HISD Magnet Study Recommends Taking Away Half of Them

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"Change is imperative" in the Houston school district's magnet program, a long-awaited outside consultant's report said today.

Among the proposed changes: Taking away the magnet designation from nearly half the 113 programs that have it, including most elementaries and the Vanguard schools for gifted and talented students.

The district's current magnet set-up is inefficient, random and lacks transparency, says Magnet Schools of America.

HISD superintendent Terry Grier said the report is a starting point for a community-wide discussion of the changes in the magnet program, something which has always been a hot-button issue in the past.

"Give us feedback about what they're saying," Grier told school leaders at a meeting this morning. "I want to hear from the community before we send anything to the board."

Board president Greg Meyers also seemed eager to emphasize no immediate changes are taking place.

"The Comprehensive Magnet Program Review provides a starting point for a community conversation about how we can strengthen HISD's popular magnet program," he said. "Some of our magnet schools consistently rank among the top campuses not only in Texas, but in the nation. We are committed to maintaining that level of excellence while also strengthening our schools that need help."

Among the suggested changes in the report:

-- Reduce the number of magnet schools by 55, or 47 percent. Schools that lose the "magnet" designation would receive 40 percent of their current magnet subsidy for the 2011-2012 school year and no subsidy in subsequent years.

-- Remove the "magnet" designation from HISD's Vanguard schools for gifted and talented students, but continue offering free transportation for students attending Vanguard schools. Vanguard schools, which test students to determine whether they are qualified to attend, would no longer receive extra funding set aside for magnet schools.

-- Continue the audition-based student entrance criteria for secondary schools, but eliminate all other testing and screening.

-- Replicate the existing districtwide Vanguard program lottery process for magnets. Make all elementary school magnets campuswide programs beginning with the 2012-2013 school year. Many elementary magnets that are now housed within traditional neighborhood schools would lose the "magnet" designation and magnet funding.

-- Streamline and articulate magnet themes.

-- Update and officially adopt existing Magnet School Standards.

-- Develop a magnet program budget allocation process.

-- Eliminate the use of principal transfer agreements for student acceptance into a magnet school.

The school board will discuss the report at a Monday afternoon meeting.

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