Data shows older students choose magnet programs over Knightdale schools

mhankerson@newsobserver.comNovember 18, 2013 

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Leah Harris and her son Ryan Harris 13, of Knightdale, study promotional material during a Magnet Open House at Broughton High School in 2006. Creating a magnet option in Knightdale has always been on the town's radar, community members say.

TED RICHARDSON — TED RICHARDSON

— It might seem like the parent of a sixth grader has more than enough time to decide where their student will attend high school, but Michelle Freeman of Knightdale has already made the decision.

Her daughter, Marlee, currently attends Wake Young Women’s Leadership Academy in Raleigh. The school offers a high school curriculum which Freeman says her daughter plans to pursue.

“If at any point (Marlee) wants to make a change, she can ... but she would just go back to another magnet school,” Freeman said.

The Freemans would be part of a sizable group of Knightdale families choosing magnet programs over non-magnet options in the town.

Data presented at the first meeting of the Knightdale Area Education Work Group on Oct. 22 showed that 532 of 893 Knightdale students who opted out of Knightdale High School for the 2013-14 school year chose magnet schools outside eastern Wake County.

The students are fairly evenly divided among Enloe High School (175), Millbrook High School (172) and Southeast Raleigh High (144). Enloe and Millbrook offer the International Baccalaureate program and Southeast has a leadership and technical center.

Most students who transferred out of East Wake Middle School are going to Wendell Middle. It’s not a magnet but has a traditional calendar.286 students who chose to go to a school other than East Wake opted for schools with various magnet programs.

At the group’s second meetingon Nov. 12, Wake schools assignment director Laura Evans presented more data that she told the group “confirms something some of you have been thinking all along.”

It wasn’t that all older students tended to leave Knightdale, it was that older, presumably higher performing students, were leaving Knightdale schools for magnet schools in other parts of the county.

“A common theme seems to be that parents of students who are performing well have the perception that their students will have more choices and better opportunity at other schools,” said District 1 school board representative Tom Benton.

Benton said the issue of magnet schools, more specifically, the lack of them in eastern Wake County, has always been on the county’s radar.

Longtime magnet question

According to Benton, who spent most of his 40-year career as an educator in Wake County, magnet schools were an early attempt to diversify school populations. By offering the programs, the county hoped to convince white students to move from the suburbs into predominantly black inner-city schools.

“Since that, it has progressed to where it is providing more options to parents regardless of the racial part,” Benton said.

The county also considered bringing magnet programs to areas that are farther away from the inner city. Benton said the board has considered an equity magnet schools program, which would put schools in remote areas like Wendell, Zebulon, Fuquay-Varina and Wake Forest.

“Is that something we need to look at in Knightdale? That’s something this task force is going to have to determine,” he said. “I’ve not reached the conclusion that is something that we need to do, but it is certainly an option we need to look at.”

At the second meeting, Benton said a specialized program beginning in lower grades could help retain students as they move up.

“We weren’t necessarily looking at a magnet, but if Knightdale High School had an attractive magnet that you had to stay at East Wake Middle School for (we could keep students),” he told a small working group.

Carla Jernigan-Baker, principal at Knightdale High School, said she would need more information about students before they get to the high school level to decide if a magnet program is a solution to the schools’ problems.

Jernigan-Baker spent part of her early career at Ligon Middle School in Raleigh. Ligon has a magnet program and Jernigan-Baker said most of the students she saw in the magnet program in middle school pursued a magnet option for high school.

“I don’t know where our kids are in middle school,” she said. “I think that would factor into the decision they’re making.”

Right now, Jernigan-Baker said the work group hasn’t seen enough evidence to decide a magnet program in Knightdale would keep students in town.

Affecting student achievement

In addition to numbers, students opting for magnet options may be one of the reasons Knightdale appears to struggle with school achievement.

“In Knightdale, the magnet option has been used by so many parents that it has left a high percentage of low-performing students in the schools there,” Benton said.

Achievement data presented at the work group’s first meeting showed advanced and gifted students weren’t improving on par with their peers at Knightdale High School, but students not considered academically gifted were meeting their growth targets.

Across the county, 74 percent of gifted and advanced students were meeting their growth targets in the 2011-2012 school year. At Knightdale High, only 67 percent of advanced and gifted students were meeting their designated growth targets.

Growth targets do not measure proficiency. Brad McMillan, senior director of data and accountability, presented the data and told the work group that students can improve and meet growth targets and still not meet proficiency standards, just like advanced and gifted students can exceed profiency standards but not meet their growth targets.

In the most recent release of test scores, which is the first under the new Common Core state standards, Knightdale High School had 26.9 percent of students performing at grade level.

The group’s next meeing will focus on AIG students and programs in eastern Wake County.

Hankerson: 919-829-4826; Twitter: @easternwakenews

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