HISD postpones decision on changing magnet school policies

December 8, 2011 6:23:00 PM PST
Big changes could be on the way for HISD schools, as school board members consider plans to revamp the district's magnet program. The proposed changes come months after a scathing review found widespread problems with the program.

Administrators say the proposed policy would streamline a confusing system, but some parents say they think it's working just fine. On Thursday night, trustees decided to postpone taking action on the magnet school program so they can spend more time studying the policy before moving forward.

The sound of the choir is sweet music to the ears of many parents at Parker Elementary.

"The programs are amazing," parent Aisha Perry said.

Perry is one of many moms who drives her son to this magnet school every day. But she and others are concerned about the new proposals HISD is now considering for more than 100 magnet schools.

"I think right now the system seems to work very well, and any changes to it could be detrimental," she said.

Among its proposals, HISD is considering simplifying the magnet school application process by calling for the creation of a standard application form allowing for multiple school choices by the student. Each middle school and high school magnet program would have common admissions criteria as identified by the magnet theme and subject to auditions for the fine arts programs. Elementary magnet programs, except for Vanguard magnets that are designed for gifted students, would not have admissions criteria.

Administrators say that would cut out different application requirements parents have been finding at different campuses up to now.

"What this does is it eliminates some of the unnecessary barriers that are stopping some parents and children from accessing the best possible programs," HISD spokesman Jason Spencer said.

The district is also looking at creating funding formulas, so each school is on a better playing field when it comes to the budget.

The proposed policy would also create processes for the creation of new magnet programs and set standards for magnet schools to meet if they are to continue operating as magnets. These proposals are based on an audit of HISD's 114 magnet schools earlier this year that recommended closing many unsuccessful magnet programs.

Administrators reconsidered the closures after an outcry from parents like Perry, who says she still isn't sold on the plan for change at the magnet schools.

"I highly recommend that they keep the system that's in place," Perry said.

Houston's magnet schools were started back in the 70's as a means to help desegregate the district. While the program was initially deemed successful and groundbreaking, a review released at the beginning of this year actually found a lack of diversity in many magnet schools.

It also cited random decision-making when it comes to funding and random decisions when it comes to instructional themes at each school.

Mandarin Chinese Language Immersion Magnet School Proposed

On Wednesday, the board also voted to create the district's first Mandarin Chinese Language Immersion Magnet School. The school is scheduled to open in the fall of 2012 with students in early elementary school grades. Additional grade levels will be added in subsequent years. The school will be located at the site of the former Holden Elementary School, 812 West 28th Street.

Mandarin Chinese is the most spoken language in the world and U.S. trade with China has increased more than 600 percent over the past decade. Texas is second only to California among states that do the most business with China.


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