Thousands of Wake County parents will spend the next two weeks trying to get into magnet schools that they think will best meet their children’s needs for next school year.
The application period for Wake’s 42 magnet schools – which offer programs that might not be available at a neighborhood school – starts at 9 a.m. Thursday and runs to Jan. 22. The link for the online application will be available at the district’s website, www.wcpss.net.
As Wake works to compete with growing charter, private and home-school options for children, parents will have new magnet schools and themes to choose from for the 2016-17 school year along with a new set of selection criteria that could affect whether their children get accepted. More than 30,000 of Wake’s 157,000 students attend magnets.
To help parents decide, many magnet and non-magnet schools are holding open houses and tours. Go to www.wcpss.net/openhouse for a list of dates. Dozens of parents also came to Wednesday’s magnet school minifair at Farmington Woods Elementary School in Cary to learn more about their options.
“We know the strengths of our son,” said Venkat Thottiyam, a Morrisville father who came to Wednesday’s minifair. “We want to see how he fits into these programs.”
Magnet schools have played a major role in providing choice and promoting diversity in Wake County since 1982. Last year, Wake placed 2,725 of 5,531, or 49.3 percent of applicants, into magnet schools.
The majority of Wake’s magnet schools are located in Raleigh inside the Beltline in areas with many low-income families. The students in those areas on average also score lower on state exams. Unique programs – such as advanced arts and foreign language courses – are offered to attract applicants who will reduce the high concentrations of low-income students at those magnet schools.
Wake added magnet programs to Athens Drive High School in Raleigh and Reedy Creek Middle School in Cary and revised the themes at two Raleigh schools, East Millbrook Middle and Powell Elementary. School leaders hope the magnet changes will reduce the percentage of low-income students at the four schools.
Parents came by Powell’s table Wednesday to learn about the school’s new play and ingenuity theme. Teachers will use game-based activities, such as having students develop storyboards and apps, to teach them about strategy, cooperation, communication skills and problem solving.
“There is no other school like this,” said Lisa Thompson, Wake’s director of magnet themes and curriculum.
Athens Drive will have the Center for Medical Sciences and Global Health Initiatives. Reedy Creek will offer the Center for Digital Sciences and East Millbrook an Academy of the Visual and Performing Arts.
When it comes to filling magnet schools, most will continue to give priority to applicants from higher-performing areas – based on test scores – and/or to students who are trying to leave crowded schools.
But the selection criteria were revised this year for five Raleigh magnet schools near middle- and upper-class communities. Seats will be set aside at Brooks, Joyner, Underwood and Wiley elementary schools, and Martin Middle School for applicants from areas with concentrations of students who score lower on standardized tests.
Ultimately though, parents want to know whether a magnet school is a better fit for their family than their assigned school. Kylie Honeycutt, a Raleigh mother, wanted to learn more about the gifted and talented theme because those magnet schools offer hundreds of electives to try to meet the varying interests of their students.
“We want our daughter at a school where she wants to go,” Honeycutt said.
Carolyn Strohofer came to Wednesday’s minifair weighing whether to apply to a magnet school or to try to leave the school district to apply to a charter school. Strohofer, who moved to Holly Springs two weeks ago, has high standards after her daughter attended one of the nation’s top-ranked public schools in Arizona.
“We just want to get her into a high-performing school,” Strohofer said.
School leaders hope parents will consider magnet schools as an alternative to choosing charter schools, which are taxpayer-funded schools independent of traditional public schools.
“We provide multiple choices for parents through our magnet programs and application schools at elementary, middle and high school,” school board Chairman Tom Benton said at Tuesday’s board meeting. “We encourage parents to take advantage of this period that is coming up to visit these schools and learn about these schools and make the appropriate applications as they see fit.”
Magnet school FYI
▪ Parents of rising kindergarten students need to register before they can apply. The registration period starts Thursday. Go to www.wcpss.net/kindergarten for more information.
▪ Applications are not selected on a “first come, first served” basis, so it doesn’t matter when you apply so long as you do so by Jan. 22.
▪ Your best chances of getting a seat are for kindergarten, sixth grade and ninth grade, which have more open seats than other grade levels.
▪ School officials say you should apply for the schools you want in the order you prefer them. Go to http://bit.ly/1Pjkx9C to view school-by-school application data for the past 10 years.
▪ Only select schools you want to attend. Once you’re placed at a magnet school, you’ll lose your seat at your base school. If you decide you’d rather not go to the magnet school, you can apply online between Feb. 8-12 to go to your base school.
▪ Parents will learn the application results Feb. 5. Parents who don’t get their first choice will be placed on a wait list. But parents won’t be told where they are on the wait list.
▪ Go to www.wcpss.net/magnet for more information, including for a list of information sessions.