Top educator, CNN contributor Steve Perry says Ky. has ‘failure factories’

By Joy Priest

Steve Perry is the principal and founder of Capital Preparatory Magnet School — a school that boasts a 100 percent college acceptance rate for its students.

Perry, a CNN education contributor, was invited by the Student Activities Board to speak about “Education in America.” When he visited UK Thursday night, he did not hold back on what he thought of Kentucky’s educational system.

“I didn’t come all the way out here to have a light conversation … I came to discuss the challenges you face within the Fayette Co. and Kentucky school system,” Perry said standing on Memorial Hall’s stage. “Ninety percent of black students are only in 10 of the 176 school districts that you have — why? You don’t let black people move?”

Perry’s maintained his bold demeanor the entire evening, at one point telling the crowd “I don’t care if y’all laugh at me, I have a round trip ticket.” Perry said he had done his research on Kentucky and proceeded to read off some statistics.

“Less than 1 percent of African American boys in Kentucky are ‘advanced’ on your state exams,” Perry said. “So let me explain to you what less than 1 percent is … nothing.”

Perry said there was a big disparity between the African American population in Kentucky and their counterparts. He made the case that 36 percent of Kentucky’s prisoners are African American, while they make up only 7 percent of the population.

“A school’s purpose is to educate; if it doesn’t educate, it’s not a school,” Perry said. “You have failure factories in this state and money is not the issue because you are spending half a billion dollars to lock them up.”

He said the inmate population in Kentucky was greater than the population of students at UK, and that Kentucky spends three more times to lock someone up that on a college student. He used an analogy UK fans could understand.

“African Americans are 40 points behind white students in Fayette Co. Schools,” Perry said. “Rumor has it y’all like basketball … would y’all want to be losing by 40 points?”

A student’s race is not a factor in his or her ability to learn, the responsibility is the educator’s, Perry said.

“Children become their environment,” he said, explaining that good schools make students feel good and give them a sense of purpose. “I don’t believe that someone can be taught to teach … the lowest GPAs are often in the education schools. It’s not okay to be average and be an educator.”

Chioma Anosike, a masters student in UK’s education program said the most valuable advice Perry gave was “when he demolished the excuses teachers use.” She said “I taught it, but they didn’t learn it” is an unacceptable attitude for educators.

“Teachers need to figure out another effective way to reach students,” Anosike said. “Teachers should not rest until students get it.”

Anosike said the largest issue within the American education system is that privileged students stay privileged.

“It’s really hard for an underprivileged student to break into those networks, or simple things like having the same book or a healthier menu.”

Perry said he was about “education revolution” and not education reform.

“The only way you get access to a good school is to win a lottery … how disgusting is that?” he said.

The Capital Preparatory School’s success in getting all of their high school seniors accepted is in “our approach,” Perry said.

“We sit down with every single senior and we sit down with them for 30 minutes and we ask them every single thing we can think of,” Perry said. “We look at their GPA and their SAT scores, and we literally act as their agents. We get on the phone … invite schools to campus. I’ve had many a shouting match with an admission person.”

Perry said it’s a very meticulous process and he’s had “many a shouting match with an admissions person,” but…

“Every single senior at Capitol Prep will have an acceptance letter by the end of the year,” he said.