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Before the Doors Open: Planning
For district leaders, setting clear goals for magnet programs and defining how they can improve the overall health of the school system are crucial first steps for sustaining long-term success. According to the experiences of the schools featured in this guide, drawing from the big picture (e.g., analyzing enrollment patterns, achievement, and neighborhood-specific issues) can help to determine priorities and important design elements for a particular magnet school. Once a vision and goals have been established, next steps commonly include considering community interests, gauging the commitment of key players within the district, and taking stock of potential opportunities and resources that may influence the planning process.
In Hamilton County, Tenn., for example, district officials were struggling to reverse declining enrollment in Chattanooga's urban schools at the same time they were trying to stop the steady exodus of middle- and upper-class families to suburban, private, or parochial schools. Strategic planning led to the creation of four downtown work site magnets, including Normal Park Museum Magnet. The hope was that with lottery priority given to downtown workers, the schools would appeal to suburban commuters who would be attracted by the opportunity to spend travel time and possibly even workday hours with their children at school. Noting that the success of the city's recent revitalization efforts were largely driven by the establishment of the new museums and aquarium, district leaders gave Normal Park a museum theme, linking the school to widely cherished institutions that could boost public outreach and provide access to untapped financial and curricular resources.
In Clark County, Nev., magnets also were designed to attract middle-class families to inner-city Las Vegas schools. Additionally, they arose in response to demands from the African-American community to create elementary schools in their neighborhoods. Mabel Hoggard Elementary was originally a sixth-grade center, part of the district's earliest attempt at desegregation that involved busing white children into African-American neighborhoods for sixth grade while busing African-American children into the suburbs for grades 1-5. The conversion of sixth-grade centers into magnet schools, like Hoggard Math and Science, was a strategic shift to focus on voluntary desegregation and the expansion of public school choice. In this context, district staff saw magnets as a way to maximize the availability of Magnet Schools Assistance program (MSAP) funding and Prime Six funding (state funds allocated by district for desegregation) for the inner city, and community momentum for establishing elementary schools in African-American neighborhoods.
In Minnesota, the West Metro Education Program (WMEP), a consortium consisting of one urban (Minneapolis) and 10 suburban districts, established a plan for interdistrict magnet schools as a "proactive" measure, drawing upon a collective sense of "good will" and a commitment to move "ahead of the curve" in terms of voluntary desegregation, according to WMEP Superintendent Daniel Jett. Anticipating that future demographic shifts might result in court action mandating desegregation, WMEP leaders created two schools, including FAIR (Fine Arts Interdisciplinary Resource School), with the explicit goal of populating them with a diverse mix of students from Minneapolis and the surrounding suburbs. Leveraging a culture of cooperation and shared interest in diversity, leaders from all member districts saw the opportunity to invest in an innovative magnet model, locating a school in one host suburban district that would have direct benefits for all participating systems.
|District-level Support for Magnet Programs|
All profiled sites benefit from magnet-specific services that host districts coordinate. While a school's administrative team, including a magnet coordinator, is involved in many of the following processes, district-level staff manage these efforts across the system to support start-up efforts and maximize available resources.
In many districts, a centralized magnet office or school choice office handles the planning process for opening new magnets as a way to create options for parents within the public school system.
This guide focuses on sustaining successful magnet programs from the school-level perspective. For more specific information about setting up district-level infrastructure to support magnet school programs, refer to the 2004 Innovations in Education publication, Creating Successful Magnet School Programs, available at http://www.ed. gov/admins/comm/choice/magnet/index.html.
While the specific goals and circumstances for starting a magnet program may vary across districts, moving from a district vision to developing an individual magnet school always requires site-specific strategic planning. Even though a magnet school must be designed to fit into the district's master plan-for example, goals for reversing declining enrollment or rebuilding a low-performing program-this mandate does not inherently produce the necessary blueprints for creating a successful K-8 magnet school. Choosing an appealing theme that has the potential to attract target families and talented staff appears critical for generating initial buy-in. At the building level, the theme must then be integrated into a clear purpose and common mission in order to drive the development of a strong academic program. As this framework is created, district leaders must ensure that quality staff and supporting infrastructure are in place and capable of executing the plan with integrity.