Houston ISD Magnet program draws big crowd

Nov 7, 2011 by

The sun had yet to rise Saturday morning when Patricia Neri and her 13-year-old son, Jose Ortuno, arrived at the Houston Independent School District’s headquarters.

She was so anxious to pick up an application for the magnet school program – which allows students to transfer outside their neighborhoods to campuses with specialties – that she arrived two hours early.

“I wanted to beat the traffic,” Neri said.

So many parents packed the magnet information session that the district had to open more parking spots – a sign that nerves have settled some since a January audit of the magnet program proposed sweeping changes, including stripping funding from numerous schools.

HISD trustees ultimately ignored the audit amid parent uproar, but board president Paula Harris pledged discussions as soon as this week on the politically dicey subject.

A proposed new policy, released by HISD last week, calls for the creation of a new funding model for magnet schools and an accountability system that would give under-performing programs three years to improve before losing their status.

“It is not going to lay dormant for the entire year,” Harris said of the proposed policy. “We are moving forward on magnets.”

No toddler wait list

While the district has some nationally renowned magnet campuses such as Carnegie Vanguard High School and the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, others draw few applicants and are rated “academically unacceptable” by the state.

The proposed policy keeps with the current practice regarding entrance requirements. Elementary schools would admit students based on available space, although the magnet programs for gifted students, called Vanguard, still would have admissions standards. Middle and high schools could continue to have entrance requirements – a sticking point for some who believe the programs should be more open.

Lupita Hinojosa, HISD’s assistant superintendent of school choice, estimated that 2,000 parents attended the magnet fair Saturday, a good turnout that she attributes to better marketing and increased confidence in the school-choices model.

“Parents were very apprehensive last year because of the review going on,” Hinojosa said. “We know our board has to make changes and improvements, but our schools are continuing with their focus on instruction. I’ve had parents that are bringing their 1- and 2-year-olds ready to put them on a wait list. Unfortunately, we don’t start that early.”

A cardboard robot

Neri, the mother who was the first in line to enter the magnet fair, said she was troubled by the talk last year about ending some magnet programs.

“I didn’t like that at all,” she said. “If they’re going to make some changes, like eliminating programs, it’s going to affect our kids.”

Neri sent her son to the popular KIPP charter school network for middle school, but the high school is far away from her house, she said, so she is considering HISD’s magnet program as well as private schools. Her top pick in HISD is Carnegie Vanguard, the high school for gifted students.

At the fair, school officials tried to draw parents and children to their tables with photograph-packed posters, videos playing on laptops and even a life-size cardboard robot touting the robotics program at Lockhart Elementary.

Community supporters of Black Middle School showed up to pass out information even though the campus doesn’t have a magnet program yet. Parents have been lobbying for months for a Vanguard magnet for gifted students. The school board is scheduled to vote Thursday on the plan.

4-year-old unfazed

The proposed magnet policy says that ideas for new magnet programs must come from the community, but it does not mention specific criteria the board must consider in approving the plan.

Houston mom Morna Henderson said she felt overwhelmed shopping for a magnet program but was glad major changes weren’t planned for the coming school year. Her 4-year-old daughter, Peyton York, was unfazed.

Asked which school she liked, Peyton smiled and said, “I really want to go to kindergarten.”

via HISD Magnet program draws big crowd – Houston Chronicle.

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