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Parents go to work, children go to school _ at the same place

November 10, 1997

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) _ A Nashville company wants to give more parents the opportunity Cathie Brazell has. She can have lunch with her 5-year-old son at his school _ without leaving work.

``I love it. It works for our family,″ said Mrs. Brazell, a nurse manager at Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children and Women in Orlando, Fla. ``And we would trade nothing for the 15 minutes driving to and from work. It’s our special time.″

Her company offers classes for kindergartners through second-graders. There are 41 pupils enrolled, and a long waiting list.

CorporateFamily Solutions, whose founders include Bob Keeshan (TV’s Captain Kangaroo) and former U.S. Education Secretary Lamar Alexander, is acquiring the Orlando firm that made that possible.

Schools at Work is the only company devoted to helping companies develop workplace schools. That focus fits nicely with CorporateFamily’s specialty: managing child care centers at companies.

``I think of the workplace as the new American neighborhood,″ Alexander said Friday.

``When one parent was always at home, support services were around the home: the laundry, the grocery store, the neighbor to watch the kids,″ he said. ``Now three of four parents with young children are working away from home and they need the same type of support.″

Companies say their employees are more productive and less likely to be absent when their children accompany them to work. And it’s a good recruiting tool.

``It’s been incredibly successful,″ said Dyana Burke of Orlando Regional HealthCare Systems, which owns Arnold Palmer Hospital.

The acquisition of 2-year-old Schools At Work will be complete within the next few days, said CorporateFamily Solutions President and Chief Executive Officer Marguerite Sallee.

CorporateFamily Solutions plans to encourage its clients to offer workplace schools. The company manages 94 employer-sponsored child care centers for 68 clients in 27 states.

The company became interested in Schools At Work when it hired the firm to do feasibility studies for two clients. Sallee decided she and Schools At Work President Mary Anne Ward worked well together.

Ward will be president of CorporateFamily’s new workplace schools division.

Ward created the firm after the local school board approached her and said it liked the idea of workplace schools but didn’t know how to put one together. Ward had been providing on-site schooling for children in the entertainment industry.

About 50 companies, including Hewlett-Packard Co. and 3M, have on-site schools for kindergarteners through fifth-graders. Three of those companies developed their schools with Schools At Work.

Most companies that offer schools work in concert with local school systems, Sallee said. The company provides the classroom space, utilities and maintenance, and the school district provides teachers, books and curriculum.

They’re free to employees, and must meet the same education standards as other public schools.

The notion has been around for a decade, when American Bankers in Miami opened its own school for grades K-5. The school cut absenteeism in half and turnover by 10 percent.

Sallee and Alexander believe workplace schools could prove as popular as company day cares. In the early 1980s there were about 200 child care facilities in the United States. Now there are more than 1,800.

Critics say workplace schools are not as diverse as other schools because they are limited to a single company’s employees.

But Claire Smrekar, a professor of educational leadership at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College for teachers, likes the idea.

``This makes a lot of sense to me,″ she said. ``I can’t tell you the number of parents who want to volunteer at their child’s school, but they can’t leave the workplace. Or the moms who dash from the office to grab 20 minutes at a school play or parent-teacher conference or fund-raiser before dashing back to work.″

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