Steve Perry, principal and founder of Capital Preparatory Magnet School in Hartford, Conn., has been in demand as a speaker for several years, mainly because the public school he founded in 2005 boasts of sending all of its graduates to a four-year college or university.
But he also has his share of critics, mainly teachers and educators who find his criticism of them too harsh and unfounded.
He says things like, "if teaching is too hard for you, find something else to do." And, "it's not OK for someone to be in the same building as you and they ain't teaching. The kids can't get that year back." And, "if you are not an amazing teacher, you should not expect amazing results."
Traditional public schools have "failed to meet the needs of all of America," Perry said last week by phone as he was boarding a flight. School systems are more interested in pleasing "those employed by them, not the children."
The U.S. ranked 19th of 30 countries in results achieved for investments made, according to "The Efficiency Index: Which Education Systems Deliver the Best Value of the Money?," a report released in September by GEMS Education Solutions.
That predicament "is not because kids are dumber, not because of money, but because we have a school system that ensures you (educators) can stay there until you are good and ready to leave," Perry said.
"You can't keep giving children dirty water and complain about them being sick."
But those who challenge the system or try to change it are attacked professionally, he said.
Perry has had longstanding disagreements with the teacher's union and more recently with the school board and superintendent in Hartford.
Effective the end of this school year, Perry is stepping down from his position at the magnet school to run Capital Preparatory Schools Inc., his charter management group, as well as a charter school in Hartford and one planned for Harlem in New York.
Perry said he has 4,000 children on a waiting list at the magnet school and no way for them to access the education he offered. He said his school board didn't want to do anything to change that and he couldn't watch the children languish.
"I had a comfortable gig," Perry said. "But our kids need a sense of urgency that they don't have access to right now."
The author and former CNN education reporter will speak at the University of Kentucky on March 10. His presentation, "Saving Our Youth: Revolutionizing Education in America," is free and open to the public.
Lisa A. Brown, director of Student and Multicultural Affairs in the School of Journalism and Telecommunications, which is co-sponsoring Perry's appearance, said connecting with Perry was timely for Lexington.
With the Fayette County public school system searching for a new leader, with the achievement gap widening, and with growing calls in Kentucky for charter schools and more parental choices, the connection was divine intervention, she said.
"Anyone can give an inspirational speech," Brown said, "but I want to move beyond that. What are we going to do after that? I want people to walk away (from the talk) thinking 'what role will I play?'"
Perry said it is time for parents to have more choice in the types of educational opportunities that are made available for their children, especially black, brown and poor children.
"The system is inherently racist and at its core is not ensuring that kids of color or who are poor have access to a quality education," Perry said. "The system is designed so if your little brown behind acts up, we will lock you up."
It takes three times as much money to imprison someone than to educate them, he said.
Vouchers or scholarships to attend private or religious schools should be available, along with charter schools.
"When someone you love is in need of emergency care, you don't ask if it is a Presbyterian hospital or a public hospital," he said. "You don't care. You don't care if the doctor is white or black. You want to make sure whatever your family member needs is what you can get."
Right, but I have spoken with educators who say that taking children out of public schools would harm public schools.
"That is a lie," Perry said. "The equivalent would be that if a hospital has an 80 percent mortality rate, you would be doing a disservice to that hospital if you stopped going there."
Correctly educating our children starts with love, he said, and surrounding them with teachers and administrators who have high expectations.
While we have to make sure parents play a key role, we can't expect parents who came from the same failed Kentucky schools to be able to help with homework in courses they never mastered, he said. "We keep blaming the parents for the failure of the children," he said.
When he comes on March 10, Perry said he is going to "light things up."
"I'm not coming there to do anything but make things happen," he said.
I hope so. Some of our children need more than what is happening now.