Capital Prep Op-Ed By Jamil Ragland

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According to a story published in the Hartford Courant, Capital Preparatory Magnet School admitted at least ten students into its student body outside of the random lottery system, which is supposed to ensure a fair chance for all students to gain acceptance into magnet schools in the city.

In other news, water is wet.

People have been sounding the alarm about Steve Perry, the founder and former principal of Capital Prep, for years. I have spoken publicly about the the veracity of his claims and message on several different occasions. Former Capital Prep teacher Ebony Murphy-Root has spoken out about Steve Perry and Capital Prep multiple times.  Jonathan Pelto of the blog Wait, What? has an entire archive chronicling Perry’s and Capital Prep’s malfeasance. Even the Washington Post has covered the negative aspects of Perry’s tenure with the infamous “head injuries” tweet.

It comes as no surprise to us, or anyone who has really taken the time to follow Perry, that Capital Prep cherry-picked students to build its educational and athletic dynasty. It should also come as no surprise to anyone who critically thinks about the proposition that 100% of ANY randomly selected cohort would do anything as specific as applying and being accepted to four year colleges, especially a randomly selected cohort of public school students with different talents, affinities and desires. Even the self-selecting nature of a college preparatory high school can’t produce those gaudy numbers without cooking the books. Now the evidence exists that Steve Perry and Capital Prep were doing exactly that. The question is, with so many red flags going back over so many years, why did it take this long for the state and the media to turn an investigative eye on a phenomenon that was always too good to be true, led by a man whose personal flaws were on display from the very beginning?

Yet there’s more than just the belated revelations about Steve Perry in this Courant article. I don’t put it past Steve Perry to break the rules and take students through other means for a second, but he didn’t have to break any rules. After all, Perry and Capital Prep were empowered to admit students outside of the lottery by the school’s operations plan. As the Courant notes,

The operations plan, obtained by The Courant, states that access to Capital Prep “is open and voluntary to all students. To ensure fairness in the selection process all students are placed in a lottery and drawn to gain admittance to the Capital Prep.”

The plan also states: “In special circumstances the [school’s Governing] Board extends the opportunity to the principal to place a student.” The special circumstances that would warrant placing a student are not explained.

Public officials have denied that there’s a back door to placement in lottery-based magnet schools, when there has been one all along. As a parent whose child was denied entry to Hartford’s magnet schools twice, this information angers me far more than the fact that Perry used this end-around to aggrandize himself and his school.

When my son was entering the first grade in 2013, his mother and I spoke at length about our options for his education. We decided to enter him into the magnet school lottery system when we learned that his neighborhood school placement was Sarah J. Rawson Elementary School. I’d worked in the school as a reading tutor, and after several interactions with the school’s staff, I wasn’t comfortable sending him there. We entered him into the lottery, and waited with fingers and toes crossed until we received a phone call in late August. Gabriel was number six on the magnet school waiting list, and number one on the Open Choice busing list. Our options were to accept the busing appointment, or take our chances and wait to see if he would move up to number one on the magnet school list in the two weeks before school started. Where was he going to be bused to, we asked. Ellington, we were told.

I was a part of Project Concern when I was in the first grade, the predecessor of the Open Choice program. My appointment placed me in Simsbury. I took the bus for forty minutes to attend the almost all-white Latimer Lane Elementary School. It was not an experience I wanted my son to have, but our options were limited, and time was running out. We’d been given four days to make our decision. The one thing both his mother and I were sure about was that we didn’t want to send our son to Rawson, but it seemed liked too much of a risk to pass up a busing appointment in the hopes that he would move up the magnet school list in time. Yet that’s how the numbers played out; we agreed to the busing placement and accepted that the odds hadn’t been in our favor.

I’m angry to now find out that there has always been another way to get placed into a magnet school, not because I wanted that option for my child, but because I believed in the lottery system. Don’t get me wrong- I’ve long thought it’s problematic that educational opportunity was left up to random chance, but I at least believed that the chance was indeed random, that no child was getting a leg up on another. It was an imperfect solution to the seemingly intractable problem of segregation and poor education in Hartford’s schools. That faith in the blindness, the fairness, of the lottery system is what helped me to get over the disappointment of not being selected. Now, I know that I, along with thousands of other parents whose hopes were similarly dashed, have been lied to.

Capital Prep was not the only school to admit students outside of the lottery system; they were just the worst offender. I’m very interested in reading that auditor’s report the Courant referenced when it’s released, and then there will be an even bigger question to answer: how do we trust the fairness of a system which has clearly not been fair? I’m not the only angry parent that the Hartford Public Schools will be hearing from in the weeks and months to come.