Deion Sanders' Bitter and Violent Quest to Retake Control of His Crumbling Charter School

Deion Sanders' Bitter and Violent Quest to Retake Control of His Crumbling Charter School
Tami Chappell/REUTERS/Newscom

Sure, he was a celebrity, and sure, the school was named after him. But from where Vera Cole sat, Mr. Prime Time couldn't have been more down to earth.

Cole was the academic counselor at Prime Prep Academy, the controversial charter school co-founded by NFL Hall of Famer Deion "Prime Time" Sanders. She worked long hours in the front office at the campus in southern Dallas, a run-down building that doubles as a church, scheduling classes for students. With a salary of $42,000, she made more money than Sanders himself, whose only official role was football coach.

"Hi, Miss Cole," Sanders would often greet her, sweetly. He was always cordial, Cole says, at least toward her. His temper was well known, but she hadn't experienced it firsthand.

D.L. Wallace and Sanders introduced the school to hopeful parents in 2012.
Patrick Michels
D.L. Wallace and Sanders introduced the school to hopeful parents in 2012.
Board President T. Christopher Lewis led the ouster of the principal parents loved.
Mark Graham
Board President T. Christopher Lewis led the ouster of the principal parents loved.

Details

Until October.

There was a staff meeting. Sanders wanted to know why Prime Prep's Dallas campus was underfunded. He thought the lower school, in Fort Worth, was getting more money. And he wanted answers from Kevin Jefferson, the school's chief financial officer.

"I want you to hear this. You in the back," Sanders yelled, according to Jefferson. "Why can't we get what they have in Fort Worth?"

Jefferson claims he had no idea what Sanders' gripe was. He asked him to elaborate, but Sanders kept yelling: "This is my name on the school, my kids." Jefferson stood up. Facing each other, Sanders grabbed him by the collar and pushed him against the wall, Jefferson would later tell police.

About a week or two later, a Dallas Police Department detective visited Cole at her office. She related what she witnessed on the condition that word wouldn't get back to Sanders. (She declined to discuss the details with the Observer, only indicating that she saw some sort of confrontation between the two.) There were other administrators in the office that day, people who saw her cooperating with the investigation, but she trusted her coworkers not to gossip.

Not long after, Sanders was back in Cole's office. He talked to a student, like he'd so often done before. Then he looked at Cole, glaring silently.

"I was like, 'OK, maybe he had a bad day,'" Cole says.

But things only devolved. Sanders stopped greeting her, and soon parents seemed surprised to still see her there. "I heard you were getting fired," they'd say. Sanders was "out to get" her, they said.

She went to Shelley Robinson, the Dallas campus' principal. Robinson suggested she have a one-on-one conversation with Sanders. Cole refused. "Why would I have a conversation with someone who gets very emotional and reactive when they're upset?" she says.

She developed a sinking feeling that Robinson was not on her side. "At first she was like very neutral, but towards the end, she was not. She was like Team Deion." (Robinson did not respond to multiple messages left with a secretary and an email.)

A few days before winter break, Cole went home early. She told Robinson that she felt as if she was being bullied, and it was making her feel physically ill. Not long after that she got a phone call. It was from a parent in Las Vegas, where Prime Prep's basketball team was playing in a tournament. "I heard you got fired for real this time," the parent told Cole.

The parent repeated word for word the conversation Cole had earlier had with the principal about feeling sick and bullied. All the coaches knew, the parent said, and Sanders knew, too.

Technically, Sanders didn't even work at the school at that point, having been fired by the school's superintendent after the alleged assault on Jefferson and other incidents, all of which had only added to Prime Prep's reputation as supreme mess and a stand-alone argument against charter schools. But Sanders and his supporters were not going to let some no-name educators boot him from the school — and, more important, the teams — bearing his name. He was on a quest to re-take the school, leaving behind frightened former employees, numerous assault allegations and a lawsuit accusing the school board of conducting its business in secret.

They would come for her eventually, Cole figured. But for the moment, she held onto hope.

"Not to my knowledge," Cole said into the phone. "I'm not getting fired."


Thirty miles away from Cole's office, in Fort Worth, parents and teachers at Prime Prep's lower school would have had little clue that the leadership team of their school was about to crumble if they hadn't been watching the news.

Sanders is rarely seen on that campus. The poached athletes, the news crews, the reality television cameras — that all happened in Dallas. The Fort Worth campus managed to stay out of the fray. Parents preferred it that way.

"We don't want our children on television," says Sabrina Franklin, who has three kids at the school. "We don't want our children displayed like zoo animals."

According to parents, the Fort Worth campus seemed to operate under the control of D.L. Wallace, who co-founded the school with Sanders in 2012. Soft-spoken where Sanders is loud, dressed in tailored suits while Sanders came to school in sweats, Wallace gave an air of someone important, sleek and quietly powerful. "You could tell he was corporate America," one teacher says.

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17 comments
skelton.michael
skelton.michael

This article gives you a full understanding of why Mr. Sanders is such a spiritual man. It's because he knows that if God hand't blessed him with such speed and athleticism, he would probably be a trustee of a different sort of institution.

Fred-dorfman76
Fred-dorfman76

Not only should the school be shut down, CPS should take away custody from any parent who was dumb enough to send their kids to this pseudo school.  Even if you buy the premise that Deion is in it for the kids, you have to concede that he got in way over his head.  Putting together a school is not like putting together a football camp Deion, you dumb fucking jock. 

docharleyday1
docharleyday1

This poor guy has received nothing but bad from everybody he has attempted to help. Nobody understands what he's trying to accomplish, and they take advantage of him and refuse to cooperate fully. He has a lofty vision that transcends the ordinary Joe Blow, and when people he's taken in to get on his team don't do a satisfactory job for him he's going to let them know it. He wants results, he wants effort, he wants dedication, he wants honesty, and he's just not getting it from the people he's paying. Who can blame him for being upset? Anybody who has put his whole life into something this important would be upset. We are only getting a biased picture from those who have not done their job as he wants them to do it. Remember, he has a side also. I've never seen him in my life, but from everything I've read about him I think he's an unusually great guy.

smichaelclark591
smichaelclark591

This is not a Charter School and should be shut down.  Those of us that live here in the Southern Sector are sick of this shit

gordonhilgers
gordonhilgers

I am certain Ms. Silverstein is fine with a pen, but she doesn't have to use pink construction paper, nor does she have to grind that brassy pen fit to score the sheet.  Honestly.  I am not happy with Silverstein's lead. 

For one, Ms. Silverstein, you left out the most important aspect of Deion Sanders' professional career: absolutely masterful athlete, so damned top-drawer he did not even have to try.

Simply because Sanders used his muscle and mind to defeat most of the National Football League even on a bad day, putting him in a "stadium of a frustrating social condition" simply to prep herself, Ms. Silverstein seems to have deliberately forgotten how Sanders became a master of a sport that, while most professional sports no longer interest me as they did when I was younger, is hard-core and one hell of a better hobby than buying cole slaw at KFC from some dude that wears a Colonel Sanders goatee as if goatees are some kind of joke. 

I deeply respect Deion Sanders' willingness to bring charter schools to South Dallas, the area typically ignored by white power in Dallas, left to the "car seat on the porch" syndrome, a bit of social commentary so masterful it is amazing the white-boys cannot even dream about what that may mean: 

How does, "We are not getting in your damned car!" sound, Ms. Silverstein?  Is that a strong enough statement here in regard to you labeling Deion Sanders first of all "a celeb"? 

Here we are, people, almost 70 years since Rosa Parks and her intently competent friends decided to drive the Southlands to show Mississippi, Alabama and all the other Eddie Haskells in "th' hood" how "goin' down South" actually feels, and yet here we are still, having to put-up with "writerly recklessness" in regards to a man who is working hard to make something happen for some of the poorest people in one big doughnut of a city. 

I'm still wondering when The City of Dallas is going to take my suggestion and park some huge, orange dumpster trucks right in the impasses that allow Highland and University Parkies out of the doughnut hole to wreak havoc in Dallas for "crappie and giggles". 

That is a suggestion.  Sometimes you have to put a steel dog chain halter on the ponies and lead them to the paddock when they refuse to do it their own damned selves. 

barron50
barron50

This school gives other Charter Schools (great ones too) a bad name. 

This school should be closed or if D. Sanders is all about the kids them make it a private school and he can fully fund it with the money he was blessed with. 

Let TEA do a Full investigation.

Blackman2day
Blackman2day

Long story can be shortened to this:  2 crooked con men with no education and no experience educating kids wanted a charter school.  Their primary motive was money!  Free, taxpayer money!  They got a State Senator (Royce West) and the Education Commissioner (Robert Scott) to push the application through, even though the application was filled with lies and deception and fraud.  After the school opened, and the money started flowing, their greed continued to grow.  Each wanted more and more, and each wanted more than the other.  An exorbitant salary wasn't enough for one, and a TV show with an undisclosed  amount of money wasn't enough for the other.  Their greed had no bounds.  They turned on each other and began accusing each other.  But the truth is as from the beginning, both are con men.

Blackman2day
Blackman2day

@docharleyday1 Deion is not paying anyone anything.  Period.  The taxpayers of Texas are paying these salaries... including Deion's.  Deion has never contributed one dime to this school.  He and DL Wallace submitted a list of corporate donors (financial backers), but this turned out to be a made-up lie.  Deion doesn't care about result, effort, dedication, honesty or any of the other virtues you listed.  Deion wants MONEY!  Deion wants to inflate his ego!  Deion want to enlarge the façade of Deion being a good guy!

benwellsstreet
benwellsstreet

Yea it's super great how he chokes his employees...

Blackman2day
Blackman2day

@gordonhilgers Wow.  You must be a Deion sniffer... you talk just like him.  Makes no sense at all!  You're trying to sound intelligent, but you don't possess a full understanding of the words you are using.  So it all comes out as gobbly-gook.

wcvemail
wcvemail

@gordonhilgers Did you take a nap after all that? If so, I hope your dreams weren't as confusing as your post.

wcvemail
wcvemail

@Blackman2day That ringing sound? Oh, that was Mr. Blackman2day hitting the nail on the head.

Cowtown
Cowtown

@Blackman2day Pretty much business as usual in the Dallas African-American community. Too bad that it spilled over to Fort Worth.

 
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