Thousands get into Wake County magnet schools and early colleges

Dancers from Moore Square Middle School hold up a colleague during their Act 1 dress rehearsal dance at the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts on March 8, 2016.
Dancers from Moore Square Middle School hold up a colleague during their Act 1 dress rehearsal dance at the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts on March 8, 2016. News & Observer file photo

Applications for Wake County’s magnet schools and early colleges are up slightly this year but are still down sharply from eight years ago.

School district records show that 6,709 families applied for a magnet school or early college for the 2017-18 school year. Fifty-four percent, or 3,654 of the applicants, received placements.

Applications were up from the 6,590 received last year as families had new offerings to pick from, such as the North Wake College and Career Academy, which will offer high school students a chance to get specialized job training.

But applications are down 27 percent from 2009, when more than 9,213 applications were submitted. Wake’s efforts to generate interest in magnet schools has been challenged by increased competition from charter schools, private schools, home schools and non-magnet schools within the district.

Since 1982, Wake has offered unique academic programs at magnet schools such as advanced arts courses to try to fill and diversify under-enrolled schools. The majority of Wake’s magnet schools are in historically high-poverty areas or were given magnet status to try to reduce their percentage of low-income students.

The school board has added 12 new magnet schools since 2012 to try to turn around those schools. Wake also periodically changes the themes at schools that have seen large drops in applications, most recently in February at three Raleigh schools – Bugg and Millbrook elementary schools and Southeast Raleigh High School.

In addition to magnet schools, Wake offers college programs in which small, specialized high schools partner with universities so students can get college credit.

This year, Wake placed 3,190 of 5,650 magnet applicants, or 56 percent. Wake placed 464 of the 1,059 early college applicants, or 44 percent.

School officials cited a switch in service providers as a reason they couldn’t provide this year’s totals for those who applied for year-round and traditional-calendar schools.

Some of this year’s magnet and early college data show:

▪ Moore Square Middle School in Raleigh has seen a 120-percent increase in applications over the last two years since it changed to the gifted and talented magnet theme offering hundreds of electives to students.

▪ Douglas Elementary School in Raleigh saw its applications nearly double a year after being named the best magnet school in the nation.

Douglas Magnet Elementary School teachers help students holding the giant letters for the school's mascot, DRAGONS, at the start of a school celebration with students, staff and parents on May 13, 2016 honoring Douglas as being named best magnet school in the nation by Magnet Schools of America. News & Observer file photo News & Observer file photo

▪ The North Wake College and Career Academy in Wake Forest had more applicants than the Vernon Malone College and Career Academy, its counterpart in South Raleigh. Vernon Malone saw a 36 percent drop in applications.

▪ Athens Drive High School in Raleigh and Reedy Creek Middle School in Cary saw, respectively, 94 and 80 percent increases in applications from last year. Both will be entering their second year as magnet schools.

▪ It wasn’t immediately clear how successful the efforts were to try to get more low-income magnet applicants into five Raleigh magnet schools – Brooks, Joyner, Underwood and Wiley elementary schools and Martin Middle School. Those schools mainly have magnet themes to help them compete with private schools and charter schools.

T. Keung Hui: 919-829-4534, @nckhui