Angry principal tweets: ‘Strap up, there will be head injuries’

That’s not a tweet that any school principal or teacher who I know could publish and keep their job, but for Steve Perry, the out-there founder and principal of the public Capital Preparatory Magnet School in Hartford, Conn., it was just another day on Twitter.

Perry is a school reformer in the scorched-earth camp of Michelle Rhee, and has a Web site that identifies him as “America’s Most Trusted Educator” and notes that  his “heart pumps passion and produces positive change,” and that he is “the most talked about innovative educator on the scene today.” He is the author of  the book “Push Has Come To Shove: Getting Our Kids the Education They Deserve — Even If It Means Picking a Fight.” He is a  traveling partner with Rhee, a vitriolic union-basher, a prolific speech maker  and an even more energetic tweeter (he’s put out more than 31,000). His Web site also says he is a CNN and MSNBC contributor.

The tweet above was one in a fusillade that Perry unleashed after the majority of the Hartford Board of Education on Tuesday rejected a deal, supported by Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra and the school board’s chairman, Matt Poland, to allow Perry to stop being a public employee and run the public school, along with a second school, through a nonprofit charter management company that he founded and for which he serves as president. The Courant reported that Perry is listed in state corporation records as president of Capital Preparatory Schools Inc., registered in February 2012. The organization is also listed on Guidestar, an online information service specializing in nonprofit organization, as being at the same address in Hartford as Capital Preparatory Magnet School.

Perry originally started Capital Prep as a charter school, but  it became a grade 6-12 magnet school in the traditional public schools system because, he has said, he didn’t have enough resources to do what he wanted as a charter. He adopted a year-round school calendar along with a tough “no excuses” operational approach that some parents heartily support.

Perry’s Web site says: “Capital Prep has sent 100% of its predominantly low-income, minority, first-generation high school graduates to four-year colleges every year since its first class graduated in 2006,” though critics say that characterization shades the fact that the school has a high attrition rate; for example 35 percent of the students in the class of 2011 who entered as freshmen did not reach their senior year, according to a New Jersey teacher who authors a popular blog under the name of Jersey Jazzman and who has been writing extensively about Perry.

Perry is at least as well known for running a school as for making inflammatory statements about things he doesn’t like, especially but not exclusively teachers unions. For example, he said the following this year at a forum hosted by the  Minneapolis Foundation and co-hosted by Minnesota Public Radio, as reported by the Perry-friendly Education Action Group Foundation:

“I know in polite company, you’re not supposed to talk about the unions,” Perry said. “But I will. I know you’re here. I hope you hear me, because I’m tired of you. Every time you fight to keep a failed teacher in a school, you’re killing children, and that’s not cool.

“Every single time you make a job harder to remove someone who is simply not educating, and everybody in the building knows they’re not educating, you’re killing your profession, you’re killing our community and you’re making it harder on yourselves.

“It’s high time we call the roaches out and call them for what they are. I’ve been to too many cities where the excuses pile up, one on top of the other. You know what happens with those excuses? They kill our kids.”

His appearance drew heated criticism and praise, which you can read about here.

The vast majority of Capital Prep’s students come from low-income families, but as Jersey Jazzman has pointed out repeatedly, the school serves fewer students from families living in extreme poverty than do most other Hartford high schools, as well as fewer students with disabilities and fewer English Language Learners. It is also a magnet school, meaning that everybody has to apply, suggesting that they come to the school with some desire to be in school. Here are some of Jersey Jazzman’s graphs, and you can see more here.
perry graphic 1

 


 


 

Why is this relevant? Because Perry talks about having found a school reform model that is replicable around the country. But how can he know that if he isn’t working with the population of students more typically found in Hartford public high schools?

Perry talks a lot about being raised in poverty by a teen mother who gave birth to him on her 16th birthday, and about his impressive climb out. The biography on his Web site says:

Perry believes that the success of a life is determined by where you end, not where you start. It is this philosophy that inspired him to transform the lives of poor and minority children by providing them with access to a college education.  Dr. Steve Perry is a strong advocate of personal and civic responsibility in all aspects of life. He emphasizes the social issues that aim at building up both the individual and the community so that the next generation can be better contributing members of society.

It sounds good, but there are huge questions about his path to getting there.

Meanwhile, Perry keeps sounding off when the mood suits him, as Jonathan Pelto,  a former member of the Connecticut House of Representatives who now provides commentary on politics and public policy at his blog, Wait What?, consistently reports.  Assuming Perry didn’t mean to be taken literally with his “Strap up, there will be head injuries,” nonsense, his comments still beg this question: Why do his bosses allow him to say things that would get just about anybody else fired?

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.

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Valerie Strauss · November 21, 2013

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