| Follow Us: Facebook Twitter Youtube RSS Feed

Features

RapidChat: Dr. Andre Perry

For nearly ten years, ‘home’ to Dr. Andre Perry was in New Orleans. During that time he met his beautiful wife, started a family, became a ‘Community Coffee’ celebrity (as he likes to call it) and produced many pieces of work that were vastly inspired by the connections he made during that time. While his initial transition to Grand Rapids was bittersweet, Dr. Perry reminds himself that “home is not necessarily where you live; home is what you stand for" as he serves as the founding dean of urban education at Davenport University.
Dr. Andre Perry

For nearly ten years, ‘home’ to Dr. Andre Perry was in New Orleans. During that time he met his beautiful wife, started a family, became a ‘Community Coffee’ celebrity (as he likes to call it) and produced many pieces of work that were vastly inspired by the connections he made during that time. While his initial transition to Grand Rapids was bittersweet, Dr. Perry reminds himself that “home is not necessarily where you live; home is what you stand for" as he serves as the founding dean of urban education at Davenport University.
 

Rapid Growth: Last July you were officially announced as the Founding Dean of Urban Education at Davenport University. How are you feeling about your position now that you have almost come full circle in your first year?
 
Dr. Andre Perry: The most challenging aspect of innovation is addressing the invariable response, “this is how we did it.” There’s a lot of tradition in teacher preparation that ties people to an institutional culture that should change to meet other’s needs. I feel like I’ve made significant headway in that gatekeepers in teacher preparation programs have moved from “this is how we do it” to “where do we go from here?”  
 
RG: Your program received a $200,000 grant from the Steelcase Foundation last year for a proposed Master’s program in collaboration with Grand Rapids Public Schools. What is the current status of that?
 
AP: The proposal did ultimately lead to the development of the masters program, in which we received the approval from the state of MI education April 2014. It is set to launch on October 29 of this year.
 
The particular resources we received were used to develop and establish the curriculum. The hallmark of the program really is doing what educator John Dewey talked about decades ago. Dewey said, “education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.” Davenport University prepares teachers by doing. By placing candidates in the classroom from day one, we build the capacity of the school and students. While it’s important to find good teachers, it is much more important to make sure communities thrive. Innovation should drive towards the greater good of community.
 
When I came on, I made it clear that I had no interest in making another teacher training program that the districts and the state didn’t need. I wanted something that spoke to and developed with the community. My role as dean is to constantly remind people that it isn’t about Davenport or higher education, it is about building the capacity of a better community. There is so much talk about education, but so many programs forget about the care factor. There is nothing more innovative than care. I am going to make sure that our program at Davenport is always going to develop quality programs that address a need and serve the community well in an ethical and caring way.
 
RG: How much impact do you feel that our urban schools have on the growth of Grand Rapids?
 
AP: Well, there are two different folds. We often forget schools are industries, which hire a good percentage of our middle class. In addition, those dollars are used, hopefully, to support our city. We need to hire people that share the same fate with the Grand Rapids area.
 
 In addition, schools are longitudinal developers. You don’t really get to see the fruit of schools until the student is at a working age of about 25-30. Again, the school systems themselves are a major part of the workforce. That’s why we need teachers that are a part of all segments of the community. If there is a segment that is missing, you are missing key economic and social drivers of that community. We need teachers everywhere to share their personal and financial gifts to other Grand Rapidians.
 
RG: Is there any way local businesses can invest in their community to help out these urban schools, as well?
 
AP: First we need to educate our community - education doesn’t just happen at schools. Whoever we are, whatever position we are in, we are all teachers. Businesses, churches and local organizations can all apply a curriculum to a student that wants to learn. We can’t have the perspective that schools and universities are the only means of educating our youth.
 
Furthermore, we are all taxpayers of some sort. We should know who’s on our school board and demand accountability for our schools since a fraction of our money is going towards them. Too many people do not do so because they don’t have children, or they send their kids to a private school. They have no idea what is going on in public schools. But, the fact of the matter is, a majority of our students and citizens will be enrolled in public schools. Employers will come from here. Workers will come from here. We need to pay attention with what is coming from them.
 
RG: You were involved in urban education for quite some time in New Orleans before you moved to Grand Rapids. In what ways has your involvement here been different?
 
AP: It was a complete demographic shift. Grand Rapids has challenges in terms of diversity. For example, we need to be more conscious about our employers having a climate that is welcome to hiring those of color, and we need to own up to these challenges so we can welcome these individuals. Otherwise we will lose people.
 
Also by comparison, there were many more people of color that were in positions of power. They were relevant in the downtown environment, which highlighted the diversity of the city. It was not uncommon for people of color to own a company, become mayor, or achieve financial success. I am not sure if that is the case here in Grand Rapids.
 
Overall, we need to make our organizations more attractive and sustainable. That is the next challenge for a lot of the folks in Grand Rapids. If we really want to be a forward city, we need to be an inclusive city. We are not there yet.
 
RG: What do you believe are some key things people can put into practice to make this happen?
 
AP: For one, we should have key performance indicators that include diversity. If no one is accountable for creating diversity, it’s never going to happen. If it is not included in our conceptualization of quality, it never happens.
 
We need diverse, anchor institutions that create a climate, which cater to the needs of multiple groups at the same time. We need to truly assess what the various groups deem as important for their respective community.  What one group may consider a hallmark, another may see as a barrier. There are programs that we deem wildly successful, but in actuality, they are not. We need to hold ourselves more accountable for diversity.
 
We have to do a lot more than the given if we want to keep the best and brightest in our city. Young people expect to be inclusive and interactive. Blaming people for not coming downtown is not the answer. Those who are already there must make conditions attractive enough for others to come and stay in Grand Rapids.

Jenna Morton is the RapidChat correspondent for Rapid Growth Media.
Signup for Email Alerts
Signup for Email Alerts