Parents air frustrations about 'Tesseract' project

September 18, 1992|By Mark Bomster | Mark Bomster,Staff Writer

About 80 frustrated parents attended a meeting at Harlem Park Elementary School Wednesday and demanded more information about a radical project that put their school and eight others into the hands of a private company this year.

The meeting illustrated the tensions between parents at the West Baltimore school and Education Alternatives Inc., the private company whose "Tesseract" initiative is being phased in throughout the school year.

"I think we got some very poor information," said Betty Lynch, who has had children and now grandchildren attend the school. "There has been no real communication with the teachers or parents."

But company officials, who underwent nearly two hours of sometimes angry questioning at a raucous meeting of the school's PTA, tried to cast the session in a positive light.

"We have a bunch of concerned parents, involved in their kids' education," said John T. Golle, chairman and chief executive officer of the Minneapolis-based company. "That is one of the primary goals we have been trying to achieve."

He attributed their emotional reaction to frustration at the school's long-standing academic problems.

"They should be angry," he said. "Look at the test results at the school. This is one of the most poorly performing schools in the state of Maryland."

The Tesseract program, named for a term in a children's science fiction novel, gives day-to-day control of nine city public schools to the private company.

The five-year project, approved by the city in July, promises two instructors in every classroom, individualized instruction and a wealth of computers and other high-tech equipment for each school.

EAI pioneered the system at its own private schools in Minnesota and Arizona, and at a public school in Dade County, Fla.

But its Baltimore debut has drawn fire from some parents, teachers and teachers' aides.

They complain that EAI and the school system have rushed the program into place, making dramatic changes without enough preparation or discussion with the community.

"I don't care how they sugar-coat it," said Marlene King, president of the PTA, who presided over yesterday's meeting. "They need to let us know exactly what they plan to do and how they plan to do it.

"Harlem Park Elementary has a problem, and we need to address it. They're not working with us."

EAI officials responded that the program is still in its initial stages.

"It's going to take about two years," Mr. Golle said. "We've been in this school for seven weeks. The kids have been in this school for two weeks. . . . We've got the pedal right to the metal."

He cited a number of changes that already have taken place at the school, including a major cleanup of the building and its grounds.

Company officials also assured parents of special-education students that their children would be placed in regular classes only if the parents approved.

Those parents also have the right to demand separate special-education services for their children, the parents were told.

In addition, a company official said that by Monday an intern or substitute will be in each class to help out the teacher. The company has hired about 150 of the 160 interns needed at the nine participating schools.

Officials from EAI and the school system assured parents that Wednesday's meeting will not be their last chance to be heard.

"Once we know what the concerns are, we are committed to working along with parents," said Matthew Riley, the school system's main contact with the community on the program.

"We're going to meet as often as necessary."

PARENTS' COMPLAINTS

* Teachers' aides have been pulled out of the classrooms, even though EAI has not yet hired all of the college-educated interns who are supposed to act as second teachers in each classroom.

* Students with handicaps and learning problems are to be improperly pulled out of separate special education classes and put in regular classrooms.

* Teachers have been given little information about curriculum changes and are being required to teach art, music and other subjects in addition to their regular loads.

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