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Develop Community Outreach
In any community where there is widespread disillusionment with public education—justifiably or not—it can be difficult to rally community members to invest time, energy, or resources in schools. But a magnet school with a compelling theme, clear mission, and promise of innovation can help recapture community support. It can give people something to celebrate while engaging their sense of civic responsibility to aid in the school's ongoing efforts. Once the public identifies with the school, its mission, and value, a sense of pride and good will galvanize people to support its efforts and contribute to creative solutions. As one parent explains about her neighborhood magnet, featured in this guide, "The community is invested in this school." As a result, she says, the community serves as a valuable network and resource when school-related challenges emerge. While magnet school staff must first "scream their theme" to recruit families and maintain enrollment, ongoing public relations becomes an integral component for sustaining a healthy, successful magnet school, says one administrator. Each year, Raymond staff make the public aware of the continued growth and success of their students through a flyer that highlights awards, activities, and the most recent state test scores (see fig. 8 on p. 40). It includes the percentage of students scoring proficient for the 2005-06 school year, which helped Raymond earn an "exemplary school" designation by the Texas Education Agency. A table in the flyer shows scores by grade level and subgroups.
Magnet school staff can promote the value added of having their school in the community by making its practices transparent and educating the public about its mission and achievements. The principal of Normal Park has established working relationships with the local media, who keep the public informed of upcoming school events, like Exhibit Nights, which have grown so popular that sometimes over 500 visitors line up to view the celebration of student learning. These magnet schools also keep their doors open to neighborhood organizations as part of their outreach. When the NBA All-Star Game and Cares program came to Las Vegas, a local council member immediately thought of Hoggard. The council member knew that Hoggard's principal was always willing to open the school doors after hours to host local events and made a point of keeping him updated on school news. With the councilman's help, Hoggard then received NBA Cares funds to renovate the school library, purchase a set of laptops, and build its sensory garden. It also received positive publicity—and its students received great pleasure—when basketball stars and media showed up on campus to celebrate the library's renovation.
Principals serve as ambassadors for their magnet schools. Calling TV and newspaper reporters when there is an event, speaking in public forums, hosting visitor days, or holding an open house for realtors who promote the school to potential home buyers are all strategies used variously by principals at the featured schools to catch the eye of the general public and promote the school's value in the community. Accolades, honors, and praise letters are collected from the community to generate positive press, provide documentation for grants, and establish continued district support.
Figure 8. Raymond Academy for Engineering Promotional and Recruitment Flyer
What's New at Raymond Academy?
TEA Exemplary School:
Magnet School of Texas Award
Many Parent Involvement Events:
Engineer of the Month Recognition
More After-school Clubs/Activities: Incredible Inventors, Master Builders, Hard Hats, Marvelous Math Problem Solvers, Desktop Publishers & Architectural Designers, Chess, Photography & Journalism, Star Books, Theater Club, International Cultural Explorers, Family Literacy Classes, Performance Groups: Ballet, Tap, Recorder, Baton Twirling, & Line Dancing
Very Low Teacher Turnover!
In Wake County, district magnet office staff take seriously the need to continually educate the general public and the school board about magnet schools. Kenneth Branch, senior director of the program, explains, "This year has been about recommitting our elected leadership to magnet programs' objectives and having people … affirm their belief in and support of those objectives." With elected officials at the head of the school system and a wave of new families coming into the system each year, there is a continual need to educate people about the history and legacy of magnet schools as a tool for desegregation and improving student achievement.
Part of the education process involves recasting the ways a community assesses the value of a magnet program. Instead of comparing the performance of magnet schools to non-magnet schools, it may be more relevant to measure the effect that magnet schools have on creating a healthy district system with a racially diverse student body. This can be done by asking broader questions: What would happen to desegregation and achievement results in the absence of magnet schools? How does the district compare to similar districts without magnet programs? According to Wake County superintendent Del Burns, the district has one of the highest graduation rates in the nation when compared with the country's largest 50 systems18 and has some of the most racially diverse schools in the region.