Thousands of Wake County parents will encounter new magnet themes and revised selection rules as they apply over the next two weeks to get their children into one of those coveted schools.
From Monday through Jan. 25, applications will be accepted for magnet schools, early colleges and single-sex leadership academies. This years choices will include three new magnet schools and two existing magnets that are changing their themes to attract more applicants.
Some students could have a better chance of getting accepted now that Wake will again randomly fill 10 percent of the openings. Other families will have to take an extra step and file an application to stay in the magnet program if students are entering sixth- or ninth-grades this fall.
Since 1982, the magnet program has been one of Wakes main tools for promoting school diversity. Wakes 34 magnet schools, many in low-income areas, offer unique programs including hundreds of electives and daily foreign language instruction to attract suburban students.
We really like the magnet program, said Rick Hill of Wake Forest, whose son Ransom attends Millbrook Elementary School in Raleigh. Thats why were willing to make the commute.
The lineup has been revised this year with Carroll Middle School and Green Elementary School, both near North Hills in Raleigh, and Fox Road Elementary School near Triangle Town Center in Raleigh becoming magnet.
Green Elementary and Carroll Middle will have a leadership theme using material from author Stephen Covey.
Carroll will also have a technology theme. Green will also have a world languages theme, in which students will take either Spanish or Mandarin Chinese daily.
Weve had a fantastic showing of interest from the community, said Joseph Marchiando, Greens assistant principal.
Poe Elementary, on Peyton Street near Poole Road in Southeast Raleigh, and Moore Square Middle, on Person Street in downtown Raleigh, are already magnet schools, but they are getting new themes.
Both will offer the Academically Gifted Basics/Gifted & Talented program. All students will pick from hundreds of electives. Students who are identified as academically gifted will take reading and math classes with children of similar ability levels.
Where in the past Moore Square may have only three parents on school tours, it is now seeing as many as 28 parents per visit. Moore Square Principal Kengie Bass told prospective parents Thursday that all the teachers have to reapply at the school.
Only the best and brightest will stay here, Bass said. If theyre not good enough to teach my children, theyre not good enough to teach your children.
Moore Square will transition to the new theme this fall, while also keeping elements of its old museums theme, in which it works with the downtown museums.
It will be different at Poe, which will temporarily operate two themes. The fourth- and fifth-grade students will get the new theme. The younger students will continue the old Montessori theme, which stresses hands-on activities and multi-age classes. But they can take some of the new electives.
Its going to be a really exciting time for Poe, said Tamani Anderson Powell, director of marketing for Wakes magnet schools.
Wake plans to move the Montessori program to a different school for the 2014-15 school year, but it hasnt chosen a site.
To help expand what the five new magnet schools will offer, Wake will apply in the spring for $10 million to $12 million in federal funding.
If Wake doesnt win the federal grant, the district has committed to continue the programs with local dollars, albeit at a slower pace
Anderson Powell said parents shouldnt hesitate to apply this year to any of the five schools. She said it will be easier to get in this fall before demand picks up.
As time goes on and they become more popular, there will be less openings, she said.
The school system also will be returning to its previous selection process.
Prior to the choice plan that was used for this school year, 10 percent of magnet openings were filled randomly and rising sixth- and ninth-grade magnet students had to apply to stay for middle and high school. Nearly all those applications to stay in the program were approved.
The school board told staff to restore both practices now that the choice plan has been discarded.
We have to get across that were going back to what we did before, said school board member Christine Kushner.
Kushner will be among the magnet families applying Monday to keep her rising ninth-grader in the program. Some magnet families didnt like how the choice plan automatically put them into a magnet secondary school without giving them the option of going to their neighborhood school.
School board member Jim Martin had urged that the school system go back to filling some seats randomly because the selection criteria gives priority to students who come from high-performing areas. He said its too hard for applicants from low-performing areas to get in.
Its a baby step, but its a step in the right direction, he said.