Even the students’ parents must sign NDAs.
Kanye West has made himself a cultural mogul. Beyond his Grammy-dominating music, he’s also made an indelible mark on the fashion industry with collaborations with Adidas and Gap that constantly fly off the shelves, and he’s also forayed into tech by creating a music-playing device. But still, no one saw his most recent move coming: a venture into pedagogy through founding his own school. He’s opened up Donda Academy in Simi Valley, California, named for his late mother, Professor Donda West. The private institution is a Christian-based prep school whose mission, according to its website, is to “use an ethic of integrity and care ... [to] prepare 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.” But beyond its flashy aesthetics, according to an investigative report by Rolling Stone, the school has a couple of quirks that may concern some — like requiring families to sign NDAs, and the school’s executive director having no formal teaching experience.
The website is in all black and white with an animated dove flying on each page, the school’s mascot. It also states that students aim “to be a reflection of God’s glory in the world.” And while there are other guidelines about principles in writing on the site like, “Donda Rule #51: Students must be confident in forming ideas. If not their writing will suffer,” there is little specific information about the school’s core curriculum. In the “How We Learn” section, the site reports that, “Each day, Donda students learn fundamentals, grow in their faith, and experience two enrichment classes.” It adds that the daily schedule consists of “full school worship, core classes of language arts, math, and science, lunch and recess, and enrichment courses including World Language, Visual Art, Choir, and Parkour.” But unlike other private schools in the area, the site doesn’t give in-depth information about faculty or academics.
It’s unlikely that much more information will come to light, though. Rolling Stone reports that students’ parents are required to sign nondisclosure agreements, and that people involved with the school itself are tight-lipped as well — no one who’s listed as an administrator, nor West himself, would respond to requests for comment. Simi Valley’s local newspaper also noted in a June report that their reporters were unable to reach any sources associated with Donda Academy.
It’s possible that no one is talking because the school isn’t entirely functional yet. At the start of the school year, Donda Academy was yet to be accredited and was also reportedly still seeking teachers — despite the website boasting that the student-to-teacher ratio was 10:1. It has also come to light that the school’s principal and executive director, Brianne Campbell, has no former teaching experience outside of running her own piano, guitar, and singing tutoring program out of her apartment. The 28-year-old did, however, enroll in a master’s degree program in education from Pepperdine University this past January.
Malik Yusef, a long-time collaborator of West who is associated with the school, told Rolling Stone, “I want to be emphatic that there’s never been a time that Kanye West did not want to do this. I think people don’t understand the gravity of that. This man always wanted to create a school in his mama’s name. … Look at what we’re doing with the choir and the fashion in school — I don’t think there’s a venture capitalist or anybody that’s had a vision this clear on what education can look like for you.” Donda Academy is reportedly a trial run for what West hopes to be multiple campuses across the country and a university.
There are currently roughly 100 students enrolled, who are said to largely be the children of other celebrities and creatives. Of the secrecy, Yusef added, “The process of Donda school is for the parishioners, for the attendees. I don’t think Kanye needs to tell the world what he’s doing, so that he can be under more scrutiny.” He continued, “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.”
We hear Yusef’s point, but secrecy in education seems to be cause for concern — and as the Rolling Stone report points out, celebrity-founded educational institutions don’t have an encouraging history. Only time will tell whether this is another one of Kanye’s moments of visionary brilliance, or if he’s in over his head.