Is there a real interest in interdistrict magnet schools? Yes

One of the concerns Great Schools for All advocates hear consistently is something along the following lines: Nice idea, but who’s going to develop public magnet schools that offer unique specialized academic opportunities that will attract socioeconomically diverse students from across school district lines?

Well, it turns out that a number of such opportunities are either in place or in various stages of active development.

Don Pryor is a researcher for the Center for Governmental Research and a member of the GS4A leadership team

Don Pryor is a researcher for the Center for Governmental Research and a member of the GS4A leadership team

Several magnet programs already exist within the Rochester City School District and are in the process of opening their doors to interested suburban students. RCSD is developing other partnerships with one or more suburban districts. In addition, several potential magnet school operators are in various stages of developing proposals for interdistrict schools.

Let’s take a brief look at some of these existing and emerging options.

Existing districtwide Suburban-Urban programs within RCSD:The city school district is actively recruiting suburban students to magnet schools heretofore only open to city students. It has a formal application form available on the district website for students interested in exploring one or more of the following schools, as part of the district’s new Suburban-Urban Transfer Program. By actively soliciting students from all suburban districts, the program is intentionally designed to be the reverse-direction counterpart of the longstanding Urban-Suburban Transfer program, with its historic flow of students from the city to participating suburban districts.

  • Edison Tech (Edison Career and Technology High School) has been reconfigured to provide rigorous academic and technical coursework and work-based learning opportunities, and the opportunity to earn college credits while in high school. It is designed to be a positive force in the regional economy by offering the opportunity to develop skills and experience in areas such as Construction, Architecture and Design; Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering; Digital Media and Communications; and P-TECH (described in more detail below).
  • East High School is a collaborative effort of the city school district in partnership with the Warner School of Education at the University of Rochester. The UR in effect is acting as the superintendent overseeing the lower school (grades 6-8) and the upper school (grades 9-12) programs at East. The programs offer an extended school day and increased instructional time, along with several targeted career pathway programs developed with input from college and industry partners and offering practical experience as part of the learning process—including culinary arts, information technology, medical careers, precision optics, teaching and learning institute, and vision care.
  • Wilson Magnet International Baccalaureate Program offers an internationally-recognized and accredited program for high school students. The program emphasizes critical thinking and analysis, the development of research skills, connections between traditional subjects and real-world challenges, and community service. Students are able to earn up to a full year of college credit while in high school, and students with an IB diploma who are accepted at the University of Rochester receive a full-year scholarship for four years.
  • The Leadership Academy for Young Men is focused on creating academic, business and leadership opportunities for its all-male student body. The program emphasizes personal integrity, discipline, accountability and mutual respect. It operates in partnership with the UR to provide leadership and mentorship opportunities, and with the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (Junior ROTC) to develop character, discipline, leadership and academic success. The program is available to male students in grades 7 through 12.

Developing partnerships between RCSD and other school districts: Three emerging programs are being developed as pilots by theRCSD in conjunction with other districts, using funding available through a federal socioeconomic diversity grant. The programs being developed this year are designed to create academic opportunities for both city and suburban students that would not otherwise exist except for the cross-district offerings.

  • P-TECH Rochester is a “grade 9-14” academic and career program that integrates the best elements of high school, college and the professional world. The program is accepting applications from students from any suburban district. Students will focus primarily on science, math and technology, participate in extended day and summer programs, take courses at both Edison Tech and Monroe Community College, and be exposed to mentors and internships at major companies in the Rochester region. P-TECH students will earn both a State Regents diploma and a two-year Associates Degree from MCC, without paying any college tuition.
  • School 50 and West Irondequoit Pre-Kindergarten Collaborative is designed to pilot an inter-district socioeconomic exchange program building on the Universal Pre-Kindergarten program at School 50 in the city. Five of the slots in that program will be dedicated to students from the West Irondequoit district in the first year beginning this fall. Those students in turn would be guaranteed spots in School 50’s Kindergarten program in the 2017-18 school year. Parents at School 50 are being asked to partner with the families of the new WI students to aid in the transition. The pilot program has the potential to be a building block for expansion in the future.
  • School 12 and Brighton Dual Language and Enrichment Program is initially focusing on shared enrichment activities between School 12 and the French Road Elementary School. School 12 features the HOLA program, a dual-language enrichment program providing instruction in both English and Spanish. Ultimately this unique program is expected to attract middle class families from the surrounding neighborhood in the city as well as students from Brighton. The initial year will focus on developing relationships, understandings and exchange activities between students in the two schools, with enrollment of suburban students expected beginning the following year.

Magnet schools in development by other providers: A number of other providers outside of school districts are considering the creation of magnet schools that are not currently available in any single school district. Such providers include local colleges and independent operators considering various types of specialized academic offerings, locations and partnerships. For understandable reasons, it would be premature to say more at this point, as plans are in the early stages of development, but they appear promising. More details will be provided as they become more fully developed.

So to those who suggest that interdistrict magnet schools are pie in the sky and will never be developed, the emerging evidence suggests that several already are well along the road to being created and even in place, some with student recruitment actively underway. Stay tuned for further developments as these initial building blocks of a potential system of magnet schools evolve.