The Baltimore school board has agreed to move swiftly to study a private company's plan to run several public elementary schools on an experimental basis.
The decision came after the board heard a glowing report from a team that had visited a private school in Minneapolis set up by the contractor, Education Alternatives Inc.
Members of the study team -- including Irene Dandridge, president of the Baltimore Teachers Union -- urged the board to immediately look into the firm's unique educational concept.
"It is all the things that we have wanted for our kids," said Dandridge. "It looks to me as if it could work."
"At this point, the committee is giving a very favorable report," said Charlene Cooper Boston, assistant superintendent for special projects and a member of the team.
Minneapolis-based Education Resources runs a private school of its own and is under contract to run a new public elementary school in Miami starting this fall.
The company, which grew out of educational research work done by Control Data, is promoting a concept called "Tesseract Schools," a term from the children's book, "A Wrinkle In Time," that is meant to suggest imaginative new ideas.
The firm's elementary school curriculum includes a 12-1 student-to-staff ratio, personalized education plans for each student, computer-aided learning, an emphasis on the basics and extensive parental involvement, according to a company fact sheet.
Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke revealed last week that the school staff had been looking into the Education Resources proposal and said he had talked directly with John Golle, chairman of the company.
The company proposes to take on day-to-day operations of at least two Baltimore schools in September at no cost to the city beyond the current per-pupil spending level.
The concept got an enthusiastic response from Dandridge, who said the teachers union would be willing to consider waiving some contract provisions in order to get it off the ground.
"I really think it's worthwhile," she said.
The company's proposal now will be studied promptly by the school board's curriculum committee.
But a cautious note was sounded by Stelios Spiliadis, board vice president, who asked whether the same goals could be achieved without contracting out the operations of public schools.
"It's going to take a special program," responded Dandridge. "We have got to have a pilot."
In other action last night, the board:
* Gave special recognition to Melanie Smith, a senior at Western High School, who this month became the first Baltimore public school student ever to win a first place in the International Science and Engineering Fair competition.
She took first place in the behavioral science category for a study of the effect of abnormal brain development on the behavior of mice. She received a $5,000 scholarship to be used at any school of her choice.
Smith, who plans to be a neurological pediatrician, plans to study biology at St. Mary's College of Maryland. She is president of the student government at Western and valedictorian of this year's senior class.
* Gave a presentation to Karen Robertson, a student at Highlandtown Elementary School, who took third place in the statewide "Maryland You Are Beautiful" literacy contest, in the kindergarten-to-second-grade division.