School-operating firm briefs parents

June 25, 1992|By Mark Bomster | Mark Bomster,Staff Writer

You'd think they were a team of door-to-door salesmen pitching wary customers on a hot new product.

Officials from the Minnesota company hoping to run nine Baltimore public schools came to town this week to brief parents and community members on their plan. And they were generally pleased by the reaction they received after spelling out their ideas.

"This community is very ready for this kind of change," said David A. Bennett, president of Education Alternatives Inc., the firm tentatively chosen to run a middle school and eight elementary schools starting in September.

The private company's for-profit plan calls for each of the schools to be run under a model pioneered by EAI at two of its own private schools and at a public school in Dade County, Fla.

The company contends it can give each school a new, innovative curriculum, computers and other technology, and two teachers in every classroom -- all for the estimated $5,415 the school system currently spends for each student.

The final decision on whether to go ahead rests with the city's School Department, which already has signed a tentative agreement with EAI and is trying to hammer out a final contract by July 15.

If a final agreement is reached, as expected, School Superintendent Walter G. Amprey has said the support of parents and staff will be critical to the plan's success. To help generate that support, the company brass held briefings this week at the nine schools scheduled to participate.

More than a dozen parents and staffers showed up at each of two meetings yesterday morning, where they got a chance to grill EAI officials on what they plan to do.

Mae E. Gaskins, vice president of the company, outlined its philosophy, stressing the individual attention paid to children and the technology and other innovations available to classroom teachers.

The response was generally positive, though some parents raised a variety of concerns.

At Malcolm X Elementary School in Northwest Baltimore, Deborah Yancey worried about what would happen when her daughter graduates to a school that doesn't have the benefit of EAI's program. "If you don't [change] the whole system, it won't work," she said.

But Sarah Foster, president of the PTA at Malcolm X, said she likes the company's ideas and was pleased to learn that the school's current teachers would remain in place after being trained in the company's methods.

"To me, if it's going to work and help our children to read and write and have some self-esteem, I'm all for it," she said.

Anne Jones, a long-time volunteer at the school, said the company's plans "would put us back to some of the [things] we did years ago, one-on-one, helping [students] to read and understand what they read."

At Dr. Rayner Browne Elementary School in East Baltimore, several people warned that the company may have a hard time getting the parental involvement they seek. Ms. Gaskins said the company anticipated that problem at its Florida school and recruited volunteers to stand in for parents -- only to find that most parents were willing to get involved.

"I'm definitely for the program," said Stephanie Thompson, whose daughter will be in third grade at the school. "It's not the regular classroom challenge."

Hope Allen, another parent, said the school system shouldn't have to hire a consultant to do what local people could do themselves.

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