At city Tesseract school, experiment will be missed Principal worries about disruption from sudden change


Julia Winder never believed that the controversial Tesseract program would be yanked from her school.

Informed yesterday that Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke was moving to end the city's 3 1/2 -year experiment with Tesseract, the principal of Graceland Park-O'Donnell Heights Elementary winced, slapped her palm and said: "Let's walk. I need to walk."

"I understand budgetary problems, but speaking from the heart, the disruption caused by termination will set our students back," she said.

"Consistency is everything in dealing with school improvement."

Under Tesseract, she said, things had improved, whether or not parents or politicians wanted to believe it.

"We lack very little here, almost nothing," she said. "I bought into the philosophy of it, that when you recognize that all children have gifts and talents, then all children do learn.

"You can't take away the philosophy of Tesseract. It is here."

Ms. Winder and her staff at the 415-pupil school were not aware yesterday that the Board of Education was about to ask Mr. Schmoke to end its contract with Education Alternatives Inc., which runs the Tesseract program.

They didn't know that the teachers union had also advised the mayor to wash his hands of the program.

Last night, the main thing that remained unclear was whether he would cancel within 90 days, as the contract permits, or wait until the school year ends in June.

"If they take it out in 90 days, it will be a nightmare," said Anna Jeffers, a Tesseract intern working in a Graceland Park classroom.

Walking in and out of classes at the 45-year-old school, which looked clean albeit more than worn around the edges, Ms. Winder showed off computers provided by Tesseract and a group of children who were happy to have them.

On the wall of Adele Hurst's computer lab was this thought for the week: "I can learn to think for myself."

Told that the city was near a decision to do away with Tesseract, the wide grin on Mrs. Hurst's face disappeared.

"Not this lab!" she said. "This lab is important. Anybody can come in here and learn. Anybody!"

Said Ms. Winder: "We'll try our best to make sure there will be no changes. We'll try our best not to panic."

John Golle, founder and chief executive officer of EAI, said he expected the city to assume the leases on computers at Baltimore's nine Tesseract schools, at a cost of $3.9 million.

When school was dismissed a little before 3 p.m., several parents waiting to pick up their children were sad and angry at the news.

"When my daughter came here two years ago, she couldn't read," said Viola Jones, the mother of a second-grader.

"Now she's reading on a third-grade level. Tesseract is why I had my child transferred here."

Linda Brewster, a fifth-grade teacher, said some parents who resent Tesseract's insistence that children be educated as much at home as in school are sending a bad message.

"They're teaching kids that if something's hard, it's OK to give up on it," said Ms. Brewster, referring to a petition condemning the amount of homework Tesseract expects parents to do with their children.

"In September, I had 85 percent of homework turned in. In October, it was a little more than 50 percent, and since that letter [criticizing Tesseract] went around, it's dropped below 30 percent."

Said Cathy Pascone, a first-grade teacher: "They're going to send this whole school into chaos."

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