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Sunday, May 15, 2011

Jacksonville's dedicated academic magnet schools is an idea whose time has come and gone

Academic Magnet schools should be a thing of the past

Twenty-five years back to integrate our school district, the first academic magnet school, Stanton was created. Since then we created another academic magnet school Paxon and a handful of dedicated magnet schools too. Though schools like Frank Peterson and Douglass Anderson are more program based. There have been a lot of mixed feelings about the dedicated academic magnet. They brought a lot of positive attention to the city as two of the best schools of the nation but they likewise have been blamed for the demise of the neighborhood school and in some instances whole neighborhoods. I say it is time we put an end to this experiment and dissolved the academic magnet schools; their time has come and gone.

It used to be you couldn’t get the same programs at the neighborhood school that you could at Stanton or Paxon, all you could get was the occasional advanced placement class here and there. Well now the district has established advance academic programs at all the neighborhood schools, which begs the question, what is the point of having dedicated advanced academic magnet schools if the kids can get the same programs anywhere? Send the kids home; this would be a win-win in many regards for the students, the neighborhood schools, the district and the city as a whole.

First the neighborhood schools would see the return of some of their most gifted students. They could be examples and leaders to the rest of the school. They would likewise bring their parents, often some of the most motivated and active, with them. The neighborhood schools some of which are underutilized could also reach their capacity.

Then the kids themselves could benefit. First they would not have to travel to far away neighborhoods where they had little connection but they could stay and grow in theirs. Then many scholarships depend on a student’s class ranking, such as the bright futures scholarship, that they would have a better chance of receiving scholarships had they stayed home. Now some might argue that might hurt the kids that are already there but it might also further their potential.

Then the district would benefit by consolidating schools, eliminating expensive bussing and duplicated programs. Finally the cities neighborhoods would be put back together instead of continuing to be torn asunder by an idea whose time has come and gone.

I don’t write this easily because I am conflicted. If I had a school age child I would move heaven and Earth to make sure they went to one of the magnet schools and I work at a neighborhood school and know many wonderful things take place there. The main problem at the neighborhood schools is there are a few kids that have given up and sadly don’t care, what I think is a growing problem. But at the same time as a teacher interested in the health of the district I think we should be looking to improve all of it’s schools instead of having a few great ones and then a lot of mediocre or worse ones. There are thousands of kids that are districted to attend Jackson, Ribault and Raines who have gone elsewhere and maybe just maybe those schools wouldn’t be in the trouble they are had they chosen not to do so.

We could then use those schools, Stanton and Paxon to have more program-based schools. Preferably schools that specialized in the teaching of skills, trades and the arts after all if we are to have dedicated magnet schools shouldn’t they be for programs that you can’t get at the neighborhood schools too. Isn’t that both redundant and wasteful. The dedicated academic magnet school’s purpose has come and gone. Holding onto it only serves to weaken the district and it’s children.

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