LAUSD board eyes gifted magnet schools in Valley to stem brain drain
Mike Szymanski | October 12, 2015
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In a quiet effort that could help mitigate the proliferation of charter schools, the LA Unified board is scheduled to vote tomorrow on what would be first two gifted/highly gifted high school magnets in the San Fernando Valley. Taft High in Woodland Hills and Kennedy High in Granada Hills would join 14 other magnet programs approved to begin in traditional district schools this year.
They are also among 47 proposed magnets — about 20 percent of the district’s existing 198 — that are on track to open over the next two years. That would increase the number of magnet programs to 245. The current number of charter schools in LAUSD is 285.
But it’s not about outnumbering the charter schools, said Keith Abrahams, LAUSD’s executive director of Student Integration Services, who is in charge of the magnet programs. “We want to continue to expand choices, and parents want what’s best for their children,” he told LA School Report. “So it is an ongoing process to continually provide those choices in the areas closer to where they live.”
It’s also about keeping higher-performing students from leaving the district. In his report, Abrahams showed that over the past year, a large number of these students were withdrawing from local schools because they don’t have magnet high schools to attend.
“LAUSD lost 1,099 identified 8th graders who transitioned to a Northwest (district) high school this year. ” Abrahams said, “This may be due to the lack of a Gifted High School in the entire Valley (Northwest and Northeast).”
Abrahams helped identify the two Valley high schools as magnet possibilities. His report will be presented to the board tomorrow. The plan for the new magnets was sparked when the board passed a resolution in 2012 to start addressing declining enrollment. Abrahams said 23,000 students are now on magnet waiting lists and more than 20 percent of them — 5,213 — are currently enrolled in charter schools, private schools or other districts.
So, to get them back, the district is stepping up efforts to add more magnets. Last year, 25 traditional public schools asked to become magnet schools, and 14 were approved in May. The cost to create those magnets, including transportation costs for buses, new teachers and new materials (at $17 per student, per class) totaled $2.2 million.
For the two new magnet high schools on the agenda tomorrow, the cost is $823,000.
Ten other schools are awaiting approval to become magnet programs, and 21 others have expressed interest but have not yet submitted complete proposals.
“We are working closely with the other schools to go through this comprehensive process [to become a magnet school] because a lot of things have to be in place,” Abrahams said.
Of the schools that want to be magnets in the next two years, none of them is located in the central/downtown District 1 represented by school board member George McKenna. Abrahams said he is meeting with district officials from that area tomorrow morning to discuss more potential school magnet sites in that area.
Magnet programs do not give preference to people who live in the designated school boundaries but are opened to students who live within LAUSD borders. Access is generally determined by the Magnet Selection Priority Points System, with the number of students selected based on the number of available spaces at a particular school. Students are randomly accepted into Magnet programs based on a priority points system. Magnets offer theme-based instructional opportunities from grades K through 12.
By 2021-22, the two new schools predict an enrollment of 613 for Taft and 458 for Kennedy.
Abrahams pointed out that since 1986, 78 magnet schools and centers have been named as California Distinguished Schools. Additionally, 14 LAUSD magnet schools and centers have been awarded National Blue Ribbon School status.
In the recent Smater Balanced statewide tests, magnets outperformed the district’s independent charter schools in nearly every major category, although the demographics of magnets vs. independent charters do not match up evenly, and some magnet schools are for highly-gifted students, which requires them to meet certain academic criteria for enrollment.
* Corrects to say the two new schools in the Valley would be for gifted and highly gifted students.