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HISD revises magnet school policy

This has been in the works for a long time.

Terry Grier

Terry Grier

The [HISD Board of Trustees] voted unanimously on a revised policy governing its beloved magnet school program, saying the schools would be held more accountable for academic performance and their ability to attract students.

While some of the 113 magnet programs are nationally recognized and draw waiting lists, others have languished over the years.

“Woo! We finally passed a magnet policy,” board president Anna Eastman said immediately after the vote.

Houston Independent School District Superintendent Terry Grier took his excitement to Twitter.

“HISD approves Magnet Policy after four years of discussion!” he wrote.

The policy does not address individual schools – a politically tougher topic. Grier and the board have said no changes will take place for the coming school year.

Yeah, it’s when the board gets around to deciding the fate of individual schools that stuff will start to get real. Be that as it may, I think this is sensible. HISD has a lot of great magnet schools, but that doesn’t mean they’re all worth keeping, or at least worth keeping as is. It’s perfectly reasonable for them all to have to demonstrate their value. This preview story has some more details.

The policy that the school board is set to approve Thursday is general, but makes a point that magnet programs should have “fair and equitable” resources and should be held accountable for academic performance. The proposal also calls for magnet schools to strive for at least 20 percent of their students to come from outside the neighborhood, but Eastman suggested this week that the provision should be loosened.

“We have to use common sense,” Grier said in response. “We’re not interested in hurting schools that are attracting kids.”

Data obtained from HISD show that 50 of 113 magnet programs don’t meet the 20 percent standard.

The programs drawing the fewest students from outside the neighborhood – fewer than 15 – are Worthing, Scarborough, Kashmere and Lee high schools, Long Academy and Ryan Middle. Combined, those schools are receiving more than $558,000 in special magnet funding this year, the data show.

The school board already has agreed to close Ryan and reopen it next year as a magnet school focused on health careers, modeled after the prestigious DeBakey High School for Health Professions.

In all, HISD gave about $17 million extra to its magnet schools this year, and the district spends another $10 million on transportation. The funding for programming varies widely. Six magnet programs got no extra money this year while three – Carnegie Vanguard High School, Parker Elementary and Garden Villas Elementary – received more than $400,000 each.

Trustee Rhonda Skillern-Jones, who helped revise the magnet policy, said she hopes it will spur better programs with more relevant themes. Once the board approves the new policy, Grier’s staff plans to write more detailed standards such as specific academic benchmarks.

There’s certainly room to massage the 20 percent standard – at the very least, if things are working well at a school otherwise, there should be some discretion to leave things be. Ultimately, the goal should be to keep what’s good and fix or get rid of what isn’t. The details are obviously important, but let’s not get so bogged down in them that we lose sight of that.

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  1. Andrew Lynch says:

    Thanks for posting, any links to the policy ?

  2. Andrew – I’m not sure where the new policy is. I’m looking but not finding. I’ll send an inquiry and see what I can get. Thanks!