Five Raleigh magnet schools will share $9.6 million in federal dollars that will allow them during the next three years to boost programs stressing themes such as the arts, technology, foreign languages and Stephen Covey’s leadership principles.
Wake County school officials announced Wednesday that a new U.S. Department of Education Magnet Schools Assistance Program grant will accelerate the magnet programs begun last school year at Carroll Middle School and Fox Road and Green elementary schools. The money will also help two longtime magnet schools – Moore Square Middle School and Poe Elementary School – that changed their programs last year.
The money will go toward staff training, new equipment and renovations to support the five schools.
“Without the receipt of the grant dollars, we would have been looking in other directions to find the dollars or have had to forgo improvements,” Cathy Moore, Wake’s deputy superintendent for school performance, said at a news conference Wednesday at Poe Elementary School.
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Annice Williams, Poe’s principal, said she’s ready to buy instruments to start a strings program, shoes to start a tap dance class, costumes for theater and dance classes, and textbooks for the Mandarin Chinese class.
A new stage
Williams said she also plans to refurbish the campus, located on Peyton Street near downtown Raleigh. Additions include expanding and renovating the stage, soundproofing the music rooms and setting up a portable outdoor stage.
“A stage where the children are really squeezed together is just not going to give you the same type of performance,” Williams said. “If you imagine curtains behind there, fancy backdrops to really show off the type of scenes they’re creating, an extension we can add to the front of the stage so that the children will have more space to really be able to perform – those are the kinds of things that are really going to let Poe go to the next level with the program.”
Making magnet schools physically and academically attractive are keys to luring in students, experience has shown.
Since 1982, the magnet program has been Wake’s main venue for providing choice and promoting diversity. Wake’s 35 magnet schools, many in low-income neighborhoods or at schools with high concentrations of students receiving subsidized lunches, offer unique programs to attract suburban students.
This year, Wake found places for 53 percent of the 5,558 magnet applicants. But the number of applications has dropped 42 percent since 2007.
Wake’s magnet schools have won numerous national awards over the past 32 years. Combs Elementary School in Raleigh was named the top magnet school in the nation in May by Magnet Schools of America. The trade organization, which will hold its national conference in Raleigh in April, also gave awards to 23 other Wake magnet schools this year.
Wake has repeatedly turned to the federal Magnet Schools Assistance Program, whose goal is to promote diverse schools, to start new programs or overhaul existing magnets. With Wednesday’s announcement, Wake will have received more than $45 million since 1985.
But before Wednesday, Wake had struck out twice in recent years, including requests for $10.3 million in 2010 and $12 million in 2013.
‘Huge impact’ foreseen
When Wake didn’t win last year, the state’s largest school district turned to local dollars for a scaled-down startup at the five schools. Williams, the Poe principal, said the local dollars allowed the school to begin in a “piecemeal way,” but not enough to really enhance the new focus on performing arts.
“The facility in some ways just doesn’t match the level of instruction and creativity of the teachers and the children,” she said.
But Dorie Nolt, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Education Department, said Wednesday that the department had leftover grant money to give to Wake.
“It has a huge impact on the five schools that will be receiving that $9 million over a three-year time span,” said Beth Cochran, Wake’s senior director of magnet programs.