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P. Diddy opens his East Harlem school amid criticism

EAST HARLEM, Manhattan —He's one of the world's most prominent names in hip hop and pop music, and has been known by a wide variety of names, including Puff Daddy and P-Diddy, over his 25-year career, but on Monday, Sean "Diddy" Combs added "educator" to his many titles.

He presided over the opening of a charter school he helped to organize here.  
It's part of a small charter network that's expanding from Connecticut, where it's had both successes and shortcomings, into East Harlem, where it's hoping to have a stronger performance.

The ceremony began after the 176 6th and 7th grade students who make up the inaugural classes of Capital Preparatory Harlem School filed into the auditorium of Museo del Barrio.  The school occupies the fifth floor of the building.

The founder of Capital Prep Schools, Steve Perry, PhD, opened the ceremony. The idea for the Harlem academy, he told the assembled students and dignitaries, "came to me through a person I never met, but always admired, a gentleman named Sean P. Diddy, Puff Daddy Combs!" Perry was met with raucous applause from an excited but compliant audience of mostly black and Latino tweens students.

After stalling for time for a few minutes, the founder was able to finally introduce Diddy, who entered the auditorium preceded by two body guards, like a head of state. The audience of children and dignitaries went wild.

Combs gave out hugs and high fives on his way to the stage, where he proceeded to a transparent lectern. There, he gave a speech from a teleprompter.

"I want Harlem to have the best schools," Diddy read. "The best of everything," he added, in an address about ten minutes long.

After that, Combs had Perry and the school's principal, Donita Jones, join him on the stage for a ribbon cutting.

Diddy largely kept to a script, except when he told students directly from the lectern to do their homework and to get excited about work in class.

The other off-script exception was when PIX11 was able to get close enough to him after the ceremony to ask how he really feels about six years of planning a school finally coming to fruition.

"Instead of me complaining about education," he said, "I want to do something about it. So that's why I'm starting this school."

The start on Monday was big, with the fanfare of its most prominent supporter. However, on Tuesday begins the much more difficult and challenging task of actually running a charter school.

What might make that mission more daunting is the fact that the Capital Preparatory school network has had issues in the past. It was founded in 2005 in Hartford, Connecticut, but that city took back operation of the school following complaints of a high rate of attrition, students leaving for other schools before graduating.

However, of the students who graduated, all went to college.

That mixed bag, Dr. Perry spoke about with PIX11 News. "We've been relatively successful," he said, with overstated humility. "We've sent 100 percent of our graduates to four year colleges. We're not playing. We're not going to back down from that. We are proud of what we've done, but we recognize we have so much to do."

He specifically cited the achievements of Geoffrey Canada and his Harlem Children's Zone charter schools, as well as the Success Academy charter schools, both of which have large, established presences in Harlem. Dr. Canada was in attendance at Monday's ceremony. He did not speak, but Perry said that he was "humbled by [his] presence."

A mixed record review of Capital Prep not only comes from attrition rates and test scores, the latter of which is slightly below average for the Capital Prep network, when compared to all other Connecticut schools. The mixed record also comes from families like that of sixth grader Cameron Louis. He has a commute of 20 miles a day from Queens Village, near the Nassau County line.

Louis's mother said she's optimistic that the commute is worth it, as is the time she put in to deciding to come to Captial Prep Harlem in the first place.

"I listed my pros and my cons," she said in an interview after the first day of classes, "and there were a lot of cons because of the distance, but I thought why not try it?"

"I love my son, and would do anything that's best for him, so I thought, 'I'm gonna give it a shot.'"