“Look at what we’re doing! I’m taking kids who are some of the lowest performing students in the nation and I’m telling them they’re gonna go to college. That ain’t easy. It’d be easier to make a three-pointer from the other free-throw line.”
Hip-Hop Wired returns with the second installment of our interview with educator Dr. Steven Perry. As principal of Capital Prep, he is bridging the gap one man at a time as he ensures that every one of his students graduates and attends college. While the first part of this interview dealt with race relations in America, here he discusses his strict academic approach and how his lessons will carry his students from the classroom to being productive adults in life. Read more on why CNN’s Black In America 2 found him inspiring.
HipHopWired: What is the quintessential difference between your academy and other schools? What is it that you guys do especially to get these students to graduate, to get these students to college? What is the difference?
Dr. Perry: Love and raise our children. We have very talented people that I work with. A lot of folks don’t know how to love our kids and I’m talking about Black and white, don’t get it twisted. Because our Black faculty…many are on my list right now cause their Black assess came late today. They don’t understand that when I got 45 or 50% of my staff that’s white and they sitting in there early in the meetings and they look out and see Black folks not getting here on time, they’re like…So what are we doing here again? You can’t help but notice that.
They’re sitting in the office full of white folks and you look out and the Black people strolling in and you trying to teach Black kids. A lot of times I explain it to these fools, and they gonna sit there and do the same thing. I love them to death but damn man. What is ten minutes? You can’t come in ten minutes early, for real? Whatever you do you can’t wake up ten minutes earlier? Ten minutes! It’s still the same length of time. To me it’s just ten minutes, so hue is irrelevant. It’s commitment and I mean commitment because talent alone…talent is overrated. It really is.
HipHopWired: Talent is overrated?
Dr. Perry: Oh God, yes. In the end, the world is full of great “C” students. The world is full of successful “C” students, they’re just people that work hard. Think of how many people you know that did really, really well in school and they keep going back to school like they’re professional students. Can’t hold a job though, but then you see this guy who you remember and you’re like dang, slow and steady wins the race, huh?
HipHopWired: So it’s not about talent, it’s about what you do?
Dr. Perry: Talent is necessary, but it’s overrated. Talent doesn’t end the discussion, talent is where it begins. I mean if you suck at something it doesn’t matter how hard you work at it.
HipHopWired: (Laughs) True!
Dr. Perry: Give me a microphone and tell me to sing and it ain’t gonna go so well. Give me a microphone and tell me to speak, I’ll rock the house.
HipHopWired: Right. So do you agree that teachers are not valued as they should be in the education system?
Dr. Perry: Good teachers are not but not all teachers need to be valued. Some teachers are horrible, they should not be teachers. They’re horrible. I think that discussion is overstated. The presumption is because there’s nobility in the profession, all teachers are noble. Some of these people are bad people. Even worse, they’re really bad teachers. I can’t tell you how many teachers I’ve heard talk bad about our kids. I mean bad! I had to let the sister go this past year. She said some foolishness, “Oh I’m not subjecting myself to these kids.” Man it was like she was talking about my own biological kids. Are you kidding me? You said that in front of me? And not expect me to rise up?
HipHopWired: How do you find your teachers for your school?
Dr. Perry: Same way everybody else does. We have position openings and because of these sorry unions we gotta hire from within and then you find out they’re in the shape they’re in because they couldn’t get a job somewhere else. Then I say to them, you don’t understand. This is the hardest job you’ve ever had, do you really want this in your life? I’m a jerk; you don’t wanna work for me.
HipHopWired: You’re a jerk? (Laughs)
Dr. Perry: That’s what I tell them. You do not want this. Man, you do not want to work for me. You do not want this. I’ll be here at 6:30 in the morning, you ain’t supposed to be here till 8:15 and I’mma look around and see who’s here and I’m gonna be unhappy that you’re not here. I’ll be here till 6, 7:00 at night and I’m wondering where you are and I’mma like I don’t care but I really do care cause I believe our children really deserve that.
Our youth can’t catch up if we don’t give them the same amount of education as the kids who got a head start. So I’m gonna work you harder than you’ve ever been worked before. It’s gonna feel like your first year of teaching no matter where you are. I ask teachers, are you the best in the world at what you do? If they don ‘t give me a solid answer like yes then I tell them, why should I hire you then?
HipHopWired: So it’s strenuous…
Dr. Perry: It’s gotta be. Look at what we’re doing! I’m taking kids who are some of the lowest performing students in the nation and I’m telling them they’re gonna go to college. That ain’t easy. It’d be easier to make a three-pointer from the other free-throw line.
HipHopWired: Isn’t it true that in Connecticut the Black students are at least three grade levels behind their white peers?
Dr. Perry: That’s true. We have the largest achievement gap in the United States of America.
HipHopWired: Wow, in Connecticut?!
Dr. Perry: Yes ma’am. There’s a greater disparity between the performance of African-Americans and the white children than anywhere else in the nation.
HipHopWired: But why? Why do you think that is?
Dr. Perry: Two reasons. Because the white kids are doing pretty doggone well and Black kids are doing really bad, and because our children don’t get to go to the type of schools that work. The types of schools that work are magnet schools, charter schools, the private schools and where our kids are forced to go to are these raggedy schools. That’s why I say every kid needs a voucher. We all had vouchers. You went to college right?
HipHopWired: Yes I did, Hampton University.
Dr. Perry: Did you receive financial aid?
Dr. Perry: That is a voucher. The federal government said based upon your income, we are going to give you money. I say the same thing should happen in the earlier grades.
HipHopWired: True, so Capital Prep is a yearlong school…correct?
Dr. Perry: Mm hmm.
HipHopWired: So you guys don’t have any breaks? Ever?
Dr. Perry: Oh we have breaks. Couple of weeks in June, couple weeks in August…
HipHopWired: How do you think that attributes to the success of students?
Dr. Perry: That’s what it is. That’s where it all begins. We get more time to develop the right habits in our children.
HipHopWired: Right, so with that being said…how much flack do you get from parents that you’re being too strict? That you’re being too hard on the students…do you get that a lot?
Dr. Perry: There’s always some crazy…usually woman.
Dr. Perry: Talking about “I’m too hard on her little boyfriend or her son,” whatever he is that day. Because that’s what happens, they fall in love with their son. They start dating him…
HipHopWired: What do you mean they start dating him?
Dr. Perry: Meaning that they treat them as if they’re their boyfriend. They tell them they’re the man of the house, they tell them they can stay in their bed, you know…go on dates with them. No other man can come in the house, anything they do they gotta make sure it’s okay with them…they gotta boyfriend.
HipHopWired: So that happens a lot?
Dr. Perry: Oh too much! Too much, too much. Too many of our women are struggling because too many brothers ain’t handling their business but if the brothers were there doing what they are supposed to do that wouldn’t be happening. Now these cats are acting like dogs and not taking care of their kids. That’s not cool either. There are these unequally yoked children, these boys just think they can come in and act any old way. So we gotta correct that, we gotta let em’ know that they ain’t the boss of us.
So we don’t spend much time having these discussions. We discuss things with people who are on the same level, children are not. I tell them all the time, we know y’all want us to (have more breaks, less rules). There’s one in particular that stands out in my mind, she’s crazy for real. I mean for real, just cause you got kids doesn’t mean you ain’t crazy no more.
HipHopWired: (Laughs) So she’s crazy for real?
Dr. Perry: Oh for sure. I mean she knows she’s crazy for real. She doesn’t have the passive aggressive thing, but that doesn’t mean she’s less crazy. She told me that she’s not gonna lead any activities at school. Okay, well isn’t that mighty nice of you to decide you ain’t doing nothing. How about that? Considering that you signed a contract that says you’re gonna do five things. Well I gotta day job…oh really? Tell me about it. ‘Cause noooobody else in here has a job. You know once in a blue moon you get that once in a blue moon. She is the blue moon. The overwhelming majority pass though, I tell them you picked us.
I did not come to your house and say please, please. You picked it! We started it and you picked it. One parent, well former parent, her child no longer goes to this school came in and said, “Y’all got so many rules.” No, we don’t have so many rules, it’s just that all the rules we have are rules. They aren’t suggestions, they’re rules. Like here’s the suggested retail price, you pay what you want. We suggest you wear a tie, you don’t feel like wearing one, no biggie. You don’t wanna do your homework? That’s on you. You’re 12, you should get to make these decisions.
HipHopWired: So I take it you support school uniforms…
Dr. Perry: Oh yeah, our school has straight up uniforms. Our school has formal uniforms. We have blazers and ties. We don’t play with that.
HipHopWired: See I think that’s nice, why do you think people are so against school uniforms?
Dr. Perry: I don’t know. I really don’t. Some of them say it’s because they think the kids can’t afford them. That’s a hard argument to make when a kid’s wearing a pair of $120 sneakers.
Dr. Perry: And they don’t want nobody to step on them and they’re going to fight over them. (Laughs) Like they went out and actually earned the $120.
HipHopWired: (Laughs) Right. So for parents who are interested in getting their child in your school, what is the enrollment process?
Dr. Perry: It’s a lottery.
HipHopWired: A lottery?
Dr. Perry: Yeah, a lot of people think we’re a private school that picks our own kids. We’re a public school. We just whip people’s behinds, that’s what we do. We came to be the best.
HipHopWired: Okay so final question, what drives you to do what you do? Why do you do what you do everyday?
Dr. Perry: That little girl. Can you imagine how much work I gotta put in after that to make her think she’s beautiful. Do you know how many times she’s gonna think that because someone said that about her that I’m gonna think that about her. You know how much work it’s gonna take to get that little comment scrubbed out of her mind? She’s gonna be dark forever. She’s a little heavy, which she’ll likely be forever. It’s her body type you know, she might lose some weight but it’s not like she’s gonna slim out. So coming to work for me is what I do. I love this, I exist with this. I feel like I’m alive when I do this, I honestly can feel my own skin.
Bill Cosby once said that you should do that which keeps you up at night. Do that for a living. I dream about my kids. I look at them and I see the world in them I see that they can be anything. Not anything on earth because everybody can’t be anything, right? I ain’t getting no taller and I’m not getting any stronger or faster. So there’s no professional sports in my life, but they can be something. Something beautiful. I gotta get that little girl through that situation so she’s not with some dude who makes her feel like she has to put up with anything because she thinks she’s ugly and happy to have anybody and then she can have kids and she’s not running around saying or doing dumb things.
Dr. Perry: Those comments put a hole in a young person’s soul. She didn’t deserve that, what am I gonna do? Go make money? Come on’, and that would feel fulfilling? The challenge is to make her know that “she’s beautiful” and that she doesn’t have to be a “beautiful dark skinned girl.” Like we say it like that’s a qualifier. Oh you’re pretty for a dark skin girl.
HipHopWired: Oh I hate that.
Dr. Perry: How about she’s just pretty. So it’s stories like that where how does anyone hear something like that and not want to run to this child’s aid. I can’t. I hear it and all I wanna do is help them. Don’t get it twisted, it’s not like she’s an angel. She did cuss at him, and she hit him with a book too after he called her a gorilla. So I’m not gonna tell you that she’s a sweet angel but she didn’t deserve that. Even as wild as she can be, that’s too much.
To read the first part of this interview as Dr. Perry discusses how African-Americans can’t afford to depend on racism as an excuse for our problems as well as his thoughts on President Obama and Jay-Z, click here.