Area magnet schools open for recruiting

Archer Community School gifted program student Shykel Rambert, 9, left, helps classmate Sierra Crosswhite, 10, right, with her marine biology power point presentation project Monday, January 24, 2005. Gifted teacher Cherith Davenport is pictured at far left.

DOUG FINGER/ The Gainesville Sun
Published: Wednesday, January 26, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 25, 2005 at 11:18 p.m.
For many parents, it's school shopping season.
In January and February, Alachua County magnet schools and programs look to secure students for next year.
Schools are holding open houses, mailing information letters, scheduling guided tours for parents and daylong "shadowing" visits for prospective students.
All to attract the brightest pupils at elementary, middle and high school.
"These are really great kids to teach," said Bobbie Benson, coordinator of the International Baccalaureate program at Eastside High. "Who wouldn't want to have them?"
A magnet program, such as Eastside's IB program, typically is a school within a school organized around an educational theme.
For parents of talented pupils, the appeal of a magnet program is the promise of a specialty program that will prepare their children for the next level of schooling, whether that's middle school, high school or college.
For schools, the benefit is to have more high- achieving students that score high on state exams, which determine a school' grade.
Also, more talented students means a more successful program, which in turn leads to more prestige for the school. The high achievers in Eastside's IB program, for example, regularly propel the school to being ranked as one of the top 50 high schools in the country by Newsweek magazine.
The deadlines to apply for entry into most magnet programs range from mid-February to March 1.
Beginning this week, magnet schools hold open houses where prospective parents and students can ask questions, tour the building and meet the teachers.
Even the more established magnet schools hold open houses.
"We still need to inform the parent," Benson said of the IB program, which accepts about half of the students who apply. "The reputation is out there, but the reputation doesn't give them the nuts and bolts about the education of the IB program."
Eastside's IB and the magnet programs at Howard Bishop and Lincoln middle schools succeed at attracting west Gainesville students into east Gainesville schools.
"The parents come to us," said Barbara Brown, coordinator of the Lyceum program at Lincoln Middle. "It's a good program for kids who like to learn."
The Lyceum program is liberal-arts themed, while the Bishop program targets gifted students who are interested in technology-based learning.
Each program expects "A" students with high standardized test scores and glowing teacher recommendations.
Nonmagnet middle schools, including Fort Clarke, Kanapaha and Westwood middle schools, also hold open houses for gifted students in the next month.
Their purpose is not to recruit, but to sell parents on the merits of staying at their neighborhood middle school. In 2004-05, the three westside middle schools lost about 530 students to Lincoln and Bishop, or 72 percent of the magnet program enrollment.
More parental choices Often new magnet programs are created to respond to parent demands.
For fall 2005, the district is adding a new elementary-school magnet program for gifted and talented students at Archer Community School.
The district also plans to start a limited-capacity choice program at Westwood Middle. It would be a "feeder" for the Cambridge program for high-achieving students at Gainesville High School. Both are called choice programs because no busing will be provided.
More magnet and choice programs mean more options for parents, said Sandy Hollinger, deputy superintendent for Alachua County schools.
Alachua County parents want the school district to design creative and challenging academic programs, Hollinger said.
"We have a highly involved parent group," she said.
For programs to succeed, schools "have to do marketing so people know what you have to offer," Hollinger said.
Ultimately, any program's long-term success hinges on parent satisfaction.
Sandy Kramer, parent of a ninth-grader in Eastside's IB program, said she evaluated each choice open to her son before the family picked IB.
"What you do is you talk to parents who have older children in the program," said Kramer, an accounting professor at the University of Florida. Two of her older sons attended GHS, while another also attended the IB program.
While gathering the information, she looked for the program that best matched her son's learning style, Kramer said.
"It matters that they enjoy it," she said. "You've got to be eager to do the work."
Douane D. James can be reached at (352) 374-5087 or

Tips for parents

  • Know your child's interests to be sure it matches theme of magnet program

  • Learn feeder patterns: some children accepted into elementary and middle school magnets can earn guaranteed seats into middle and high school magnets

  • Ask how many students stick with the program and how many drop out

  • Ask for specific results of how magnet students have performed after graduating from program

  • Ask for an estimate how long the morning and evening bus rides will be

  • Understand the theme. Magnet programs usually are targeted to specific learning styles

  • Talk with child's current teacher(s) to see if your child can succeed in the program

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