Innovations in Education: Successful Magnet High Schools
September 2008
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Forging Community Partnerships

Mobilizing community support has been a key strategy in how these schools develop rich programs for students. A spirit of entrepreneurship inspires their lead administrators to devote time and energy to build partnerships with students' families, universities, and civically minded businesses and nonprofit organizations. These proactive principals reach out to the community to garner resources. For many of these magnet schools, innovative curriculum is enhanced through internship programs sponsored by community businesses and local universities. As NEM's founding principal Jim McNiece recalls, "I was on a first-name basis with anyone who I thought could help the school. We felt that we have to give kids a reason to get on the bus and travel 15 miles to come to our school. There has to be a really good program at the end of the bus ride." He developed a 10-year active partnership with the Boeing Company, which donated money, equipment, trained staff, and mentored students. When Boeing changed its funding priorities, McNiece started anew with Raytheon Company, local museums, and other organizations. "There is an ebb and flow to partnerships because they are based on individuals, connections, and relationships."

NEM is adjacent to Wichita State University (WSU). NEM high school students attend special science programs at WSU's engineering facility on a regular basis and have access to equipment and software there. Juniors and seniors can attend WSU art classes and exhibit their work in shows at the Wichita Art Museum, Wichita Center for the Arts, and other public and private galleries.

Other partnerships magnet high schools develop are those that are dual-enrollment programs with local universities. Dual-credit courses enable students to accrue college credits while still in high school.12 At MLC, students can enroll in courses at Capital Community College and St. Joseph College with tuition and fees waived for one course each semester, provided they pass mathematics and English placement exams and have at least an 80 percent grade point average. Two schools have active advisory boards that leverage additional resources, similar to how a board of directors serves a nonprofit organization. The BTWHSPVA advisory board embarked on a capital campaign of $55 million to create a new facility on the original school site. As a result of this public-private partnership, the district, through local city bonds, has given $23 million, and the school has raised almost all of the remaining $32 million through private funds. The board includes 45 elected members who represent 34 local arts organizations. It also has helped the school develop community partnerships (see fig. 5 on p. 17), providing students with professional-level opportunities, such as performing with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and taking master classes with renowned dance artists who serve as role models, providing inspiration.

Partnerships with industry to support career-focused magnet programs have kept some of these schools on the cutting edge of innovative education. At Bravo, student research projects with university faculty and researchers connect students to the medical world, and they have the opportunity to pursue a medical certification course, gaining hands-on experience from neighboring medical and research facilities. There are mutual benefits for the school and its partners: Students learn from real-world applications and are exposed to high-level research and professional learning opportunities; hospitals and organizations gain volunteers while investing in the education of future nurses, doctors, researchers, and technicians.

At DASH, all students complete a career design portfolio (see /admins/comm/choice/magnet-hs/edlite-figure6.htmlfig. 6 on p. 18) that includes creating a resume as a step towards getting an internship in the community. Linking school course work to real-world experience is a critical component of a DASH student's education. The school's robust internship program provides students with the opportunity to go and work in top-notch design firms and art galleries; there they can learn what one staff member describes as "things we could never teach them."

These schools also garner support from various kinds of parent involvement. For example, at BTWHSPVA, each arts cluster has a parent guild. The school's Theatre Guild, for example, has 100 members and, according to its president, "assists students and teachers in the cluster with whatever needs they have," including raising money for costumes and for students to attend performances outside of school. CSAS parents commit to a minimum of 18 volunteer hours and, in 2006, they dedicated more than 28,000 hours within the school.

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Last Modified: 11/19/2009