EAI leaving Fla. school when pact ends in June

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Education Alternatives Inc.'s first venture working in a public school will end June 30 when the for-profit company's five-year contract with the Dade County, Fla., school system expires.

Saying "their mission has been accomplished," the Dade school system and EAI announced yesterday that the Minnesota company's role would end after this school year. But both called EAI's work in South Pointe Elementary on Miami Beach a success.

In the nation's first such public-private partnership, the system hired EAI in 1990 to bring its Tesseract program to South Pointe, a school that opened in 1991.

EAI brought Tesseract to nine Baltimore City schools in 1992 and has since taken on a more limited role in three others here.

In both Baltimore and Miami Beach, EAI provides classroom materials and its Tesseract program, featuring computerized math and reading instruction; "personal-education plans" for each student; small-group instruction; a second adult in each classroom; and professional development for school staff.

South Pointe Principal Arlene Ortenzo praised the company's methods and said they had improved teaching, and the Dade school district said it hopes to continue most of these approaches.

"They were good partners. They were a good thing for the school, a good thing for the community," she said of EAI. "The intangible thing about our school is really how the children feel about coming to school and that speaks volumes: They love coming to school."

Dade County Superintendent Octavio J. Visiedo also praised the company. "Education Alternatives has given South Pointe an excellent educational model," he said in a statement. "We are fully prepared and committed to continuing and building upon it."

And Kathryn Thomas, an EAI vice president who served as liaison to South Pointe, said the school's staff can "carry the Tesseract principles forward" to continue the "sound educational experience."

EAI said students at South Pointe had improved in all categories on standardized tests between 1992 and 1994. But an August 1994 evaluation by the Dade school district found students at the Tesseract school had improved scores on standardized reading and math tests at about the same rate as a nearby comparison school and the school system as a whole.

"After two years of program participation, South Pointe students did not improve their academic skills beyond what they would have achieved had they attended a regular Dade County public school," the evaluation said.

But the evaluation found the partnership had improved parental involvement and attendance at South Pointe.

Unlike in Baltimore, where the company holds five-year contracts worth $43.2 million this year, EAI received no money for program costs from the Dade system, said Lory Sutton, an EAI spokeswoman. Instead, the company relied on about $1.5 million from fund-raising efforts, well shy of its initial $2.5 million goal, Ms. Sutton said.

EAI provides no accounting services or building maintenance in Florida, as it does in Baltimore.

EAI also began working in Hartford, Conn., schools this school year under a five-year contract.

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