WORK WITH PARENTS & THE COMMUNITY
Creating and Sustaining Successful K–8 Magnet
September 2008
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Models of Success

This guide focuses on developing and sustaining successful magnet schools. It tells the stories of Combs and five other elementary and middle school magnets and the distinct challenges each has faced. It also analyzes the strategies they used in the planning and implementation phases of their development and identifies some potential factors that allow them to keep the school doors open as magnet schools that are built to last. Finally, the guide addresses a core question for educators at these schools: how to sustain the integrity of their vision and mission as they face challenges common to many districts and schools in our nation today.

The schools profiled in this guide were selected with input from a group of advisors that included researchers, district-level practitioners, principals, and the executive director of Magnet Schools of America (MSA), a national association that helps schools, districts, and states to implement magnet programs. The selection criteria focused on identifying schools that have demonstrated strong achievement results; reduced minority group isolation; and sustained success over time.

Suggestions were culled from districts with large numbers of magnet schools, specifically those with well-established magnet programs. The advisory group and regional boards of MSA also nominated schools with the aim of finding a range of locations and conditions, reflecting the diverse contexts and challenges facing magnets (for a detailed description of the site selection process, see appendix A).

Each school faced distinct challenges and drew from a variety of resources to sustain its growth and success (see table 1 on p. 6). Combs, the K-5 magnet, had the problem of needing to quickly choose and implement a new theme that could attract a broader enrollment base. FAIR (Fine Arts Interdisciplinary Resource School), a grades 4-8 magnet school in suburban Crystal, Minn., operates through an interdistrict consortium, with 45 percent of its student population coming from Minneapolis. Although it benefited from a new school building, it needed to develop an effective interdistrict infrastructure. In Las Vegas, the Mabel Hoggard Math and Science Magnet had to develop theme-related expertise among its elementary teachers through training and ongoing support.

Facing different challenges in their planning and implementation phases, all the profiled magnets are models of sustained success. Normal Park Museum Magnet School in Chattanooga, Tenn., was created in a district with a history of low-performing schools and clusters of minority-isolated schools. By developing strong partnerships with local cultural institutions, it developed a museum theme and was able to reverse the district's declining trends and patterns of segregation. Normal Park educators also successfully tackled the achievement gap, particularly for its economically disadvantaged and African-American student subgroups, as evidenced by comparing 2003 to 2007 results on the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP). For economically disadvantaged students, proficiency rates in reading rose from 64 percent to 93 percent; and, in math, from 62 percent to 98 percent. For African-American students, proficiency rates in reading rose from 60 percent to 96 percent; and, in math, from 53 percent to 96 percent.

Raymond Academy for Engineering in Houston is a K-4 Title I6 magnet school with the largest student population (846) among the six profiled schools. The school's innovative curriculum, infused with real-world, project-based learning experiences, was instrumental in earning Raymond's "Exemplary School" status from the Texas Education Agency. Since the implementation of NCLB, student performance at Raymond has increased each year and now surpasses district and state levels; Raymond's test scores for 2006-07 indicate almost universal proficiency in reading and math among all subgroups, including Hispanic, low income, English as a second language (ESL), and special education (see table 2 on p. 35).

In San Jose, Calif., the River Glen Elementary & Middle School is a K-8 dual language immersion school that has celebrated its 20th anniversary. What began in 1986 as an alternative strand in a local K-5 elementary school, eventually expanded to its own dedicated magnet school. Years later, due to parental demand, River Glen grew to include grades 6-8. Its academic success earned it a California Distinguished School award in 2000, and, in a district that is not making adequate yearly progress (AYP), River Glen has done so five years in a row. Today, River Glen's success reaches beyond the school walls, and the school serves as a pioneer and model for dual immersion programs across the district, state, and country since receiving the National Title VII Academic Excellence Award7 in 1995. Its track record for developing bilingual and biliterate students from white, native English speakers as well as Hispanic, native Spanish speakers spans more than two decades. (For selected characteristics of each featured school, see table 1 on p. 6.)

1. Planning: Before the Doors Open 2. Implementing: After the Doors Open 3. Sustaining Success: Keeping the Doors Open

Develop a Viable Theme & Mission
Successful magnets choose a theme based on existing resources, local needs, and interests. The theme is linked to a clearly defined mission that attracts and energizes all stakeholders.

Establish a Rigorous & Relevant Curriculum
They design curriculum that promotes high intellectual performance and requires students to master and apply critical thinking, communication, and life skills needed in realworld contexts.

Attract Quality Leaders & Staff
They recruit a critical mass of quality educators and staff committed to collaborative leadership and realizing the mission of a specialized program.

Maintain the Theme With Integrity
Successful magnets align their theme with district and state standards while articulating their innovative approach to curriculum.

Establish Equitable Practices for a Diverse Student Body
They ensure all students meet academic success and promote positive intercultural contact in heterogeneous environments.

Develop a Culture of Empowerment
They cultivate a no-excuses attitude that fosters a respect for individual capacity, and develops a collective sense of efficacy.

Provide Ongoing Professional Development
They commit resources to support staff in mastering effective instructional strategies and developing theme-based curriculum.

Build Leadership Capacity
They create formal and informal structures to broaden the school's leadership base.

Adopt a Continuous Improvement Model
Successful magnets focus on progress, using data-based decisionmaking to make change and monitor results.

Build Win-Win Partnerships
They develop mutually beneficial relationships with organizations and community members to establish a broad base of supporters.

Develop Community Outreach
They promote their value by educating the public about the school's mission, achievements, and needs.

Align With a District Vision
They lead school reform efforts, incubate best practices, and contribute to the health of the district by collaborating with other schools.

This guide describes the challenges faced by each of these schools and the various strategies used to address them. It is intended for district-level leaders and school staff interested in applying or adapting promising practices for developing and sustaining magnet schools. It defines and explores strategies through two frames. In Part I, a cross-site analysis provides examples of common practices in three phases of a magnet school's general development: before the doors open, after the doors open, and keeping the doors open (see above). In Part II, each school is profiled in a narrative that highlights its specific contexts and challenges. The profiles are structured to describe the founding and early challenges of each school; how each went about implementing its magnet program; and how each school established systems for sustaining success.

Table 1. Selected Characteristics of Profiled K-8 Magnet School Sites

From the beginning, these magnet schools were planned and created—or, in the case of Combs, re-created—with sustainability in mind. Their founders have attended to the practical demands of the start-up phase, as well as to the forwardthinking design of supports and infrastructure. And following their early years, these schools have demonstrated adaptability in the face of new challenges. In the text box on p. 5, each column identifies a particular phase in a school's development and describes, in general, the common approaches shared by the featured schools. Part I of the guide follows the same outline.

The guide is based on case study research, which involved a visit by researchers to each site, interviews with district and school staff, focus groups with members of the school community, and a review of school- and district-related documents. Thus, the guide is based, in part, on documented information about a school and its outcomes, in part, on researcher observation, and, in part, on the perceptions of those interviewed, including staff, parents, and students. Because it is not based on experimental research that can yield valid causal claims about what works, readers should judge for themselves the merits of these practices, based on their understanding of why they should work, how they fit the local context, and what happens when they actually try them. Also, readers should understand that these descriptions do not constitute an endorsement of specific practices or products.


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Last Modified: 09/28/2009