WORK WITH PARENTS & THE COMMUNITY
Innovations in Education: Successful Magnet High Schools
September 2008
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Northeast Magnet High School
Wichita, Kans.

 

Selected Characteristics of Magnet School and Host Districta
Magnet School: Northeast Magnet High School Host District: USD 259, Wichita, Kans.
Year Established as Magnet 1990 Mid-size City Small City
Theme Science, law, and visual arts Size 152 square miles
Grades 912 MSAPb Funded No
Enrollment 538 students Enrollmentc 575 magnet high school students out of 13,538 grade 9–12 students (as of 9-20-07)
Student Ethnicity 13.2% Hispanic
25.7% African-American
47.4% White
9% Asian American
1% Native American
4% Multiracial
Student Ethnicity
(grades 9-12)c
20% Hispanic
23.5% African-American
45% White
6% Asian American
3% Native American
4% Multiracial
Special Education 0% Special Educationc 19%
Free or Reduced-price Lunch 44% (2006) Free or Reduced-price Lunchc 55.7%
English Language Learners < 1% English Language Learnersc 4.86%

a Source: Kansas State Department of Education Report Card for school year 2006–07, http://online.ksde.org/rcard

b U.S. Department of Education's Magnet Schools Assistance program

c Source: Data self-reported by school or district for 2007–08 school year

In a science class at Northeast Magnet High School (NEM), students are researching DNA transformation as part of the Pass the Salt Project sponsored by the biology department of Wichita State University. The program provides sophisticated lab equipment and graduate students in genetics to mentor the students who also will conduct antimicrobial research and gel-electrophoresis experiments. Many students are drawn to NEM because it offers three magnet programs in science, law, and visual arts; others like how these are integrated into a rigorous, college-preparatory curriculum and because it is the smallest high school in the district with a strong academic track record.

Located in a residential, predominantly African-American neighborhood, NEM is one block from Wichita State University, providing easy access for collaboration and opportunities for college preparation. In the 2006-07 school year, approximately 25 percent of the seniors took local university classes. NEM's long-standing partnerships with the university and local cultural and civic institutions bring students to the university campus and local art museums to engage in research, projects, and special events. Founded in 1990 as a science and arts magnet, NEM modeled high school reform innovations that were new to the host district, which is Wichita Public School District (USD 259), including block scheduling, smaller learning communities, an interdisciplinary humanities program, and projects using technology. In 1996, as a result of budget constraints and changing state standards, the district merged Northeast Magnet High School with the Downtown Law Magnet program, moving the program from its location at city hall to the NEM school site. In a district with seven comprehensive high schools, three alternative high schools, 19 magnet elementary schools, and four magnet middle schools, 26 percent of students in the district attend magnet schools. NEM is the district's only high school that has made adequate yearly progress (AYP) for the past six years.

Mission and Curriculum

NEM's mission is to provide a four-year program of studies for students who want to focus their education in science, law, or visual arts. These three magnet areas, embedded in a college preparation program, offer a rigorous interdisciplinary curriculum, integrated with technology and annual projects to produce a focused, well-rounded education. The school's vision statement captures NEM's achievement-driven ethos:

"Students and teachers are here because they want to be.
Students and teachers think what they are doing is important.
Students and teachers share high standards and a commitment to excellence.
Northeast Magnet has clear goals and everyone knows what they are.
At NEM, risk taking is not only allowed, but encouraged."

Forty-four percent of NEM students are in the science program, which has two major strands—one that focuses on engineering and the other in biological sciences. Students engage in lab research, applied technology, and problem solving, and math and science courses are integrated and taught with a project-based focus. Students have the opportunity to earn dual credit for Wichita State University in advanced course work. All freshmen take honors physical science and introduction to engineering design. Students can focus on aerospace engineering, biotechnology, or biomedical classes. In every science class, they are engaged in hands-on, project-based learning and lab activities, and are often using computers for simulations. Students built and tested gliders using a wind tunnel, worked with flight simulators with the Federal Aviation Administration, created prototypes of a child car seat alarm, a redesign of an auto seatbelt, and built a solar collector sun shade for hybrid cars. Other students worked with glow-in-the-dark bacteria in a genetic engineering project, built models of the human heart, and developed a model for an artificial prosthetic joint replacement.

The law and public service program introduces students to legal and judicial issues, forensic science, crime scene investigations, and public policy. Students learn about the role of court officers, how to write a legal brief, opinions, and contracts. Every student completes a magnet project each year that includes research, a written paper, and both oral and visual presentations. All students are expected to complete a minimum of 100 hours of community service by the end of their senior year. Freshmen take the Law 101 class; sophomores take practical law and have opportunities to participate in mock trial competitions; and juniors and seniors select such classes as forensic science, government, economics, and mentorship. Seniors also participate in a mentorship program involving internships with the Wichita Bar Association, fire department, police department, the Sedgwick County sheriff's department, district court judge, and other community agencies in the legal and social work fields. The internships, as one teacher explains, mean that students have "seen fights in courtrooms, jumped on ladders with firemen, and had a wide range of experiences."

Students in the art magnet program are required to complete at least 7 credit units, including an art survey, drawing, and painting classes. In addition, students can earn college credit in studio arts courses at Wichita State University. Electives are offered in drawing, painting, ceramics, digital imaging, computer graphics, creating computer games, sculpture, AP Studio Art, senior art projects, fiber arts, and special art production classes. The school is equipped with a ceramics lab with pottery wheels and kilns, and a computer lab with 25 PCs for digital imaging, computer art and design.

Art students regularly exhibit their work in shows hosted by the Wichita Art Museum, Wichita Center for the Arts, CityArts, Wichita State University, and Friends University as well as other private and public galleries. Each of the teachers in the program are professional artists themselves.

Ensuring Student Success

To support student learning, teachers provide math, science, and English tutoring during lunch and after school for any student. Every student receives a weekly progress report each Wednesday showing the student's current grades, and comments from his or her teachers. Students take an advocacy class, one 40-minute period each week where they meet in smaller groups with a teacher to work on a range of projects. Freshmen learn study skills and habits to acclimate to high school; juniors and seniors are preparing for the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test (PSAT) and building portfolios in preparation for applying to college, conducting scholarship searches, and preparing resumes. Part of the class involves creating an advocacy folder that holds testing scores, goals, and an individualized high school plan with questions about "where you are now and what you need to do to get to college."

If a student is struggling academically, typically, the advocacy teacher will talk with the student, make parent contact, and try different interventions, including tutoring or involving another teacher if they are having trouble motivating the student. Every student takes four years of high school math. Students are expected to complete Algebra II or beyond, and science magnet students are required to complete Algebra II and Pre-calculus/Trigonometry with a C or above. Math classes at NEM meet daily for 95 minutes all year long, providing more time on task and opportunities for both remediation, enrichment, and acceleration.

Historically, the NEM building was an African-American junior high school. Today, the school provides bus transportation for white students from outside the predominantly African-American neighborhood who attend. As principal Joel Hudson explains, "The African-American community sees this as their school. So there is community buy-in even though students come from all over the city. In reality, white students are being bused in and parents have no problem with students coming to this neighborhood. If this were a comprehensive school and students were being bused from the outskirts, parents would have a problem with that. But because it is a magnet, they want them here."

"We don't fight here at Northeast," says one student. "Sometimes it takes ninth-graders a little while to figure out that this school is different and this environment won't foster conflict. But they catch on fast."

Building School Capacity

"The school has been extremely successful," says principal Hudson, "and we have always made AYP [adequate yearly progress] and for the most part have made the [Kansas] standard of excellence in reading or math." Still, Hudson acknowledges that the school has work to do in closing the achievement gap among its subgroups. "It is a challenge for me to get the staff to really look at the data and say, 'If we don't really start talking about the kids that we need to help improve, we may not make AYP next year.' Now teachers are actually talking about what strategies could … bring those scores up. We have been on this quest of coming to grips with the fact that we are going to have subgroups, and if we don't do something to help their skill level we are not going to progress this school."

In Professional Learning Community (PLC) meetings, teachers meet weekly to collaborate by department and magnet theme area. At weekly staff development meetings, faculty discuss such topics as lesson sharing, best practices for improving reading comprehension, and using data to increase the rigor and relevance of instruction. Every Wednesday, teachers have a 40-minute block of time to look at student data by grade level and by department.

As part of their professional development, teachers work in small groups where they learn to use interim assessments to inform their teaching and instruction. With the increased focus on data and testing from the district and state, the school hired a data manager who oversees such testing as the PSAT and district common assessments, and works closely with teachers on using data to improve teaching and instruction. Faculty collaboration is a core element of NEM's success. Teachers are actively involved in decision-making at the school, through their departments and PLC groups.

Since its inception, NEM has actively cultivated partnerships with community businesses, organizations, and universities, including Friends University, Newman University, Wichita State University, the Wichita Art Museum, the city's Fair Housing department, the Boeing Company, the United Way, and the Salvation Army. The partnerships have yielded a mentorship program, research opportunities, and exhibitions for the school's art students. Principal Hudson takes an active role in developing them, whether by writing grants to bring programs into the school or serving on a district committee.

NEM's proximity to and partnership with the University of Wichita provide a strong resource for students: They can use equipment and software at the university's engineering facility for their projects. Graduate students in the physicians' assistant program at the College of Health Professions come to NEM and tutor students in bio-logy, chemistry, and the biotechnology engineering program. "We are getting college role models in our building," says Hudson. One biology professor wrote a grant that helped NEM get over $10,000 dollars' worth of lab equipment.

Achievement and Outcomes

NEM reflects the district's ethnic diversity, but shows higher levels of academic proficiency on state testing and other academic measures. It has made AYP for the past six years, while the district, with 14,155 students in grades 9-12 in 2007-08, has failed to make AYP for the past five years. NEM has a 96.4 percent graduation rate compared to the district's rate of 76.9 percent.

The school has been recognized by the state of Kansas for reaching the "Standard of Excellence" in mathematics as well as the state's Challenge Award for exceeding assessment expectations for all students. Table 8 shows that the percentages of 11th-grade NEM students meeting or exceeding standards on the 2007 state reading and mathematics assessments were greater than district and state achievement rates.

Table 8. Percentages of 11th-Grade Students Meeting or Exceeding Standards On 2007 State Assessments at Northeast Magnet High School as Compared To the District and the State

Subject Northeast Magnet High School Wichita District 259 State of Kansas
Reading 78.7% 59.8% 77.0%
Mathematics 84.0% 54.6% 71.3%

Source: Kansas State Department of Education Report Card for school year 2006–07, http://online.ksde.org/rcard


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Last Modified: 11/19/2009