Steve Perry Speaks About Improving K-12 Education

As part of the Division of Diversity and Inclusion’s Social Justice Book and Lecture Program, Dr. Steve Perry provided a keynote address to over 600 members of the UMKC community.

The audience included UMKC undergraduate and graduate students, professors, parents and even high school students.

The address centered on creating access to high quality K-12 education for all children. Dr. Susan Wilson, Vice Chancellor of the Division of Diversity and Inclusion, began the night highlighting Perry’s contributions to education, including his book Push has Come to Shove: Getting our Kids the Education they Deserve even if it Means Picking a Fight. Copies were available for $15.

Perry also has a reality television show, “Save My Son,” that provides insight for families wanting more for their black male children.

Before Perry began his lecture, Chancellor Leo Morton spoke.

“There’s nothing, nothing more important to our future than taking care of our young people,” Morton said.

Morton addressed the audience with a local business perspective.

“Just look at some of the data,” Morton said. “If you look at the data right here in Kansas City about all of the companies that are projecting growth over the next ten years, think about the kinds of jobs they are bringing to this community. We can’t import all of those people from all over the world. They don’t stay here anyway. We need to grow our own.”

Both Morton and Perry were highly critical of the Kansas City Missouri School District.

“It feels to me like Kansas City has had enough,” Perry said. “While you’d love to win the World Series, you’d be real content with winning the local fight for your children.”

Before the keynote speaker took the stage, a video played with clips his appearances on CNN. Perry is known for placing the responsibility to improve schools on communities and not the government.

“To be a part of a transformational conversation you must first transform yourself,” Perry said.
Perry used an analogy of ruffling feathers to explain how to improve education at elementary and high schools.

“To ruffle feathers means to move the feathers on a bird,” he said. “To make what seemed orderly disorderly. To change the circumstances from what is to what must be. We have to ruffle some feathers.”

One important point was that children in Kansas City do not have an inherent deficiency. He even suggested that a cure for breast cancer could come from one of the children born in the Kansas City Missouri School District.

“I cannot accept that the children of Kansas City are any less intelligent than any children anywhere else in this country,” Perry said. “They are as capable and willing to learn as any other child anywhere else on this earth.”

Capital Preparatory Magnet School, Perry’s charter school in Hartford, Conn., has sent 100 percent of its graduates to college since 2006. What has impressed the nation so much about Capital Prep’s college attendance rate is that most of the students are low-income, minority, first-generation students.

Perry spoke about the challenges of leading these students through an education system that was never designed to educate them.

“The system was never designed to educate African Americans, Hispanics and the poor,” Perry said.
When the closest public school option was failing, Perry suggested sending kids to charter schools that will broaden the dreams of minority and low income students. Fortunately, a new public charter school option will be opening in Kansas City next August. The exact location has yet to be determined.
However, members of the audience reminded everyone of the perceived ”red line” separating good and bad schools in Kansas City. Essentially, many feel there are not many good public education opportunities east of Troost.

Speaking specifically about Kansas City, Dr. Perry stated that the school district needed to identify the good educators and give them access to more kids.

“There’s a teacher-to-teacher disparity in the quality of instruction,” he said. “When you’re providing an education to children you’re telling them, ‘you are somebody.’”

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