Wake County school administrators will recommend Tuesday that Athens Drive High School in Raleigh and Reedy Creek Middle School in Cary become magnet schools and that two existing Raleigh magnet schools get new themes.
In material posted in advance of Tuesday’s school board work session, administrators say that both Athens Drive and Reedy Creek have available space for magnet students and that giving them magnet programs would reduce their percentages of low-income students. Administrators also say that East Millbrook Middle School and Powell Elementary School both need new magnet themes to attract more students.
If approved by the school board, administrators would include all four schools in a federal grant they will apply for in 2016. Among the purposes of the federal Magnet Schools Assistance Program (MSAP) grant is the “elimination, reduction or prevention of minority group isolation.”
Even if the grant isn’t approved, Wake would have to commit to starting the new programs at the four schools.
Since 1982, Wake has used the magnet program to diversify school enrollments, fill underenrolled schools and provide additional educational opportunities. Wake's 40 magnet schools offer programs – such as advanced arts and foreign language courses – typically not found at other schools in order to attract middle-and-upper-income students.
In recent years, school officials have been leery of busing more students to promote diversity so they’ve instead focused on expanding the number of magnet schools. Nine have been added in the past four years.
Staff says they identified schools for the magnet grant that have high minority student percentages that are substantially higher than the district average. Adding magnet themes at those schools is also not supposed to negatively impact surrounding non-magnet schools.
For Athens Drive, staff cites how being a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) school hasn’t attracted more students to the west Raleigh campus. Staff also notes how the 35.8 percent of Athens students receiving subsidized lunches is above the district average of 28.6 percent.
Staff also says that Athens’ location makes it centrally located and accessible to western Wake, an area where the district has historically drawn many of its magnet students. Staff also notes that Athens Drive is the only comprehensive high school in the downtown Raleigh area that isn’t a magnet school.
At Reedy Creek, staff notes how the school’s percentages of Hispanic students and students receiving subsidized lunches are both over the district averages. Staff also says the school is easily accessible to western Wake.
At East Millbrook, staff points to how the school’s percentages of black, Hispanic and low-income students are all well above the district’s averages. Staff says East Millbrook’s International Baccalaureate magnet theme hasn’t been able to attract magnet students and that the school needs a program boost.
At Powell, staff points to how the school’s percentages of black and low-income students are both above the district’s averages. Staff says Powell is easily accessible to the northern Wake area to draw magnet applicants.
“Powell needs a really innovative and creative theme to pair with GT (Gifted and Talented magnet theme) to increase their attraction,” according to the district handout.
The documentation doesn’t list what the new themes would be for the four schools. Staff says the new themes are still being researched.