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Magnet school change proposals put off again

Not a surprise.

Houston ISD’s administration has dropped plans to revamp the district’s prized magnet program before the next school year, a response to multiple concerns raised in recent weeks by school board members, district leaders confirmed [last] week.

The announcement means that several magnet recommendations issued by a district-led committee in early 2019 will remain unaddressed for another year. The suggested changes included adding magnet programs at all neighborhood middle and high schools currently lacking one, installing the same type of program at all schools in a given feeder pattern and eliminating magnet funding for elementary schools.

The recommendations resurfaced earlier this month, when district administrators proposed to make those changes by August. However, several trustees expressed skepticism about the timing of the overhaul, particularly given Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan’s imminent departure and the relatively short time window for building out new programs.

“Based on input from principals, the Board of Education, and various stakeholders, HISD has decided to change our timeline on implementing the magnet program proposal,” the administration said in a statement. “The 2021-2022 school year will be utilized as a planning year in preparation for phased changes that would take place during the 2022-2023 school year, if approved.”

[…]

A committee of roughly 30 HISD employees, parents and community leaders gathered in 2018 and early 2019 to consider tweaks to the magnet program, aiming to create a more equitable system. HISD administrators implemented several of the committee’s smaller proposals, such as eliminating entrance requirements at many middle schools and tweaking the entrance scoring matrix to widen magnet access.

The larger and more politically charged recommendations went unaddressed for two years, with administrators and board members showing little interest in taking them up. Lathan and HISD Chief Strategy and Innovation Officer Rick Cruz reintroduced the proposals two weeks ago as part of the district’s budget planning for the 2021-22 school year — but trustees recoiled at the move.

HISD Trustee Elizabeth Santos said administrators were moving too hastily to add magnets, failing to gather input from the students and families that would see new programs. The administration’s proposal called for installing magnets at two campuses in Santos’ board district, Fonville Middle School and Sam Houston Math, Science and Technology Center.

“If you don’t survey, get to know the community and engage the community, then the community doesn’t have a product they can buy into,” Santos said.

HISD Trustee Judith Cruz similarly questioned the speed of the proposal, saying she worried the district lacked enough time to install strong new programs that would drive student academic success.

HISD Trustee Sue Deigaard also argued that the district should not undertake major overhauls ahead of a change in leadership. Lathan is expected to leave in June after accepting the superintendent position at Springfield Public Schools in Missouri. HISD trustees are conducting a nationwide superintendent search, with a lone finalist set to be named in late May.

See here for some background. The reasons for waiting given by the Trustees are sensible. The bigger question is why the 2019 recommendations had been shelved for as long as they had been. Maybe when we hire the next Superintendent we’ll see some movement on this. Don’t hold your breath.

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One Comment

  1. policywonqueria says:

    ALLOCATION OF MAGNETS

    Re: “If you don’t survey, get to know the community and engage the community, then the community doesn’t have a product they can buy into,”

    Comment: Once more, words matter.

    To refer to public education as a “product” transforms its essential nature and cheapens it. Same for the term “buy-in” even if just used metaphorically in lieu of local community support/acceptance.

    Sure, public education costs money and in that sense is monetized, but what’s being furnished is a public good, the word “good” here standing for an abstract concept in the form of an investment in the future of the community (as well as the pupil), and certainly not a consumption item (product). At least that should be and remain the idea: Formation of future productive members of society.

    And even just in economics terms, the provision of education through human agents (teachers/educators) is a service-sector activity, not a product.

    MAGNET SCHOOL AS NIMBY TRIGGER ?

    Regarding siting decisions for premium offerings, why wouldn’t any school zone community want a magnet program to come to their neighborhood?

    It could conceivably be disruptive to incumbent school administrators, but why would the neighborhood that’s set to be given a magnet program require “buy in” assistance through local polling? Sounds like a waste, not to mention that a large portion of the nearby residents won’t care if they have no school-aged kids themselves, and no other chance of being impacted by a new magnet school in their vicinity.

    A public meeting for information exchange at the affected school should suffice.