Part of why Steve Perry has a national reputation as an educator, as he said himself, is that he bluntly criticizes unions and school systems for losing their way.
But when he speaks to some of the minority or disadvantaged parents he has tried to inspire, he said, he can be blunt then, too.
Perry, a Connecticut school principal and a national commentator on cable television and radio talk shows about education, will speak twice in Wichita this week.
His first talk on Friday will concern school choice and charter schools. His second talk, on Saturday, will concern mentoring and educating people coming out of prison, said Peggy Elliott, mentoring coordinator for the Urban League of Kansas.
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In those talks, he said, he will likely make a case that school systems long ago forgot what they were built for.
He spent hours recently, he said, with four other school administrators “all making about $120,000 apiece,” addressing complaints from a teachers’ union that his Hartford, Conn., school had kept teachers on duty for an extra seven minutes a day watching over kids as the parents picked them up for school.
That dispute, Perry said, meant that his staff dealt with that issue for more than a day rather than educate children – and will likely mean that his Capital Preparatory Magnet School in Hartford will have to cut a week of school to placate the union. Schools these days “capitulate to labor” instead of focusing on children, he said.
Perry founded and runs Capital, a public school that says that 100 percent of its graduates go to college. Most Capital students are from minority populations, he said.
Elliott said Perry is known nationally from TV appearances and has been criticized.
“Some teachers’ union people don’t like his views, and yet some do,” Elliott said. “Some teachers for the Wichita school district have contacted me, and what I appreciate is they are at least coming to hear what he has to say.”
But when he talks to parents, including minority parents, he also talks tough, he said.
“I spoke to a black church in Memphis last Sunday,” he said. “I told them that there was a time when you could argue that the reason black children didn’t get a proper education was there were no black people in authority.
“But now you are the butcher, the baker, the principal, the superintendent … so who are you going to blame now?
“Setting curfews, having a structured home, setting up an appropriate place and time in your home to do homework all are key. And if you value education, people ought to see it in your deeds – and it is your children who ought to see it.”