Add Sean “Diddy” Combs to the list of millionaires trying to fix American education. At the charter school the music mogul is opening in Harlem, teachers will be called "Illuminators" and social justice will be key.
Combs announced Monday that Capital Prep Harlem, which will ultimately teach grades 6-12, will open in Harlem this year with a sixth and seventh grade. The school is taking applications for students and staff, both of which Perry said he expects to see jump with the announcement.
The musician is co-founding the school with Steve Perry, a recognized name in education reform who has sparred with union leaders and made TV appearances such as on CNN's "Black in America." Perry founded a public magnet campus in Hartford, Conn., in 2005, and a charter in Bridgeport, Conn., founded in 2015. Charter schools are publicly funded and can be privately operated.
Combs provided office space and staff in New York to launch the school, Perry said. Initially, those staffers canvassed the neighborhood for support. Perry said he hasn't asked Combs to donate his money to the school, and the musician's day-to-day involvement is still to be determined.
Teachers are called illuminators because they're more than just instructors, said Capital Prep Harlem Principal Danita Jones.
“What I did as a teacher was not what illuminators do," Jones said. “Illuminators literally ... coparent.”
That level of involvement includes calling parents every two weeks, setting aside time each day to check in on students' social-emotional needs, helping them identify and solve community problems, and getting them to a four-year college.
Students are expected not only to complete college, but to understand the importance of helping their communities. One student in Hartford created a program that provides students with a backpack filled with food for the weekend if they didn't have enough at home, Jones said. Students must identify a problem in middle school, and work on a "social justice project" throughout high school.
"I want to impact the lives of young people in my community, and build future leaders. The first step is offering access to a quality education,” Combs said in a statement. "All our children should be able to pursue their dreams."
Combs' press release says he chose Capital Prep as the model for his school "after an exhaustive search for the best educational model and partner."
As Perry recalls, Combs stopped him as he was leaving a mutual friend's engagement party about six years ago.
"He said...'No one knows this, but I’ve always wanted to start a school,'" Perry said. They exchanged numbers, but Perry said he wasn't interested in expanding beyond Connecticut.
For years, Perry tried to convince Combs to start a scholarship or after-school program instead. But Combs was relentless.