Deion Sanders overlooked the crowd from his seat at a long table, positioned in front of the altar at Charity Church in East Fort Worth at last night's town hall meeting for his latest venture, Prime Prep Academy, a charter school he says will have campuses in both Fort Worth and Dallas.
The Charity Church campus at 4400 Panola Ave. is Prime Prep's future location; the Dallas school will be at 330 East Ann Arbor Ave. in Oak Cliff, where the second town hall will be held tomorrow night. The locations are solid, Sanders' business partner, D.L. Wallace said -- that is, unless some very generous benefactor decides to give them a beautiful new alternative. And unless Sanders and Wallace's former partner gets the Texas Education Agency to throw up a few roadblocks.
In the brief moments when he wasn't speaking, Wallace sat beside Sanders in front of the altar, along with two others who are helping them to get their charter school project, Prime Prep Academy, up and running. Sanders' potential future disciples, here to learn more about the school scheduled to open in August, lined the packs rows of pews.
"I pray to God that your kid gets here to Prime Prep academy," Sanders said, starting the night with a prayer. "It's going to be so wonderful."
Wallace was the main preacher of the night, and a charismatic one at that, leading the crowd through a demonstration that was much like a pep rally. He started with a few facts. "There are no costs to go to Prime Prep Academy," he said. Open enrollment begins March 1, and there are 750 student spots available at each of the two campuses.
Several parents voiced frustrations with the Fort Worth school district as part of their basis for attending.
Much of the night centered on the plan to give each child a free laptop, which will be used extensively as a learning tool through VSCHOOLZ, which outfits and customizes classroom technology. Wallace touted the program for engaging children and helping teachers to be more efficient with grading and recognizing trends if a certain questions are missed by a large group of students. Additionally, he said, parents will be able to view test results immediately after they're posted.
Sanders piped up during one of several question-and-answer sessions staggered throughout the presentation: "I have a question, how much is that laptop?"
"It's free!" Wallace responded. The crowd cheered.
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Sanders joked that his own children always say they did great, no matter what. But with the digital grading system, he said, "They won't lie now!" The school is an outgrowth of Sanders' summer athletics and education program, TRUTH.
"Our first commitment as an organization is to your child," Wallace said. "Your child is somebody, and when they're here, we're going to reaffirm that." Speakers at the town hall said the school will offer free healthy meals, free after-school tutoring and extracurricular activities.
One local resident asked where all the money is coming from, to which Wallace responded that while the school's offerings are free to students they aren't anywhere close to free overall. State education funding and donations from corporate partners will allow them to keep the computers charged and the lunch line supplied, Wallace said, adding compliments after each of his responses. "Excellent question," "fantastic question," he told audience members to the point of caricature. One man in the audience muttered, "Every question is excellent?"
"We always felt like the inner-city students deserve just as much as everybody else," Wallace told Unfair Park after the town hall. "But it was about how do you actually make it become a reality."