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. The company contends that 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.
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 Wednesday morning, where they got a chance to grill EAI officials about what they plan to do.
Mae E. Gaskins, EAI vice president, outlined the company's 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.
"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.
At Dr. Rayner Browne Elementary School in East Baltimore, Hope Allen, a parent, said the school system shouldn't have to hire a consultant to do what local people could do themselves. "I think we could do it ourselves, instead of hiring a private firm to come in," she said.