Dr. Blanche E. Fraser is in her ninth year as superintendent of the Mount Clemens Community School District.

In the book, Educational Renaissance, Dr. Fraser was cited by Dr. Marvin Cetron and Margaret Gayle as one of twelve superintendents in the United States who were "making a difference" in the quality of education. Dr. Fraser was appointed by Governor John Engler to the Michigan 2000 Commission, was selected as Michigan’s 1992 superintendent of the year, and has been elected to a three- year term on the Executive Committee of the American Association of School Administrators. She is married and the mother of two daughters.

What prompted your district’s decision to contract with Edison to run one of your K-5 elementary schools?

When we looked at the Edison design, it strongly paralleled both what we were already doing, and some things that we’d like to do but were unable to do for a variety of reasons. In the true meaning of partnership, we believed that the district and Edison had some resources that could be brought to the table, and working together, we could accomplish important goals for our children—and in a timely manner.

What was the nature of the contract? What are their contractual duties?

Edison is responsible for managing the program, for providing the curriculum and instruction, improving student achievement, and generating a return for their investors.

Edison is responsible for managing the program, for providing the curriculum and instruction, improving student achievement, and generating a return for their investors.

After one year of operation, what is your assessment of this arrangement?

Edison has delivered on every promise that it has made to us. During this first year, in terms of hard data, Edison has been collecting baseline achievement information so that everything will be bench-marked against it in subsequent years. Soft data can be measured by students, staff, and parent reaction–and that has been favorable. In fact, parents actively lobbied for Edison’s participation in our middle school, so their children could remain in the project as they moved to upper grades.

Have you been impressed with Edison’s "team-teaching" approach, whereby students learn in "houses" of grades and are instructed by the same teacher for three years at a time?

Yes! That was an element of the design that drew great interest from members of our board of education. The idea that a child, theoretically, could stay with the same team of teachers over a three-year period made a lot of sense to us.

How long is the day at Edison?

Seven hours for children in Kindergarten through second grade. Children in grades three through five have an eight hour day. All grades spend 25 more days in school than the traditional public school program. And you may be interested to know that the additional time Edison spends with students is done for no more than we spend on their traditional public school counterparts.

What was the position of the local unions on involving a private management firm?

They reacted very positively and constructively. That’s because we view teachers as partners. Before we made any decisions, we went to our teacher’s union leaders and asked them about partnering with Edison.

We then set our sights on working through the contractual issues that would have to be agreed upon for Edison to implement its program, while simultaneously providing securities that the unions felt were necessary for their members.

What type of objective measurements do you use in assessing the Edison Project’s success or failure?

We use many assessments. The contract with Edison requires that any measures we’re currently using to assess student achievement, such as national norm testing and state examinations, continue. Edison is also doing independent measures. It has hired a private firm, Gordon Black & Associates, to guage customer satisfaction. The firm will survey Edison parents, students, and staff members about the program. That feedback will then be used by Edison to identify areas that need to be continued, strengthened or eliminated.

Have other districts contacted you regarding your relationship with the Edison Project?

Yes. Ypsilanti schools sent several teams of teachers, board members, and administrators to our school district to look at the Edison project. We have also had telephone calls, and we may receive visitors from a Lansing charter school in the near future.

The advantage that others have now is that, if they’re interested, they can come visit, talk, interview, and have some additional data on which to make their decisions.

When we partnered with the Edison project we had no school to visit, no staff members to interview, and no results to examine. We did, however, feel very strongly about the Edison design, and commitments behind the project—both human and financial.

Do you sense a change in public school employees’ opinions of private sector involvement?

Given the way we’re doing it, it is of less concern than in other districts that have been full of controversy. We didn’t partner with the Edison project because we wanted something fixed. We weren’t a failing school district that was desperate for solutions. Our partnership was designed to bring more players to the table to help us get the job done quickly. Also, as I’ve said, there was very little opposition in Mt. Clemens because we went to the teachers first and said, "We need you."

Would you recommend this for other districts? How do you see the future of private management?

Yes, I would recommend that other districts take a serious look at it. It’s very worthy of consideration. Privatized services will be a part of the future of public education, but it may be naive to think that privatization is a silver bullet. A great deal of success in education has to do with parental involvement, not just for-profit management.

It is important to recognize, however, that choice in a free market is another key to success. No participant of the Edison project is forced to be there. It is by choice, and when people have choices they own their decisions and take responsibility for them. What better way is there for parents to be involved?