Innovations in Education: Creating Successful Magnet School Programs
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Appendix A: District Profiles
Duval County Public Schools

Districtwide Enrollment 126,633
Magnet Enrollment 19,927 (16%)
Total Number of Schools 178
Number of Magnet Schools 61
District Size (in Square Miles) 850
Population Type Large Central City

Duval County Public Schools, serving Jacksonville, Florida, has been home to two magnet high schools since the 1980s. But like many other districts engaged in magnet programming, Duval's magnet initiatives increased dramatically as a result of a court-ordered desegregation plan. The plan outlining the use of magnet schools took effect in the 1991-92 school year as an alternative to a forced busing plan implemented in 1969. Although in 1999 the district achieved unitary status, ending the court mandate for its magnet program, Duval has continued to grow its magnet program in order to continue its efforts to decrease racial isolation in schools as well as to provide a system of choice.

Duval's magnet schools fall into two categories: dedicated and school-within-a-school. Virtually all of Duval's school-within-a-school magnets serve students schoolwide, irrespective of their status as magnet or neighborhood students. The district sees this as the best way to eliminate one of the potential problems associated with the school-within-a-school model: that it can create a distinction between the magnet students and neighborhood students as the "haves" and the "have-nots," respectively.

Primary responsibility for the magnet schools falls under the Office of School Choice and Pupil Assignment. The district magnet office, housed within School Choice, employs a general director, a magnet coordinator, and a magnet marketing and recruiting specialist. One of the main tasks of the magnet coordinator is working closely with each magnet school to ensure that all of the schools' needs are being met. The magnet coordinator also oversees the student application process.

Duval's magnet program is intended to create an environment in which students can excel by choosing what best meets their needs. Therefore, the magnet program in this district is diverse and academically focused. Some of its schools offer students a combination of vocational and college preparatory courses. One example is the Frank H. Petersen Academy of Technology, from which students graduate with both a diploma and a license in a particular vocational area. The local Chamber of Commerce has been a strong advocate for career academies such as Petersen. The Chamber has identified work fields that have a high need for graduates with certain skills and talents, and the district has responded by implementing complementary magnet themes. Another success story is the Andrew Jackson Medical Professions and Criminal Justice High School. Its enrollment, which is approximately 85 percent African American, represents one of the lowest average family incomes in the district. Because its high-quality vocational programs enable graduates to proceed directly into the work force, the school has been very popular. The district also fosters a culture of quality academic standards by offering students the opportunity to take college-level classes in some of the magnet high schools.

Admission into most Duval magnet schools is handled by lottery. The exceptions are the International Baccalaureate schools, which base admission on merit, and the schools of the arts, which require an audition. However, the lottery system assigns some degree of priority to certain categories of student: those residing in the magnet school's surrounding neighborhood, those with a sibling attending the school to which they apply, and those who have attended a feeder school for the magnet. Also, students who attend a Title I school receive a priority in the magnet lottery when they apply to a magnet program in a school that is not a Title I school. Similarly, students who attend a school that is not Title I receive a priority in the magnet lottery when they apply to a magnet program in a school that is Title I.

Funding has been a critical factor in the evolution of Duval County's ambitious magnet program. A federal Magnet Schools Assistance Program (MSAP) grant funded its start-up years, beginning in 1991-92. Then, in 1995 a second MSAP grant allowed it to revamp 21 existing schools. Improving the appearance and infrastructure of schools in lower income neighborhoods has been important in creating a magnetizing effect. The district has sustained its magnet schools without the aid of any federal funds, dedicating $2 million per year to the program, money required to offset the higher costs of running some magnet themes. For example, a performing arts school requires more instruments than a neighborhood school that simply offers a music elective.

Achievement scores in the district have risen as well; by 2002-03, 54 percent of Duval schools had achieved a grade of B or better from the Florida State Department of Education.

Demand for admission to Duval's magnet schools is high; for the 2002-03 school year, 7,699 students were put on the waiting list. District representatives have identified several key factors that contribute to the success of their magnet program:

  • Open lines of communication between administration, staff, and parents. As examples, the district points to the use of lead magnet school teachers, the advisory council, and its parent-focused telephone hotline and Web site.

  • Initial research on the themes. Early research conducted with parents to determine attractive magnet themes resulted in well-chosen themes, and it also laid a foundation for the district's marketing program, which is also a key success factor.

  • "Scream Your Theme." This is the mantra of the magnet office, indicating that each magnet school is responsible for making the whole campus and community aware of its magnet content.

  • Strong Leaders. Strong principals and teachers, who have committed to the magnet theme and are willing to face all of the accompanying challenges, are vital to the program's longevity.

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Last Modified: 08/08/2006