Science and engineering-related themes could be offered at four high-poverty Wake County magnet schools as a way to attract more affluent families.
Wake County school administrators presented Monday 10 magnet school themes that are being considered for Southeast Raleigh High, Bugg and Millbrook elementary schools in Raleigh, and Lincoln Heights Elementary in Fuquay-Varina.
Most of the 10 themes revolve around science, technology, engineering and math, popularly called STEM. These new themes could have students studying concepts such as graphic design, robotics, historic preservation, bio-agriculture and digital communications.
Wake is attempting to get millions of dollars from a federal grant to fund the programs at the four magnet schools. Deputy Superintendent Cathy Moore said the grant guidelines give priority to STEM themes, so Wake needs to keep its application competitive.
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“There is a definite theme within the themes around the STEM focus, hands-on engineering design,” Moore told school board members Monday. “Nationally, you’re going to find there’s a lot of energy around schools that are incorporating that work into how they deliver core instruction.”
If Wake doesn’t win the grant, the district will have to fund the new themes with local dollars.
Since 1982, Wake has offered unique academic programs at magnet schools to try to fill and diversify under-enrolled schools. In recent years, the school board has relied more on magnet schools than student assignment as a way to diversify high-poverty schools.
In November, the school board voted to revamp the magnet themes at Bugg, Millbrook and Southeast Raleigh and to add a magnet program at Lincoln Heights. All four schools have much higher percentages of students receiving subsidized lunches than the district average, and their test scores are also below Wake’s average.
In addition, Bugg, Millbrook and Southeast Raleigh all have seen large drops in the number of magnet applications.
The themes presented Monday have names such as international design academy; academy of computer sciences and innovation; robotics academy; academy of agricultural sciences; urban planning and school of design, art and engineering.
Moore said the district needs to keep examining magnet themes to see whether there’s still demand.
“It may have been quite relevant and applicable 10 years ago, but as you go through a number of years you’re finding that it is becoming more ubiquitous and is more widespread and no longer innovative,” Moore said.
For instance, Wake expanded the number of magnet schools offering the International Baccalaureate theme, which promotes high academic standards and international understanding. Now, Moore said they’ll likely remove that program from Millbrook Elementary.
School board members gave their feedback Monday. Administrators will take the feedback and work with staff at the four schools to present themes that will be presented to the board for approval in early 2017.
Board members stressed Monday the need to make the themes appealing to the whole school. Magnet schools consist of the base population of people who live in the attendance area and magnet students who apply to attend.
“If we want to avoid the school-within-the-school, we’ve really got to listen to the base as much as we listen to the magnet,” said school board member Jim Martin.