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Monday, February 4, 2008

Lexington-Richland 5 explores magnet school
Posted on Mon, Feb. 04, 2008
After success in Richland 2, officials say program might boost underperforming schools
After watching neighboring Richland 2’s magnet programs grow successfully, Lexington-Richland 5 officials are poised to create their district’s first magnet programs for elementary school students.

Administrators are considering a math and science magnet program at Leaphart Elementary.
They also want to create a magnet school at Harbison West elementary, but haven’t decided what type of program to offer.

“I think it gives every school a mission,” said Kathy Hogan, the coordinator of the magnet exploration committee. “It gives them a sense of specialness.”

Richland 2 has had a magnet and school choice program for more than 15 years. It now has about 20 magnet schools, including sports medicine, dance and theater, and single-gender programs.

Lexington-Richland 5 officials have posted a survey for parents on their Web site. The survey is the first step in determining whether the district’s parents want programs that provide a range of electives and specialized instruction in the arts and sciences, Hogan said.

The deadline for filling out the survey, which takes about three minutes, is Feb. 11.
The programs likely wouldn’t begin before fall 2009.
For Harbison-area residents, a magnet program could boost the profile of the elementary school that has confronted the challenge of helping students who have had trouble with standardized tests in recent years.

Bruce Innocenti was one of a group of residents who, unhappy with Harbison West’s low academic status in the district, met with administrators in November to discuss their concerns. The school was the only Lexington-Richland 5 school to receive a “below average” rating on the 2007 school report cards.

“We thought the school needed to do better,” Innocenti said. “Our suggestion that there needed to be some change at the school.”

Innocenti, whose three children finished at Harbison West in the 1980s and 1990s, said the Columbia school needs the magnet program to help boost test scores, attract young families to the area and create a more balanced population.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, black students outnumber white students 2-to-1 at Harbison West. Black students make up less than 30 percent of the district’s total student population.

Hogan said the magnet program exploration committee has considered the academic and demographic benefits.
In the 1990s, Richland 2 created its first magnet program, The Learning Collaborative, at Dent Middle.
The initiative served as an opportunity to offer students a new, academically rigorous program and balance the ratio of black and white students.

Within a year, officials reported the school’s student ratios more closely reflected the districts’.
Officials in the Northeast Richland district also said the programs helped draw students to schools in aging communities and made better use of building space.

But they said building a quality cadre of magnet programs takes time and community input.
“There’s just so much to consider,” said Dawn McLeod, director of academic initiatives.
“You’ve got to have community buy-in.”

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