October 29, 2009
|Some Magnet Programs Just Don't Stick|
Guilford County School Superintendent Mo Green is moving to remake four failing magnet schools, something some members of the Guilford County Board of Education have been calling for and said should have been done under former Superintendent Terry Grier.
Central office administrators in the school system recently set criteria to judge which magnet schools are working and which aren't and got more than they bargained for. Eleven schools failed to meet the criteria: Andrews Aviation Academy, Andrews Early College Academy, Bluford Communications Magnet, Dudley Early College Academy, Falkener International Baccalaureate, Hairston International Baccalaureate, Hampton Elementary Leadership Academy, Kirkman Park Spanish Immersion, Montlieu Math and Science Academy, Parkview A+ Elementary Magnet and Welborn Academy of Science and Technology.
Of those 11, administrators chose four for a remake next year: Bluford, Hampton, Montlieu and Parkview. Guilford County Schools now has 50 magnet and choice programs in 44 schools including 18 elementary schools, 10 middle schools, one alternative school, the Doris Henderson Newcomers School for immigrants, and 20 special curriculum high schools, called optional schools.
At the school board's meeting on Thursday, Oct 22, Barbara Zwadyk, the school system's chief curriculum and organizational development officer, and Michelle Ungurait, its director of magnet and choice schools, told the school board members that the other seven schools got evaluations of less than 70 percent in a series of focus groups held this month for parents, community college representatives and business partners of the school system. The latter two have an interest in the subjects offered because they offer college programs and jobs, respectively, to graduates of magnet programs.
As often happens at school board meetings, the presentation raised more questions than it answered.
It's less than clear what the criteria were for those evaluations, as the administrators did not show the details of the evaluations. But administrators said they included reduced minority isolation, successful implementation of the magnet curriculum, student test scores and the size of the waiting list at each school, which is a sign of its relative popularity. Reduced minority isolation is the flip side of integration not how many minority students have gotten into white schools, but how many minority students remain in schools that are predominantly black.
It's also less than clear how focus groups attended by only 36 people would provide much in the way of useful data. The school system has 5,512 magnet students out of a total enrollment of 71,000.
The seven schools that didn't meet the criteria for successful magnet schools aren't on the list to have their magnet programs changed or dropped because they are either getting funding under the federal Magnet Schools Assistance Program (MSAP), are already under restructuring under the No Child Left Behind or are in a school-within-a-school model, which means they have a magnet school and a neighborhood school in the same building. Also, some of the schools are in the new Guilford County Schools Enrichment Region, which is giving additional resources to failing schools.
What is clear is that four schools, at least, are headed for major changes. But they're headed for changes in Guilford County Schools' inimitable, roundabout way, which involves a circuitous round of meetings and public input. The process, which began with a handful of people at focus groups, will continue Nov. 9 through Nov. 13 with a series of "public collaborations" meetings of school administrators, students and anyone else who wants to come. "It is to be an open discussion," Zwadyk said.
That prospect left the school board members confused, including Amos Quick, who has hammered administrators repeatedly to fix what's wrong with Hampton. "Who sits around that table?" he asked.
In Guilford County Schools, such meetings generally draw a handful of regular attendees a grab-bag of activists, highly motivated parents and people who just seem to have a lot of time on their hands.
Zwadyk said administrators have ideas about what to do with the four schools, but declined to share them, even when prodded by Quick. She said, "As a former teacher, I always think it's better to hear from individuals before putting out ideas."
School board member Sandra Alexander said she was unclear on the process. She asked whether only those four schools would be considered for what is being called "revisioning" although no one seems to know exactly what that means. The answer was yes. The two most likely options are closing the magnet program at a school, leaving it a neighborhood school, or changing the academic subject in which the magnet school specializes.
If the collaborations decide that Bluford should be changed to a Spanish-immersion magnet, for example, that could be done. But it remains to be seen whether the school board has patience for changing a magnet program, which in some cases is merely covering up a failing neighborhood school, to another magnet program with a different subject.
School board member Garth Hebert said there wasn't much will on the school board to do so.
"I can't see us changing them into another kind of magnet school," Hebert said. "I don't think that's what Mo is doing. They're not going to be a magnet next year, I know that."
Even without the focus groups, it's clear why some of the schools are on the list to be remade. Some are near the bottom of the list when it comes to performance on the North Carolina ABC tests, including Montlieu, which despite being a math and science academy, had only 36 percent of its students pass the state math test last year. Only 23 percent of the school's students passed both the reading and math tests, and the performance of its students is dropping. Another is Hampton, at which only 41 percent of students passed the state exams.
School board members supported major changes at the schools. School board member Kris Cooke said she wants parents to have options for their students other than general schools, but that some of the programs aren't attracting students. She said, "We need seats too badly in this county to have open seats in these schools."
Quick and Hebert said that some magnet schools are successful but others are neither good neighborhood schools nor functioning magnet programs. Quick said some of the magnet schools don't have the resources to host a real magnet program, and taking federal money to create one doesn't work if the school system doesn't pay to support it once that money dries up.
"What we have is programs in name only," Quick said. "The schools suffer, and we're talking about what we need to do to maintain the status quo instead of improve, which we should have done years before."
Hebert said he took the planned changes as a sign that Green is willing to take the schools out of the limbo in which Grier had left them as failing neighborhood schools with insufficient magnet programs slapped on top of them.
"I think Mo is taking responsibility, as he should, to say that there are schools that need to be fixed," he said. "To take them out of this magnet category and fix them."
School board member Darlene Garrett has called for the school system to close all its magnet schools at which less than 60 percent of students pass the state tests. It appears that test scores were considered in picking the schools to change, but not made the primary criterion.