Parting of the partnership School reform: The Baltimore experiment with EAI management is officially ended, but some hard feelings remain.

March 05, 1996|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,SUN STAFF

Beverly Harmon's desk was clean, her in-box empty and the last trappings of a 3 1/2 -year educational experiment packed into fewer than a dozen cardboard boxes destined for Minnesota.

With reluctance and a few tears, Mrs. Harmon locked the doors of the Tesseract Offices at Harlem Park Middle School, hugged her colleagues and ended another chapter in Baltimore education reform.

"I'm the last one. Turn out the lights and that's it," she said.

For 18 months, Mrs. Harmon, a retired Montgomery County principal, has been the receptionist for Educational Alternatives Inc., the Minneapolis-based educational management firm that has been operating nine city schools since September 1992. EAI also has provided consulting services to three other city schools.

Yesterday, EAI's contract ended -- 18 months early -- and the folks who filled the offices along an out-of-the-way hall at Harlem Park closed up shop, mourning a program they said ended too soon, and complaining that they had had to spend too much time fending off critics.

In the schools that have been the recipient of EAI's all-kids-can-learn philosophy and state-of-the-art technology, the principals were reluctant to say much about the school system's partnership with a private firm or about what life will be like now that EAI is gone.

Youngsters leaving Harlem Park, the only middle school managed by EAI, had varying opinions, ranging from "What's EAI?" to those expressed by sixth-grader Donnell Jenkins: "I think the only thing they really did for us was keep the schools clean. We don't hardly read books anymore. All we've been doing is computer, computer, computer."

In fact, 11-year-old Donnell hit upon two of the hallmarks of EAI's management: clean schools and technology.

"It's the best thing that ever happened to Harlem helping us to get more resources and helping us to get on target," said Harlem Park Principal Wyatt Cogar, adding that "there will be no differences."

Flora Johnson, principal of Mary E. Rodman Elementary, agreed: "We're going to take what we've learned from the Tesseract model," she said, referring to the term from children's literature that has labeled the experimental schools. "We're just going to get through the end of the year."

Because of separate agreements with EAI and some of the other companies that supplied services, many of the hallmarks of the Tesseract curriculum will remain through June.

Several schools, in fact, still prominently displayed the Tesseract banner, touting "each child's gifts and talents," and the program's "challenge to find and nurture these qualities."

Most of the teaching interns -- the second adult in many classrooms -- are staying. "That was our main concern," said Ms. Johnson. The support employees, such as custodians and secretaries, also will remain through June, as will the computers, phones, copiers and fax machines brought to the schools.

"It's working out nicely for us," said Anne Moore, principal of Sarah Roach Elementary Schools, just north of Frederick Avenue.

In December, the city decided to terminate its nationally watched project when EAI refused to reduce its charges to the financially strapped school system by $7 million.

The 90 days since the decision to oust EAI have been particularly difficult for Mrs. Harmon and the 16 others at EAI's Baltimore headquarters. "It was limbo," said Diane Braxton, a teacher-specialist, who will continue training teachers in the Tesseract schools through June.

"I thought EAI had a lot of possibility," Mrs. Harmon said. "Not enough time was given for changes. You need five years to really show change.

"But we were here. We made a dent."

Pub Date: 3/05/96

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