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LAUSD puts millions into its magnet expansion

Craig Clough | May 17, 2016

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King/Drew Medical Magnet

The LA Unified school board put its money where its mouth is at its May 10 meeting and approved a $3 million expansion of its growing magnet program. The move comes after months of public comments from district leaders pointing to the popular magnet program as a way to increase enrollment in the district.

Two magnet resolutions that were passed will create 13 new programs for the 2017-18 school year and specifically cited declining enrollment as a reason.

“I believe that magnets are what our parents want, and I think we should do everything possible to facilitate that. I think every school in our district should be a thematic school, and that we should do that,” board member Richard Vladovic said at the meeting.

• Read more about magnets in our three-part series, including profiles of Bravo and King/Drew medical magnets. 

The district currently has 210 magnet programs — with 14 more scheduled to be added for this coming school year, plus the 13 just approved for the following year — serving 67,000 of its 650,000 students. But more than 101,000 students attend independent charter schools, and a new plan from Great Public Schools Now would vastly expand that number as it seeks to increase high-quality schools of all kinds, leading district leaders to actively push magnets as a way to keep students from leaving for charters. When a student moves to an independent charter, per-pupil state and federal money moves with them.

A total of 23,000 students applied for a magnet this year at LA Unified but were put on a waiting list. The district has increased enrollment at magnets by more than 7,000 over the last two years. The expansion resolutions call for three new magnet schools, which are self-contained schools that serve only magnet students, and 10 new programs which are integrated into another traditional school’s curriculum.

All but one will be located at existing campuses and do not require any new construction, according to the resolution. One new school will serve students in 6th through 12th grades at South Region High School #8 in Maywood in a new facility already under construction and will be the district’s third center for enriched studies.

“The Southeast community has long advocated for more high-quality instructional programs in their neighborhoods,” said board member Ref Rodriguez in a statement. “I am thrilled that the LAUSD board and district has listened, and has taken another step forward in closing the opportunity gap by creating a Center for Enriched Studies to be located in the City of Maywood. This new magnet school highlights the board’s commitment to increasing the number of magnet programs throughout the district, and adds to the portfolio of magnet programs available to middle school and high school students in the Southeast Cities.”

At the same May 10 meeting, the board also approved a resolution that calls on the district to make a more aggressive effort to seek outside funding for popular school programs, including magnets.

On the new California Office to Reform Education (CORE) school accountability system that LA Unified developed with five other school districts, four of the top five high schools on the index were magnet schools. Former Superintendent Ramon Cortines celebrated that magnet students at the district scored better than independent charter students on the statewide Smarter Balanced tests.

“The performance of our magnets demonstrates how academic innovation can serve minority students and those from underserved communities who are seeking a nontraditional education,” Cortines wrote in a letter to the school board.

Cortines did not mention that 16 percent of magnet students are enrolled in gifted programs and thus need high grades for acceptance, but his remark was an example of how the district has been more aggressively promoting its magnets. Since taking office in January, Superintendent Michelle King has also publicly lauded magnets.

“If the word is not out, it needs to get out: Our magnet schools are tremendous,” King said at a January school board committee meeting.

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