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City teachers divided on takeover of schools


Baltimore teachers are anxious and divided about a Minnesota company's takeover of nine public schools this school year in a dramatic educational reform experiment.

Those divisions were on display yesterday, as scores of teachers picketed City Hall while the school system started four days of teacher training on the project.

"We were deceived, we were not treated as professionals," said Miriam Botwinik, an art teacher being transferred involuntarily from Malcolm X and Edgewood Elementary schools, two of the nine being turned over to Education Alternatives Inc. (EAI). Because of the changes at those schools, she no longer fits into their program.

But Dan Folkemer, a teacher at Mary E. Rodman Elementary who attended the training session at Harlem Park Middle School, said the system needs dramatic change.

"Education the way it is, isn't going to work," said Mr. Folkemer, a 22-year veteran of teaching. "Run like a business, the kids will get more out of it."

EAI is bringing in its own custom-designed education program, dubbed "Tesseract," under a five-year contract that is worth $26.7 million just in the coming year.

The program, which is being phased in this school year, features non-traditional teaching techniques, the use of high-tech equipment in every classroom and low student-teacher ratios.

Teachers have complained that the program was put in place with little consultation with them, and they have accused EAI of ++ treating them in a high-handed manner. A total of 37 teachers, out of 160 at the nine schools, have asked for transfers.

School Superintendent Walter G. Amprey, who met yesterday with members of the Baltimore Teachers Union, pledged closer communication with teachers, and said he had spoken to EAI staff about the teachers' complaints.

Meanwhile, EAI staff met yesterday at Harlem Park Middle School with teachers and with newly-hired teaching assistants from the nine Tesseract schools.

Mae E. Gaskins, EAI vice president, rejected claims that the company has treated school staff in an unprofessional way.

"It is not our intention to force-feed anyone," she said. "Our intent is to come in here and work with the teachers, the principals and the communities."

Ms. Gaskins said that while the full program won't be in place until September 1993, there will be significant changes this year.

For example, each classroom will be staffed by a teacher and one of 160 instructional assistants, as of September. By November, every classroom is expected to have a computer and a copier. And by late December, each student will have a personalized education plan.

But some teachers at yesterday's training session seemed to give EAI the benefit of the doubt -- for now.

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