Sean Diddy Combs opens a charter school in Harlem: ‘a dream come true’

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Mogul Sean Diddy Combs, who was born in Harlem, is fulfilling his dream of giving back to his community by opening a charter school this fall. Capital Preparatory Harlem Charter School is currently accepting applications for 6th and 7th grade and will add a grade each year until they are at full capacity of approximately 700 students in grades 6-12.

Their website states that teachers at Capital Prep Harlem will be referred to as illuminators and, according to principal Danita Jones, “Illuminators literally … coparent.” This involves calling parents, checking on students’ needs and solving problems in the community. The idea of Capital Prep Harlem is to have all students complete college and, among their five learner expectations, to be empathetic citizens. In addition, Danita said that children who do not have enough food at home would take home a backpack full of food for the weekend.

Diddy is expanding his list of endeavors with the opening a charter school in Harlem, the hip-hop mogul’s native neighborhood. The Capital Preparatory Harlem Charter School will launch for the fall 2016 school year, following his five-year search for educational partners and community leaders, and Diddy says that creating the school is a “dream come true.

“I want to impact the lives of young people in my community, and build future leaders,” he said in a statement. “The first step is offering access to a quality education.”
The school will be overseen by Capital Preparatory Schools’ founder Dr. Steve Perry, who initially founded Capital Prep Magnet School in Hartford in 2005, and will be housed in the same building as El Museo Del Barrio. Diddy and the board have also selected Orlando educator Danita Jones to serve as principal, per a press release. The school’s website states that their mission is to provide disadvantaged Harlem students with skills necessary for college and careers.

[From Billboard]

Just roughly, within the US public school system, a charter school is a tax-funded school but run by an outside organization (i.e. parents, teachers or third party). A magnet school is a tax-funded school with a select group of faculty and generally a specialized curriculum designed to pull students from all over a district.

After what Diddy described as an “exhaustive search” to find an educational partner, Diddy approached Dr. Perry six years ago. Initially, Dr. Perry had no interest in expanding outside of Hartford. He tried to convince Diddy to establish a scholarship or after-school program instead. But Diddy wanted a school and Diddy tends to get what he wants. Dr. Perry is not without controversy as an educator, however. In 2013, he was called out for some inappropriate tweets on social media seemingly threatening the Hartford parents that disagreed with him. When he stepped down in 2014, despite the official reasons given, there were several accusations of inflated success numbers and unyielding leadership practices. Dr. Perry is publicly outspoken in opposition to teacher unions, although I have yet to hear his thoughts on illuminator unions.

I think Diddy is well intentioned. I am not in the NY school system but I know that here in Los Angeles, we have had problems when a magnet model is applied to a charter school. I really hope the school is a success. A new school in any community provides a great deal of hope but we all know how hard a school is to run.

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Photo credit: Fame/Flynet and WENN photos and Getty Images

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34 Responses to “Sean Diddy Combs opens a charter school in Harlem: ‘a dream come true’”

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  1. Gee says:

    As a teacher in NYC, I can tell you the system is so far beyond flawed, it’s broken. Thank God for charter schools because regular public schools are not cutting it in this city. Hopefully his school will really do some good.

    • Hudson Girl says:

      Interesting comment. Can you expand more on what is broken about the current system? What can be done to help the issue?

      • Gee says:

        Literally everything is standardized, including how were able to teach. The kids are only seen as data. DOE is too large and so mismanaged by unregulated administrators who are totally out of touch with what it’s like in the classroom, but still micromanage everything. It’s awful. And they need to get rid of tenure (for teachers and administrative) because all it does is protect the lazy.

      • swak says:

        @Gee, I don’t think you have to get rid of tenure as much as the administrators need to do their job. There is a way to get rid of lazy/bad teachers if they have tenure. The problem I have with getting rid of tenure is that even good teachers are put at risk if an administrator is out to get them, or even a parent doesn’t like them and complains up high enough to get the teacher fired. Maybe there needs to be an overhaul in the tenure system so that it will protect the good teachers but put pressure on those not doing their job to step it up or lose their job. Most of the education system in this country is run by those who have either never been in a classroom or have not been in the classroom in the past 5 years. I have always said each year one administrator at a school (especially high school) should have at least one class to teach – and not a class that has all the top students or has all the unmotivated students in the class. A generic class that contains all types of students.

  2. GoodNamesAllTaken says:

    I greatly admire the intention, and he has lots of ideas that sound wonderful. I like the food for the weekend especially. My only hesitation is the teachers “co-parenting.” I taught an art class for several years in a school for underprivileged children, and one of the things they were emphatic about was this – you are not the parent. The parents are the parents. The parents may be poor, but that does NOT mean they are not intelligent, good parents who love their children, know them better than you do, and have a right to make decisions concerning them without condescension or interference from you. Obviously, there are exceptions, when there is abuse or neglect, but they were very strict about not making the parents feel that their financial struggles marked them as needing help or instruction on parenting. I think you have to walk a line very carefully there. Otherwise, I think it’s a shame that we do such a bad job in our schools that this is desperately needed, but we do, and it is, so all the best.

    • Snazzy says:

      Yes, I’m with you on that.
      I have a friend who’s a teacher in Calgary, and one of the biggest problems she has with parents is the fact that they put the parenting responsibilities on the teachers, instead of understanding their roles as parents. The lines have to be very clear, for the betterment of all those involved.

      Other than that, as long as the school is managed by proper educators and not teaching creationism, some scientology crap or some other nonsense, it’s a wonderful initiative. Education is the key to escaping the cycle of poverty – so good on him for giving back.

      • Pinky says:

        I’m hoping co-parenting means working together and coming up with thoughtful solutions. There are so many hands-off or disinterested or just plain overburdened parents in impoverished households that they need that additional parental help. Rich folks have nannies that do much of the child rearing. Low-income folks who can have someone else help take the stress off the day-to-day grind and worry over where the next meal will come from may just appreciate this effort very, very much. I’m happy about this although, on principle, I’m not a fan of charter schools. However, as Gee said above, the NYC School system is totally broken. These charter schools are temporary fixes and, at this point, temporary is better than letting more kids pass from the cradle to the jail.

        –TheRealPinky

      • GoodNamesAllTaken says:

        @Pinky (TheReal)
        I just think you have to be careful there. Assuming that impoverished households equals disinterested or incompetent parents is unfair and untrue. Sure, it happens, especially where drugs are involved. But disinterested and incompetent parents are in every income bracket. Only the parents should be called parents and only they can provide parenting. A teacher cannot take their place. They can give the student additional support of all kinds, but taking away or “sharing” the role of parent, and assuming that is needed, just because the parents happen to be poor is condescending and adds another “failure” to the already overburdened parent. They should think of another name. Would you want someone else to tell you they are “co-parenting” your child? I wouldn’t. It’s insulting.

    • Sixer says:

      I love this comment, GNAT.

    • swak says:

      GNAT, totally agree with you. I back your statement that impoverished doesn’t necessarily mean disinterested or incompetent. I taught thirty years in the public school system which included desegregation (where city students were allowed to choose a county school to go to in order to get a better education). I would have been very uncomfortable “co-parenting” any of my students. You do not know what their home life is like and you could be going against what their parents believe (unless of course it involves abuse, drugs, or anything harmful and if you had proof were required to report it). I have talked to students and advised them but was very careful in what I said.

    • lucy2 says:

      I agree about the co-parenting – certainly there should be a good relationship between the teachers and parents, but the roles are not the same.
      I hope this goes very well for them, education is everything, and if the school can be a positive force in the community too, that’s great. I hope they have some summer programs too.

    • The Eternal Side-Eye says:

      I would actually disagree with this, though disagree might be too harsh a word. I think one of the issues were seeing develop in schools right now that’s truly harming kids and their ability to learn is that 8 hours a day is just that. Many teachers who have been in unique programs intended to try to reinvent the education system have often come to the harsh realization that their 8 hours a day even with all new equipment, schools, textbook and technology was only making a small dent in the problem. There was a heartbreaking interview I read a while ago about how a teacher watched her class begin with such promise but then noticed children too depressed to do their homework, children without supplies either at home either from poverty or neglect and children struggling with abuse at home. Even one little boy who simply put his head down as soon as she moved to help another student no matter how many times she came back to encourage him. Finally she asked him and he admitted he was sad because his daddy had put a gun to his mommy and he wasn’t sure what was going to happen when he came home.

      The centric nuclear family seems very unique and new to America. Most places have the idea that it takes a village to raise a child because if a child isn’t ultimately fulfilled the village suffers, and indeed it does. So many children go from schools to jail because they are ultimately not receiving what it takes to try to address the specific issue. Some minority and low income children have disastrous home lives, I’m not in favor of snatching them from their homes but I am totally in favor of exploring new ways to address this issue because from my own perspective those 8 hours are ineffectual. There is a reason schools are beginning to implement free breakfasts and meal programs for kids as well as summer camps for self esteem and growth. Helping struggling parents doesn’t mean removing their identity as parents nor making the act of helping something to be ashamed of. If we don’t get to the heart of what is going wrong in these households with these children then we’re not helping them.

      • GoodNamesAllTaken says:

        I’m not saying that teachers shouldn’t be alert for any kind of problem, loving and supportive, or available after the school day or year is over. It’s the title of parent or co-parent that I object to. Can you imagine a scenario in which wealthy parents would be told that the teachers were now “co-parents?” No one would ever imagine doing such a thing. But because these parents are poor, everyone just assumes they are bad parents who need direction. And while I agree that we need to find new ways to address the problems children are facing, is it realistic or fair to expect a teacher to be a parent or co-parent to thirty students? They aren’t trained to address these problems, and as a practical matter, how ever would they? Don’t get me wrong – an involved teacher can make a huge difference in a child’s life. But all poor people aren’t bad parents, and they shouldn’t be treated as such. If a child is in a situation like the one you describe above, then he should be removed from his home. Having a nice teacher isn’t going to help if he’s going home to a violent or mentally ill parent. And I’m all for making sure the kids have enough to eat, as I said before. I just think they should be careful about the assumptions they are making, the expectations they are giving rise to and the responsibilities they are asking of teachers when they use the expression co-parenting.

      • The Eternal Side-Eye says:

        I think some of this comes down to Sean probably not being the most well worded man or perfectly explaining his ides but to me this is one of these issues that simply won’t perfectly mirror wealthy people.

        Rich parents don’t have to worry about someone trying to co-parent with them because they already have dozens of resources at their disposal to supplement their children’s education. Tutors, camps, programs and institutes all to make sure kids born with their foot partly in the door have a leg up amongst each other while many parents from the middle class and down can only depend on those 8 hours to be enough.

        I do not think the automatic assumption is that they are bad parents but I do argue that not addressing that the issue begins at home means we’re working around the issue. We have an extreme and real problem with our current school system. It does slant negatively unfortunately towards minorities and the poor hurting groups that already struggle with basic standards. I imagine to make something like this work you really do have to completely try to reinvent the school system and make sure teachers are able and capable to go beyond the roles they’re used to in traditional schools. I can’t say how he’ll do it or if it’ll succeed but I do think the American school system is not working for many of its citizens.

  3. Zimmerman says:

    I wish him and all the students well. All children deserve a good education and I am glad that he is conveying a message that it should be a priority.

  4. willful ignorance says:

    I agree with the “co-parenting” part but maybe there can be a better word.

    In reality teachers play a huge part in students lives and I can say personally I wouldn’t be who I am today without teachers.

  5. serious says:

    A good way to spend his money, better than basketball teams like Jay Z. Well done Diddy.

    • Katt says:

      Jay-Z has a scholarship called the Shawn Carter foundation.

      Why don’t we let people choose to spend their money on what they want.

      • The Eternal Side-Eye says:

        Or at least know what people are doing with their money before blaming them for something.

  6. Dena says:

    I hope he & his administrators won’t counsel out children who have learning disabilities and/or behavioral problems like so many charter schools end up doing.

    Charter schools can be selective. Your ordinary everyday pubic school cannot.

    • swak says:

      I don’t know a lot about charter schools but if that is happening that is completely wrong. If you are accepting government money then EVERYONE should have the opportunity to go and not be “weeded out”. We have big discussion about vouchers for ‘private schools where I live. While I agree with allowing vouchers, if any school takes any government money then they need to accept all students and not pick and choose.

      • Dena says:

        Some states don’t even require that charter (and Choice) school teachers be certified. Folks can argue back and forth that a certified teacher doesn’t necessarily mean a good or even high quality teacher (and I would agree), but unless flying under an emergency license, public school teachers must be certified.

        And, yes, charter schools feed from the same tax trough as public schools–that’s why so many has popped up. It’s public monies basically going to private interests (investors really). It gets really contentious because charters aren’t required to educate all students.

      • swak says:

        @Dena, thanks for the explanation. I agree, certification does not mean a good or high quality teacher but at least they have had some experience in the classroom (assuming they have done practice teaching). Most teachers in a school know who the poor teachers are in their school. It is truly sad that they do not have to accept all students but take gov’t money.

  7. swak says:

    First let me say that it is wonderful what Diddy is doing. But I hope he truly understands what this endeavor entails. “This involves calling parents, checking on students’ needs and solving problems in the community.” It is a teacher’s duty to stay in contact with the parents and give them updates on the student’s progress. Not sure what is meant by checking on students as it could involve many things. Unless the teachers are living in the community, it would be hard to help in “solving problems in the community”. I see teacher burn out being very high with all these things on their plate. It would, to me, mean very little down time as a teacher depending what is exactly required of them. Again, I know little about charter schools and how they operate. I taught in public schools for 30 years and know that the people who make the policies have not ever been in a classroom or have not been in one within 5 years. I hope Diddy is letting those who have been in a classroom recently help make the decisions (and yes not all administrators have been in a classroom recently).

    • Jen says:

      I agree. And it’s all very vaguely worded so who knows what is really expected except for those involved. I was unable to reply to a comment up further about rich people having nannies and comparing that to more impoverished families have the teachers. Teachers will have 20-30 students. They are paid to teach. And many have their own children and family responsibilities. That is not a fair burden to place on them. However, I could see that being involved means more teacher parent contact, making uninvolved parents be more involved, creating a safe atmosphere for students so that they do have some attention, and assisting parents who need it find the support that will help them (by recommending them to the schools social workers who in turn have those resources). I wish the public schools here could have a clean slate and start over, it’s been frustrating as the daughter of a teacher to see what a mess our school system has become.

      • swak says:

        Agree about helping out as much as possible. I had a girl in my Brownie troop that came from the city for a better education. Every once in a while she would want to spend the night at my house. It broke my heart to tell her no, but my reasoning was that (and this applied to all that spent the night at my house) no arrangements had been made with mom and it was hard to get in touch with mom at the last minute to make those arrangements. Also, if middle school and high school is the same in all states, a teacher will have 20 – 30 students per class with a minimum of 5 classes (most likely 6 or 7 classes) and so will have a total of minimum 100-150 students. I would hope all schools have created a safe environment. I had one student from the city who would randomly come to my classroom, walk around it and then leave. He did this on a regular basis. He didn’t necessarily talk to me or anyone (although I would say hi to him). Sometimes I wondered if it wasn’t a security/comfort thing for him to do. I am passionate about teaching still (retired 11 years).

  8. Dena says:

    At the end of the day, I wondering if he will simply use good teaching practices tied up with an element of social services, similar to Geoffrey Canada’s model, or will he go full out paternalism like this sort of sounds. Theory and practice are two different things particularly where the rubber meets the round.

  9. The Eternal Side-Eye says:

    I understand the point he’s trying to address and I wish him luck.

    The education system in this country is struggling and in many cases broken. I think Diddy is aware of the many interviews and studies that have gone into why certain schools never rise above their lofty goals of trying to help poor or minority students and found a common thread. It’s something I’ve noticed before as well. In the end you’re always battling against the child’s home life and circumstances and in normal teacher-student relationships you’re not really allowed to intervene or invest yourself in your students personal lives. It has come up often enough that I don’t believe it’s any secret and the beaurocracy and red tape of the old school system has been disastrous for the goal of trying to help create a truly functioning thriving school (the amazing story of Mark Zuckerberg and the billion dollars he tried to invest in the New Jersey school system).

    He may not perfectly succeed but I truly believe he’s on the right path. As someone who’s seeing the struggles of schools and how in the quest for safety we went from student guards to police officers who arrest students for minor infractions. Home environment is everything and without stability and outreach you just can not make an effective change. Most students I have seen that failed did so because nothing in their environment wanted to see them succeed. I think with the application process they’re trying to find parents willing to invest in their children’s education and also willing to work with teacher’s when problems arise. I think he’s off to a great start and the next step would be a full summer camp so there’s no drop off point. Good luck Sean.

    • Dena says:

      Schools across the nation are beginning to incorporate two components: social emotional competencies (which might include restorative practices) and trauma informed care/practices (which also might include an element of restorative practices).

  10. Miss M says:

    I hope it works!

  11. Zaytabogota says:

    I think it sounds like a wonderful idea. He cares about providing opportunities to the kids who are from the same area he was from. He knows how important education is and how much is lost when the system fails them.

  12. Lee says:

    I commend Sean Combs for giving back to his childhood community. It appears that he has worked very hard in finding a solution to provide students with the necessary tools for an education and hopefully tools for a successful life. I completely agree with many commenters that discussed the co-parenting issue though. I remember when I was a student and we had art, music and physical therapy. Schools have to return to these programs to expand a child’s mind. It’s a shame as to how the public school systems have changed.