Innovations in Education: Successful Magnet High Schools
September 2008
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Galileo Magnet High School
Danville, Va.


Selected Characteristics of Magnet School and Host Districta
Magnet School: Galileo Magnet High School Host District: Danville Public Schools (DPS)
Year Established as Magnet 2002 Mid-size City Mid-sized City
Theme International Baccalaureate Programme, air and space/networking/biotechnology Size 111 square miles
Grades 9–12 MSAPb Funded Funded: In 2001, DPS received a three-year grant totaling $8 million for four magnet schools
Enrollment 250 students Enrollmentc Total enrollment is 6,725
Student Ethnicity 2% Hispanic
33% African-American
60% White
2% Asian American
Student Ethnicity
(grades K–5)
1.6% Hispanic
68.5% African-American
28.3% White
1% Asian American
Special Educationd 8.4% Special Education 4.3%
Free or Reduced-price Lunchd 31% Free or Reduced-price Lunche 65.8%
English Language Learnersd 2.4% English Language Learnerse 1.2%

a Source: Virginia State Department of Education Reports 2007, Galileo Magnet,

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

c Danville Public Schools does not report magnet enrollment, therefore, only the total enrollment is reported.

d Source: All data self-reported by school or district for school year 2007–08

A former department store may seem a surprising place to find students learning advanced technology and communication skills through rigorous, real-life applications. But at Galileo Magnet High School (Galileo), advanced academics and cutting-edge technology are the school's defining qualities. In an Advanced Application of Biotechnology course, a mixed-grade class of 10th- through 12th-graders work in pairs in a state-of-the-art laboratory. They are practicing using an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) test to detect diseases in blood. The test indicates the presence of antibodies in the bloodstream. Lining the walls of the classroom are posters of student projects on such subjects as "Arboviruses," "Protein A," and "Staphylococcus aureas."

Danville, where Galileo is located, is in the midst of an economic redevelopment, and Galileo is actively working with the city to help attract businesses and families to the area. From the 1920s through the 1960s, Danville was known for its textile and tobacco industries. As those local economies declined, many businesses shut down or left the area. In response, education, business, and city leaders began collaborating to figure out how to develop a local workforce that would be skilled for white-collar, not just blue-collar work. They decided on networking, biotechnology, and air and space as three areas of study that a school should focus on to equip students with necessary skills for the future.

Danville Public Schools (DPS), Virginia Tech (VT), and NASA leaders jointly wrote an application to the federal Magnet Schools Assistance program (MSAP), resulting in $8 million for four schools, the largest MSAP grant given in the country that year. Galileo received $2.5 million. As one indicator of its success, the school's rigorous and innovative curriculum design earned Galileo full state accreditation in its first year of operation. The school opened in the fall of 2002 and currently serves 250 ninth- through 12th-grade students.

Mission and Curriculum

Galileo's stated mission is to provide for "all students a balanced, diverse, and challenging educational experience that emphasizes individual responsibility in a global society" and that develops "the skills needed to enter the workforce of the 21st century." The school offers an International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IB) and three technology-based strands of study: Air and space, biotechnology, and advanced communications and networking.

The IB offerings include a Middle Years Program for ninth- and 10th-grade students and a Diploma Programme for 10th- and 11th-graders. All ninth- and 10th-graders are automatically placed in the Middle Years Program. Students who choose to advance into the Diploma Programme must meet certain course requirements, carry out community service, and complete a personal project. The assessment of students' work in the IB Diploma Programme is largely external, holding students to a competitive standard. At the end of each class, students take examinations that are assessed by outside examiners affiliated with the IB Programme.

Galileo also offers three technology-focused strands of study. The Biotechnology strand—geared toward students interested in research, medicine, technology, science, and business—offers classes in DNA technology, plant and animal systems, molecular biology, and forensics. An Air and Space strand is for students interested in becoming scientists, engineers, technologists, and technicians. It offers classes in astronomy, principles of flight, aerodynamics, and systems design. And for students drawn to information technology careers—needed today in professions from education to health care, business and industry, and from aerospace to forensics—an Advanced Communications and Networking strand offers classes in computer technology, computer science, Web-based systems, and networking technologies.

Each strand consists of four courses that students can complete at any point in their Galileo career. Students can complete one strand, multiple strands, or sample classes from each strand. If a student does complete all four courses from a strand, that student receives a commendation on his or her high school diploma. The courses in these three strands, with their emphasis on technology, academic rigor, and hands-on learning, exceed the state's standards for science and mathematics.

Ensuring Student Success

"Technology allows you to take your students other places," says Galileo's former principal, Bill Lawrence. Each classroom has laptops and a wireless network for accessing the Internet. SMART boards (interactive whiteboards) can be found in every classroom. Each morning, school announcements are made using this technological medium that also, in the words of one 10th-grader, "plays a big part in making classes interactive."

The school's IB director has noticed that many students remark on how they entered the school completely focused on one of the three major strands but, because IB requires such varied classes and introduces many perspectives on knowledge, they have become well rounded. Galileo also expands students' perspectives on life after high school. Teachers and administrators place a high value on going to college. The school's graduation takes place not on campus, but at nearby Averett University, signaling the importance and expectations of college. Many of Galileo's graduates are the first in their families to attend college.

While still in high school, some Galileo students enroll in classes concurrently at a local college or university, giving them a firsthand look at the rigors of college-level work and the culture of a college campus. Galileo students enroll in engineering classes offered through Virginia Tech and its Institute for Advanced Learning and Research.

"The small school size lends itself to success," remarks assistant superintendent Tyrell. "This is more of a personalized institution" where teachers know virtually all of the students by name, and students cannot fall through the cracks. Teachers go the extra mile for students and offer tutorial sessions before and after school. But high expectations remain constant. There are no remedial classes offered at Galileo, and students are expected to take the initiative and get extra tutoring in school if needed, study hard, ask questions, and pass classes.

Building School Capacity

Magnet director Diane Locker calls Galileo "a nontraditional high school in a city that has traditional high schools." Galileo does not offer a comprehensive athletics, music, or arts program, for example. "Getting this school accepted in such a traditional city" was difficult, recalls Locker. But the community has become very supportive as the school has produced excellent results.

The relationship between the host district (DPS) and Galileo is strong and highly collaborative. Galileo is seen as the flagship school of the district and one of the reasons why many families and companies are moving to the area. DPS helps support the school in many ways—through professional development, funding graduate opportunities for school staff, and supporting outside partnerships. DPS also gives a lot of autonomy to the school as it makes hiring decisions.

The school has several key partnerships that impact its curriculum, improve its instruction, and attract more students and families to the school. One partner is the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute at Virginia Tech University, which provided funding to help develop some of the curriculum in the Biotechnology strand. Another partner is the NASA Langley Research Center, whose staff helped write the original magnet grant proposal and helped develop the curriculum for Galileo's Air and Space strand. Langley has provided Galileo teachers with two-week training programs on how to use and integrate technologies in the classroom and across grade levels.

Achievement and Outcomes

On each of the state's 11 Standards of Learning (SOL) assessments, Galileo has outperformed both the district and the state. The school has made adequate yearly progress (AYP) for the last four years. Galileo boasts a high school graduation rate of 95 percent. For the class of 2007, 57 percent of Galileo's graduates went on to a four-year college, 38 percent to a two-year college, with the remaining 5 percent joining the military.

With such strong results, the school is gaining wide recognition including a citation in the 2007 U.S. News and World Report on "America's Best High Schools." The success of Galileo has helped change the climate of the city. When new industries visit Danville to consider locating in the area, city leaders always include a visit to the school to show off Galileo's rigorous high-tech program and thriving students. Table 6 compares the percentages of Galileo students who scored proficient pass rates on the 2007 Standards of Learning (SOLs) state assessments with district and state achievement rates. In all subjects, Galileo exceeded district and state rates.

Table 6. Percentages of Students Scoring Proficient in Reading, Writing, and Mathematics Subjects on 2007 State Assessments at Galileo Magnet High School as Compared to Danville Public Schools and the State

Subject Galileo Danville Public
State of Virginia
English: Reading 98% 90% 94%
English: Writing 96% 92% 92%
Algebra I 98% 88% 92%
Geometry 100% 73% 86%
Algebra II 95% 78% 88%

Source: Virginia State Department of Education Reports 2007, Galileo Magnet,

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Last Modified: 11/19/2009