Creating and Sustaining Successful K–8 Magnet
September 2008
Downloadable File PDF (1 MB)

Align With a District Vision

The most important partnership for sustaining a successful magnet school is that with its host district. This means that, in the planning phase, school developers benefit from creating a clear and indispensable role for the magnet school to help meet identified district needs. Sustainability in this context involves the need for a magnet school to develop without compromising the other schools in the system, now and in the future. As Hamilton County's director of urban education puts it, "The district can't have just a few good magnet schools while the rest of the schools are going to pot." Thus, part of the definition of a successful magnet school is that it contributes to the district's growth—it serves as an incubator of best practices that can be used elsewhere in the district, it is a leader in school reform, and it is part of a portfolio of school choice.

For fiscal sustainability, a district needs a vision and strategic plan in which its magnet school program plays an integral role in school improvement and general enrollment management. Without a district commitment to continued funding after an MSAP grant has expired, it is difficult for magnet schools and district offices to retain the key personnel needed for magnet schools' continued success. All profiled schools, except for FAIR, have either received MSAP start-up funding or else reside in a district that has used this funding to develop new magnet programs and solidify district infrastructure, including on-site magnet coordinator positions and central office support for enrollment and marketing. A successful pioneer school can prompt the growth of a district magnet program. By serving as an example of a successful district school, that first school demonstrates district capacity to operate effective schools, thus enabling district staff to take advantage of available federal or state funding; reciprocally, an individual magnet school can be the beneficiary of district-level efforts to secure such grants.

Magnet school educators can serve as innovators who bring about change throughout the district. River Glen is a "school that we use to train other two-way programs," says founding principal Rosa Molina, explaining the frequent visitors who come from all over the district and state. In its 20-plus years of existence, River Glen has evolved into a national model and groundbreaking school reform leader within San Jose Unified School District (see fig. 9 on p. 43). Former River Glen staff now hold key central office positions to support school reform efforts on a more systemic level. For example, in 2005, former principal Cecelia Barrie was asked to lead a new two-way immersion program in another district school.

Each of the sites featured in this guide disseminate their practices to other elementary and middle schools in support of district goals. Combs, for example, has been a leader in district- level professional development and has volunteered to pilot new district programs, like a positive behavior management initiative. The school's improvement plan closely mirrors the goals of the district and the superintendent's Strategic Directives, which cover school management with a focus on recruiting and training high-quality staff. Combs' extensive curriculum and orientation binders have been used as exemplary models throughout Wake County schools for inducting new staff. In the Aldine District, magnet schools are part of a systemwide peer review process: Teams of school staff visit each other and conduct extensive performance-based reviews. The process also serves as a way to share best practices.

As an interdistrict consortium, West Metro Education Program brings together suburban and urban systems under the common goal of eliminating the achievement gap, using FAIR as an exemplar for success. Known locally as "the best game in town" for professional development, the consortium serves as a valuable resource for teachers seeking to build cultural competence and learn strategies to close the achievement gap. It offers three pathways for professional development: Courses given through the Cultural Collaborative, which offers professional development in best practices for meeting the needs of a diverse student population and promoting cultural understanding; the formation of Equity Teams, developed in partnership with the Pacific Educational Group to help such schools as FAIR address systemic issues of equity; and workshops and coaching through the National Urban Alliance of Effective Education. The collaborative serves as a powerful regional network for educators committed to equity. It supports FAIR staff while also connecting them to teachers from other schools. In this relationship, FAIR gets highlighted as a model demonstration school whose influence on improving teaching and learning reaches classrooms far beyond its own.

Leaders in the featured magnet schools work closely with district staff to address issues beyond those faced in the school building. In Aldine and Clark County, for example, the elementary school magnets are incorporated into a larger K-12 feeder system that allows students to continue their theme-based course of study through high school. This magnet feeder system (which Aldine district staff describe as vertical strands for engineering, visual arts, and performing arts) creates opportunities for theme-based professional development and the alignment of standards across grade levels and schools. One aim of having districtwide coordination of magnet programs is for students to experience smoother transitions as they move up through the grades and change schools and avoid dipping in terms of performance levels. Aldine staff also have collected data that shows the K-12 feeders are working to maintain high enrollment, retaining families throughout upper grade levels. Even if students decide to switch themes, once they have experienced choice through an elementary magnet, they are likely to graduate from the district through one of the magnet strands.

Figure 9. "Then and Now" Chart Showing Growth and Change at River Glen Elementary & Middle School

River Glen Elementary & Middle School

Then - 1986 Now - 2006
2 Kinder & 1 First Grade
88 Students
K - 8
520 students
Strand within a school Schoolwide Magnet
70% Spanish-speakers
30% English speakers
40% Spanish-speakers
60% English-speakers (primary)
90% Title I 49% Title I
Thematic Teaching using teacher made materials Design curriculum using district mandated texts
Grade level planning Grade level and cross-grade level articulation
Teacher experts in instructional strategies Schoolwide training by district mandates and site-selected topics
Evaluation study (10 years)
English and Spanish assessment
State mandated assessments/
Spanish language assessments
Parents educated with model, program advocates Parent participation in school
Recruitment, time consuming, difficult to attract diverse students Long wait list, program sells itself, known programs; district support
River Glen SJUSD

The U.S. Department of Education does not mandate or prescribe particular curricula or lesson plans. The information in the figure above was provided by the identified site or program and is included here as an illustration of only one of many resources that educators may find helpful and use at their option. The Department cannot ensure its accuracy. Furthermore, the inclusion of information in this figure does not reflect the relevance, timeliness, or completeness of this information; nor is it intended to endorse any views, approaches, products, or services mentioned in the figure.

Source: River Glen Elementary & Middle School. Used by permission.

Table 3. Various Funding Sources for Profiled Schools and Affiliated Partnerships Promoting Sustainability

School Funding Sources Partnerships
A.B. Combs Title I (based on census poverty data)
District funding (magnet programs, assessment, professional development)
Various grants (outdoor classroom, technology, etc.)
FranklinCovey company (professional development)
North Carolina State University, College of Engineering (tutoring and mentoring programs) Marshall Brain's Web site HowStuffWorks (science consultant)
YMCA (after-school program)
FAIR State Integration Revenue
District and West Metro Education Program funding (magnet programs, assessment, professional development)
Stages Theater (theater residency)
Various local artists and arts organizations (arts instruction, programs)
National Urban Alliance for Effective Education (literacy)
Hoggard Magnet Schools Assistance Program*
Prime Six (state funds allocated by district for desegregation)
Parents as Learning Supports (PALS) grant (parent involvement in math education)
State Senate Bill 404 grant (math, computer specialists)
National Science Foundation grant (professional development)
District funding (magnet programs, assessment, professional development)
NBA Cares Program (2007)
Community Bank of Nevada (economics program)
Local water district (classroom instruction)
Scott Foresman publishers (professional development)
Normal Park Magnet Schools Assistance Program*
Normal Park Education Fund (professional development and staffing)
District funding (magnet facilitator, transportation to museums)
Institute of Museum and Library Sciences grant (museum-based instruction)
Allied Arts grant (artists-in-residence)
Chattem, Inc. (Activboard technology)
Partner museums (professional development, instruction)
University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (professional development school program)
Community artists and architects (school building renovation, playground)
Raymond Title I (based on census poverty data)
Title III (for English language instruction)
District funding (magnet programs, assessment, professional development)
Grant from Governor's Educator Excellence Award Program
Cooperative After-school Enrichment Partnership Grant (after-school program)
Rice University and University of Texas (professional development)
River Glen Title I (based on census poverty data)
Title VII (state grant for bilingual programs)
State block grants (formerly state desegregation funds)
HABLA parent group
San Jose State University (professional development and student teachers)
2-Way CABE (professional development, start-up assistance)

* Magnet Schools Assistance program (MSAP) grants are federal funds awarded through district magnet programs for new magnet schools' start-up costs during the first three years of planning and implementation.

Note: All legislative titles refer to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

In all of the profiled schools, magnets are viewed as a critical component of school choice, providing families with multiple options and increasing the likelihood that they will be satisfied with the quality of education their children receive. In some districts where a feeder path is not currently offered for a magnet theme, school staff work closely with the district leadership to create viable options and retain families. River Glen, originally designed as a K-5 model, was expanded to include grades 6 through 8 after getting feedback on the difficulties of continuing the dual immersion theme at a separate middle school site. At Normal Park, a proposal to split and grow the current K-5 model into two separate sites (K-3 and 4-8) is being developed. It aims to stem the flight of families from the public school system in middle school.

In these ways (e.g., serving as models and incubators of innovative practice, contributing to school choice), the profiled magnet schools forgo a competitive, elitist approach to school improvement and base their continued success on supporting a network of high-performing schools throughout the district.

   22 | 23 | 24
Print this page Printable view Bookmark  and Share
Last Modified: 09/28/2009