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Celebrity Charter School and the Making of a Prime Time Scam – Part 1

A businessman and a bishop used Cowboys' Hall of Famer Deion Sanders' name to drum up interest in a charter school. Then they tried to score from the deal. By Leslie Minora Thursday, May 3, 2012

 Above was the story headline on May 3, 2012. This blog is Part 1 of a three-part reality drama that would have been interesting to watch closely if it were a TV series; sadly, it is a real life, devastating, stunner.  We bring this information to the community because it is informative and instructive.  Recently in Connecticut we have had some charter school stories that have caused concerns. Some of us have been alarmed by the lack of oversight by the State Department of Education of some charter school operators and management companies.  As parents, educators, community leaders and concerned citizens we all want to see children thrive and be adequately prepared at every level of academics.  Every parent wants to see his/her child succeed.  The hope that parents hold out for their children's success is sometimes capitalized upon and even exploited. This story about "Prime Prep" is particularly instructive for reasons which will become clear as we bring you the remainder of the series.

On a Thursday evening in February (2012) parents and kids piled into the pews of a barren brown-brick church on East Ann Arbor Avenue in Oak Cliff. This wasn't a religious service, but there would be preaching, and the adults in the room were focused intently on the man at the pulpit: former Cowboy and NFL Hall of Famer Deion "Prime Time" Sanders.

This steepled building was the planned home of "Deion's school," as it's often called. Officially it's Prime Prep Academy, a charter school scheduled to open to students from sixth grade and up in August. A campus in Fort Worth is scheduled to open at the same time.

Sanders wore a determined face, and his presentation was made even more grave by his deep, raspy voice and lingering silence at the end of sentences. "We're not up here playing," he said, fighting an enemy who was not immediately obvious. "We're not up here lying. We're not up here falsifying. ... Because we're not trying to sell you anything, because anything we present to you is absolutely free.

"The technology you're going to see is free," he went on. "The after-school program that you're going to hear about is free. Everything we present to you is ab-so-lute-ly ..."  "Free!"

The crowd was finishing his sentences now, and the room reverberated with parental hope. In this neighborhood, and ones like it across Dallas, any alternative is an alternative worth exploring.

"Everybody in here is dealing with something, but we're in here for one common goal, and that's our babies," Sanders went on, hinting that there might be people out there who didn't share that goal. "Just in case someone is in here to show up, that man" — he pointed to a big dude in back — "is going to escort you out, and we'll have other people scattered throughout the audience strategically placed, just in case you want us to focus on you. We've got some players in the house.

"We do understand," he said, "and we do underscore, there's some folks in here who came for the wrong reason. But I don't care, I never did care, and I really, really don't care, because I know my goal, I know my mission, I know my calling, and I'm right where I want to be. This is not about one dime for me because I'm not making a dime off your kids; they're getting this for free. Do you understand what I'm saying? This is not about me whatsoever."

It was a lovely sentiment, just what parents need to hear. But like other Prime Prep declarations, it would prove shaky. Aided by one nagging watchdog, journalists had by then raised the first of several red flags about the school, ranging from nonexistent corporate donations to blatant moneymaking schemes orchestrated by its founder, who even tried to lease the school property for profit. Meanwhile, not long after Sanders' this-isn't-about-me pledge, news would surface that he was in talks to star in a reality show about his role at Prime Prep.

What that role is remains unclear. He's described as a co-founder on Prime Prep's online "history" page, but his name doesn't appear in any official capacity in documents relating to the school, and he's not on the board of directors. Whatever his role is, and whatever missteps the school has made, the parents he preached to were ready to turn their kids over to "his" school.

"This is so fabulous," a woman in the audience said, verbalizing the promise that filled the room. "It's unreal. I can hardly wait." 

“Prime Prep's Dallas campus, at that church building on Ann Arbor, will serve sixth to 12th grades; its Fort Worth campus will serve kindergarten to fifth grade. Both campuses will cater to inner-city students seeking an alternative to traditional public schools, and each can accommodate as many as 750 students.” Bear in mind - this is "absolutely free."

 There is more to this story; you can read it here:

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