Baltimore County backs away from college planning seminars
Baltimore County Public Schools have backed away from a plan to let a for-profit college planning company offer free seminars at every high school in the county this year.
The Nevada-based College Access Online was scheduled to give 50 seminars over the course of the winter and spring at each high school, according to documents obtained by The Baltimore Sun. Parents and students in grades seven through 12 were to be invited to the seminars, which acccording to a schedule obtained by The Sun, were to begin at Hereford High School on Dec. 12.
A memo about the seminars was distributed to guidance counselors and principals in the past several weeks instructing them to review the schedule for the seminars to make sure the cafeteria or auditorium at their school was free. The memo said schools would be given scripts for email and voicemail blasts that could be sent to all parents. The seminars also were discussed with principals in a meeting.
But Roger Plunkett, the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, said yesterday: “Some people sent out a memo that was way too premature.” Plunkett said the system will not go forward with the plan. He said, “They were so many questions, so many things to consider. We have to look at all the school system’s policies and procedures.”
Guidance counselors in the school system, he said, do the same college planning work.
Shamren Fletcher, who is president of the company, said in an interview last week that she had spent four months working with the school system to set up the seminars. She said she talked to a number of administrators in the system, including Superintendent Joe A. Hairston, about two months ago.
College Access Online was working with a nonprofit foundation, called Gateway Alliance Foundation, that Fletcher said had been formed in order to do the planning seminars.
“There is zero charge,” she said. “I am giving my time for free. This is my community service initiative.”
A retired Baltimore County elementary school teacher was to help teach the seminars, which would cover tips for parents and students as they go through the search for a college and financial aid.
Fletcher said she did not intend to pitch her services during the seminars, but she would hand out business cards to those people who approached her afterwards. “We know some business will shake out from it,” Fletcher said.
But a competitor, Craig Meister, who owns Tactical College Consulting, said he believes that if the school system is going to allow a private company access to every high school, then other companies should be offered the same opportunity. Meister said his business has operated for six years in Baltimore County and believes he should have the same access as a Nevada-based company.
Daniel A. Domenech, the executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, said school systems have to "be very careful" when they bring a for-profit vendor into the district. "You run into the potential of firms doing the same thing saying, 'Hey, how do they get access and we don’t.'" Domenech said offering for-profit companies access to schools is not usual for districts.