speaking with their administrators and developing Capital Preparatory Magnet School based on some of their key approaches, but tailoring them to meet the needs of his students.

Perry believes administrators let their egos rule their thinking to running schools rather than having open minds. Education leaders, he said, are not willing to visit high-achieving schools and see how they are succeeding.  The lack of administrators’ interest in visiting other schools so they can be exposed to different models of what can work is a big mistake, Perry said. He also argued it showed apathy towards improving the education of Black males and minority students.

Perry emphasizes five elements utilized in his schools:

 

  • Strong leadership. Empower school leaders to shape staffing and the culture of a school and hold them accountable.

 

  • Recruit the best teachers. According to Perry, an ineffective teacher in the classroom destroys the lives of hundreds of students each year. He stresses to his staff the importance of understanding why they are educators. Perry urges them to teach students as if they were their own children.

 

  • Push students to take challenging classes and to apply to college. Encourage students to pursue honors or AP classes.  Minority students tend to be steered towards lower level classes not because they aren’t capable of handling higher level classes, but because they have been made to believe they cannot. Students are connected to programs such as Upward Bound, which provide students with guidance and mentors through college graduation.

 

  • Real-time data. Continuous monitoring of student progress all day. Checking in on students constantly to gauge comprehension.

 

  • A longer school year. Instead of the standard 180-day school year, struggling minority students need more class time to stay on track and prevent learning loss during the summer.

 
What Perry expressed that morning really made an impression on many of the community leaders, educators, students and parents who were there. Not everyone agreed, but most parents are not interested in those debates. We simply want what works. We are not looking for the next fad to educate our kids, especially our kids in struggling schools. No scientific formulas, no experimental theories on education, just a common sense approach. Looking at what is working in the most successful schools and finding a way for it to be tailored to meet the needs of our children with extra support sounds like a good plan.

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