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Kanye West opened a private Christian school in a conservative Los Angeles suburb in November 2021.
In addition to daily worship services, the choir and sports-focused school offers parkour classes.
Tucked away in a conservative suburb of Los Angeles is a small, Christian school offering an unaccredited education the owner claims could "actually turn your kids into, like, geniuses."
Kanye West, who in September claimed he's never read a book because "reading is like eating Brussels sprouts," opened Donda Academy in November 2021. Last month on Good Morning America, West said the school (which is run by administrators, some of whom have limited education experience) could turn kids into "geniuses" but acknowledged even his own children don't attend.
Since its opening in the quiet enclave of Simi Valley, the rapper and designer has answered few media questions about the school, which requires a signed NDA to attend, but he told GMA the academy gives "kids practical tools that they need in a world post the iPhone being created." West added that there are currently 82 enrolled students.
Representatives for West did not respond to Insider's request for comment.
Daily worship, choir, and parkour
Initially registered with the state of California as a Kindergarten through 8th-grade academy, the school — named for West's late mother, who worked for decades as an English professor at Chicago State University — currently offers classes for students in Pre-K through 12th grade, according to its website.
"Using an ethic of integrity and care, Donda Academy prepares students to become the next generation of leaders, thinkers and innovators by providing them with a world-class education that includes a rigorous core curriculum, and an emphasis on sustainability, creativity, critical thinking and problem solving," the Donda Academy website reads.
Students are led in daily, full-school worship sessions before core classes of language arts, math, and science, according to their website. In the afternoon, after meals that Slam Magazine reports are occasionally served by Ye's own private chef, students have their pick of "enrichment" courses, including film, choir, and parkour.
Similar religious private schools in the area have tuition costs for attendance akin to that of a college education, including Chaminade College Prep, which charges $21,975 per school year, and Oaks Christian with a $37,500 annual pricetag — though both schools are accredited. In comparison, Donda Academy charges $15,000 per student, Rolling Stone reported, with about half of students receiving some sort of financial aid.
The pricetag to attend Donda includes opportunities rarely seen among middle and high school students. The choir program is overseen by West. A basketball team playing in the private high school league called the Donda Doves are outfitted in Balenciaga uniforms and Yeezys. Celebrities and professional athletes alike have ties to the campus: Former Tampa Bay Buccaneer Antonio Brown rented out a $2 million suite for students to watch this year's Superbowl, while Boston Celtics player Jaylen Brown recently posted on Instagram about visiting the school and R&B singer Keyshia Cole's son Daniel attends as a student.
The school's focus on athletic performance is similar to other private academies infamous for "reclassing" student athletes by holding them back in class to ensure they are bigger, more powerful athletes in the hopes of improving their chances at sports-related scholarships in college.
Though the ultimate academic performance of graduating students remains unclear and widespread evidence of such reclassing has not been found, one Donda alumni posted on social media that he attended a 5th year of high school at West's academy, playing as a starting power forward.
Unaccredited institution and unknown instructors
As an unaccredited institution, Donda Academy has not fulfilled the requirements set by the state to ensure it meets educational standards and staff competencies. This makes the school ineligible for public funding, and many colleges and universities do not recognize diplomas awarded to students from unaccredited schools. At least one alumni has gone on to pursue a degree at Brigham Young University, a Mormon institution in Utah, while others have been accepted to the Catholic DePaul University in Chicago and the religiously unaffiliated Old Dominion University in Virginia.
The school has applied for accreditation through the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, Rolling Stone reported. Criteria for accreditation include qualified administrators and instructional staff.
Donda Academy, its principal, Brianne Campbell; assistant principal, Allison Tidwell; and sports director Shayla Scott did not respond to Insider's requests for comment.
According to her LinkedIn, Campbell previously worked as an actress, choir director, and vocal coach before taking the role of principal in August 2020 — more than a year before the school opened its doors. She is currently pursuing a Master's degree in organizational leadership from Pepperdine University, which is also religiously affiliated.
There is no publicly available roster of the 16 teachers Rolling Stone reported currently work full-time at Donda Academy and their qualifications are unknown.
Beulah McLoyd, a top Chicago educator and former principal, was the executive director of Donda Academy prior to the current school year, though she confirmed to Rolling Stone she is no longer affiliated with the school.
"We had philosophical differences about the level of stability that is required to educate students in an effective way," McLoyd told Rolling Stone of her decision to leave the academy. "As an educator with over 22 years of experience in the field, I always put children at the forefront of any decision I make. Consequently, I moved on."
Non-Disclosure Agreements required
Two sources close to current Donda students told Rolling Stone those associated with the school must sign confidentiality agreements to attend. Tamar Andrews, an educational consultant for Donda Academy, confirmed to Rolling Stone that parents are asked to sign an "informal agreement" to enroll.
Andrews declined Insider's request for comment.
The air of secrecy surrounding the school is no accident, according to West's longtime associate and collaborator, producer Malik Yusef, who helped Ye conceptualize the school.
"The process of Donda school is for the parishioners, for the attendees," Yusef told Rolling Stone. "I don't think Kanye needs to tell the world what he's doing, so that he can be under more scrutiny. People choose to bring their kids to Donda Academy for a sense of privacy. A sense of care, a sense of concern, a sense of love, an environment of health, and an environment of wealth, an environment of learning, and putting God as a focus."
Representatives for Yusef did not respond to Insider's request for comment.
Other celebrity schools
West is not the first ultra-rich celebrity to try his hand at opening a school, but it remains to be seen if Donda Academy will face the same fate as similar pet projects.
Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith's New Village Leadership Academy opened in 2008 and closed five years later — a long life cycle, compared to others. The wife of former billionaire Adam Neumann of WeWork, Rebekah Neumann, started a school called WeGrow in 2018, which then closed in 2019. Former NFL player Deion Sanders' Prime Prep Academy, focused on its athletic program, shuttered within three years of its 2012 opening due to financial problems.
"It's kind of a 'buyer beware' market dynamic," Professor Bruce Fuller of the University of California at Berkeley's School of Education told Rolling Stone about private and charter schools like West's.
Though the financial situation of Donda Academy remains unclear because private institutions are not required to disclose information about their funds, West has teased ideas for expanding his academic brand with a so-far-undeveloped Donda University.
Read the original article on Business Insider