Interview with Educator Dr. Steve Perry (Part I)

Dr. Steve is founder of Capital Preparatory Schools which included Capital Prep Harlem and Capital Prep Harbor in Bridgeport, Connecticut. He also founded the Capital Preparatory Magnet School in Hartford, Connecticut.
Dr. Perry has been featured on MSNBC, Fox, CNN, Al Jazeera, TV One, BET and NBC as well as on the Oprah Winfrey network in multiple shows.

Terrance Jackson: What would you like people to know about Capital Prep Harlem?
Dr. Steve Perry: I would like them to know that it is a year-round college preparatory grade 6-12 school with a theme of social justice and the expectation that every single child that graduates will go on to a 4 year college.

TJ: What was it like working with Sean “P Diddy” Combs?
SP: We still work together, so it’s good. It gave me the opportunity to have somebody that I deeply respect from another industry. Learn from some of the things that he’s done to build out his organization and to provide for the community. And to be able to share what it is that I learned as it specifically relates to children and how we have grown our model to support the community.

Dr. Steve Perry

TJ: What do you see as the purpose of charter schools?
SP: The purpose of charter schools is to provide another option to families who don’t have them or those who do. Primarily, we provide another option for families with children from historically disadvantaged populations that have been failed by their neighborhood schools in some cases.


TJ: You are a big advocate of high expectations and the Education Innovation Laboratory at Harvard University identified five “tenets” of high-performing charter schools in New York City – practices that collectively explained approximately 50% of the variation in school effectiveness. They are:
  • an extended school day and year,
  • the use of data to drive instruction,
  • devotion to high-quality human capital,
  • a culture of high expectations, and
  • small group tutoring.
What are your thoughts on these five tenets?
SP: Not only do I agree with them, we do everything that we can to make sure that we implement them.

Roland Fryer

TJ: In the same study, they found that input measures associated with a traditional resource based model of education – class size, per pupil expenditure, the fraction of teachers with no teaching certification, and the fraction of teachers with an advanced degree – are not correlated with school effectiveness. Would you like to comment on these findings?
SP: That is absolutely true. The teachers’ unions want people to think that what drives students’ performance is how much you spend on children, which is not true. If that were the case, then we should all children to prison because that where we spend the most amount of money on children. They also want people to believe that it’s the size of the classroom, where in fact that’s not true. They are using an outdated study that specifically talked about a very small group in Tennessee. It’s not been found to exist as an indication of quality anywhere else.
The fact is that that most of us who went to college, went to college classes in which there was as many as 700 students in one class, in one lecture. Then, of course, teacher quality is not driven by a certification. Certification is no indication of whether or not a person is a quality instructor. Any more than a driver’s license tells us that a person isn’t going to drink or get high and get behind the wheel; isn’t going to crash a car because they’re on their cellphone.
Haven’t read that particular study that you are talking about, that Harvard study, but hearing you read an excerpt in that way; I would agree with what I understood of what you read.

HCZ Promise Academy

TJ: Charter schools employ a wide variety of educational strategies and philosophies. For instance, the Bronx Charter School for the Arts believes that participation in the arts is a catalyst for academic and social success. The school integrates art into almost every aspect of the classroom, prompting students to use art as a language to express their thoughts and ideas. At the other end of the spectrum are a number of so-called “No Excuses” schools, such as KIPP Infinity, the HCZ Promise Academies, and the Democracy Prep Charter School. These “No Excuses” schools emphasize frequent testing, dramatically increased instructional time, parental pledges of involvement, aggressive human capital strategies, a “broken windows” theory of discipline, and a relentless focus on math and reading achievement. What educational strategies and philosophies are employed at Capital Prep?
SP: At Capital Prep, the expectations are that we have to learn from the best that we have seen from charter, traditional, private, home, and on-line. We are a hybrid. Our goal is to create the best academic experience that we know at this time in the international education conversation.
Do we test? Yes. Do we use arts? Yes. Does discipline matter? Yes.
Is it just the act of disciplining or is it the act of being disciplined. They are different. The act of disciplining is the adult correcting a child. The act of being disciplined is practicing, much like a pianist does or any artist does.
The difference of many of those people often seen as just being “No Excuses,” they’re not without love. They’re not a monolith within the school. Even within a school there’re variations to how people actually respond to what the rules are, as is the case with every type of school.

John Taylor Gatto

TJ: John Taylor Gatto was named New York City Teacher of the Year in 1989, 1990, and 1991, and New York State Teacher of the Year in 1991. Are you familiar with his work?

The Underground History of American Education

TJ: He wrote The Underground History of American Education where he explained that our schools were designed to produce consumers, bureaucrats and factory workers. Today, in schools, children are still being taught to behave like machines through methods such as high-stakes standardized testing. Yet tomorrow’s high paying careers requires that they must be as unlike a machine as possible: creative, critical and socially skilled. How does Capital Prep address this issue?
SP: The first part of the statement I completely disagree with. I think that we take the notion of a test and we want to make it seem like an inherently a bad thing. Without looking at what these assessments are. We’re not looking at the fact that many of these assessments are simply trying to inform instructors, parents, administrators, and children themselves of what is that they know and need to know to be able to be a creative thinker, who can express her ideas in a written word and in mathematics, in the arts, and beyond.
We don’t look at the assessments in the way in which we should. It’s again because they get bad press because they’re often connected to our own bad experiences or ill feelings. That part, I fundamentally disagree with what you said, he said. I think it’s an overplayed hand work when it comes to conversation of education.
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