Magnet program may not solve Knightdale’s problems

mhankerson@newsobserver.comDecember 17, 2013 

— As the Knightdale Area Education Work Group spent a second meeting discussing magnet programs and the students who may be drawn to them, it became clear to some community members a magnet option may not solve the schools’ problems.

Knightdale Mayor Russell Killen was especially adamant about evaluating where school resources go and how they are allocated to magnet programs.

“Once a school becomes a magnet school, resources stay there as opposed to being shifted where needed,” he said to his small group. “Resources become a right (for magnet schools).”

The discussion of where resources go is especially important for the work group. It formed in response to an independent audit that emphasized the lack of resources the town’s schools had to deal with.

When the group began working, it also became clear there were problems retaining students, which is when the magnet school discussion re-entered the equation.

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.

At the group’s second meeting 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.”

Older, presumably higher performing students, were leaving Knightdale schools for magnet schools in other parts of the county.

It seemed like the quickest fix to bring students back was to offer a magnet program. But according to the audit that sparked the creation of the group, the issue is not the programs, but how the programs operate.

In each school the auditors visited (Hodge Road and Knightdale elementary schools, East Wake Middle and Knightdale High), the audit found issues with insufficient resources coming from the county. The resources the schools were lacking ranged from adequate staff to having enough food for lunch at East Wake Middle.

Enhancement programs aren’t enough

At last week’s meeting, Director of Marketing and Communication for the Office of Magnet and Curriculum Enhancement Programs of Wake County, Tamani Anderson-Powell presented information about how the district handles magnet programs.

Every three years, the school system has to apply for a grant that helps sustain the magnet programs. At that time, they evaluate if another magnet is needed or if a process of demagnetization needs to occur.

When looking at establishing a magnet, the Magnet office and the Wake school board consider capacity and population of schools, the location of a proposed magnet and how it might affect the surrounding schools and neighborhoods.

Anderson-Powell said she wasn’t involved in the last discussion, so she’s not sure exactly why Knightdale hasn’t been seriously considered as a location for a magnet program. There are some general criteria the county looks at to decide where magnets might fit.

“One of the biggest reasons (we consider) is seat availability,” Anderson-Powell said. “We do look at if this is really what that school needs. Not every school needs to be a magnet to be successful.”

Anderson-Powell pointed out that Knightdale has two curriculum enhancement programs: the STEM program at Hodge Road Elementary, East Wake Middle School and Knightdale School. Forestville Road Elementary is also a global school.

Schools with curriculum enhancement programs get half a teaching position and one cart of iPads. Schools must pursue their own grants to improve the enhancement programs.

Many small groups, including the group with Nancy Allen, principal of East Wake Middle, thought this wasn’t enough to take the place of a full-blown magnet program, let alone adequately provide for the curriculum enhancement program.

With this information, most small groups said their reccomendations would be to strengthen the curriculum enhancement programs Knightdale schools already offer, instead of creating a magnet program.

One group even suggested de-emphasizing the dicussion around magnets in Knightdale. The group, which included local teachers, said it might be more effective to focus on students who are already in Knightdale rather than send the message certain types of students need to come to Knightdale schools to make them better.

The work group will finalize recommendations from all their previous meetings at their final meeting on Dec. 19 and the school board will consider them a board meeting in early 2014.

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

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