EAI Head Speaks: School Critics Must Be 'Blind, Deaf and Dumb'

June 04, 1995|By James Bock an Mike Bowler

Baltimore has been at the center of a national debate about private management of public schools since 1992, when it contracted with Education Alternatives Inc. to operate nine schools.

Mayor Kurt L Schmoke, who faces a re-election challenge from City Council President Mary Pat Clarke, is expected to renegotiate EAI's contract this summer. If the company doesn't show better student test scores, Mr. Schmoke says, he might cut the five-year deal short.

John T. Golle, the 51-year-old entrepreneur who founded EAI in 1986, has been the main salesman for the concept that private enterprise can more efficiently manage city schools, better educate students and still show a profit.

Following are excepts of a interview by The Baltimore Sun's James Bock and Mike Bowler with Mr. Golle at Harlem Park Community School, which is managed by EAI.

Q: Given the political climate in Baltimore, are you afraid the mayor will pull the plug on the EAI contract?

A: No way, no way, no way, no way. The have-nots all of a sudden have something that the haves don't have. Good, clean, safe schools loaded with technology. Just try to take it away from the have-nots, just try. I dare you, you just try.

Q: What has been your relationship with Superintendent Walter G. Amprey?

A: Walter and I have become very good friends, and I don't think that's bad. If you look at how other people do business in the world, like the Japanese, you must first become their friend and then and only then will they do business with you. I'd suggest to you that there's a higher order of obligation when someone says, You are my friend," and the person says back to you, "And you are my friend." There is nothing that I wouldn't do as long as it's morally acceptable and legally OK to make this program work and to have Walter Amprey get the credit that he rightfully deserves.

Look for another urban district like Baltimore that is going up, the test scores are going up, the morale is going up. You might be able to find one, but I don't know of one.

We've been under attack. I think it has probably caused us to come together and be closer as allies than perhaps if everyone had left us alone.

Q: How did you come up with the original nine Tesseract schools in 1992?

A: We read about them in The Baltimore Sun. We had no prior knowledge of them. . . . What we asked for we didn't get. We asked for a good balance of schools. We said, don't give us all of your down-and-out schools. . . . The district decided to award us a middle school under the belief that it's so bad, it can't get worse. [Harlem Park Middle School] was a war zone. So to anyone that says we've not made progress, it's only because they haven't been here before, they're blind, deaf and dumb or something. A lot of things are wrong, but we've made significant progress.

Q: Did you discuss whose curriculum was going to be taught in these schools?

A: We had not done a detailed curriculum analysis prior to accepting these schools, and it's one of those things you learn in business where you don't assume anything. Although they had a good curriculum, we have subsequently found it's implemented erratically. It varies substantially from class to class, school to school.

Q: So you came in, it wasn't your curriculum, it wasn't your principals, it wasn't your staff and yet all of us have been saying that you're running these schools.

A: What we've said all along is that we have a partnership with them. . . . We'll call it sticking to your core competencies. Look at the superintendents, principals and teachers, and ask yourself what training, what background, what experience did they have in running a $630 million business loaded with financial intricacies? It's like running a small city. You do everything. You feed people, you nurse them when they're ill, you pick up the trash, you turn on the lights, you're one of the largest single employers in town. This is big-time business and, with all due respect, people have degrees in education.

They're supposed to be providing competent personnel who will take a reasonable amount of direction and share in the mission which is this honest-to-God belief that every child has gifts and talents and it's our responsibility to find and nurture them. Now we believe that right down to our toes. Now we have some people in here that do not believe that, and we have to purge the system of those people. It has nothing to do with EAI. It has to do with the fact that to protect one adult, we ruin hundreds of kids, and we as a society can't do that anymore. Plain and simple.

Q: Do you have plans to weed out people?

A: We have the existing right to request transfers. Heretofore we have not requested any teachers to be reassigned, but you will see us do that.

Q: Why wasn't there a provision for outside evaluation or performance standards in the contract?

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