As many as six new magnet schools could open up in Metro Nashville Public Schools next school year, but it appears they’ll be solely theme-based and not rely on rigorous academic entrance requirements.
A report released last week by Director of Schools Jesse Register to the Metro Nashville Board of Education lists pursuing federal grant money to open six magnet schools for the 2010-2011 school year as one area for his evaluation.
The set of assessment standards also includes continuing to reorganize and decentralize the MNPS central office, examining an alterative pay structure for teachers and increasing the diversity of school faculty. The board will use these criteria, along with more than 20 other goals, to grade Register’s performance come June 2010.
“The magnet schools that we’re looking at are theme-based magnets, not more schools like those that have academic admission criteria,” Register said in an interview with The City Paper. “They’re schools that attract students because of the theme that they are offering.”
Student enrollment into each of Metro’s 12 magnet schools is based on a lottery system. Every magnet school is centered on an academic them –– such as math, science, arts, business and communications –– but only Meigs Middle Magnet School, Hume-Fogg Academic Magnet High School and Martin Luther King Academic Magnet High School require its students to meet certain grades and student achievement test scores.
Magnet schools tend to be popular choices for parents and students, who apply in large numbers to Hume-Fogg and Martin Luther King, which consistently rank among the top schools nationwide by publications such as Newsweek.
“When students get in those schools there’s almost no turnover,” Register said of the success of magnet schools. “They stay. There’s no transiency rate. We have some schools where the children from the beginning of the year to the end of the year, you might have a 50 percent or greater turnover rate, so you’ve got sort of a revolving door. A real advantage to (magnet schools) is a stable student body.”
One of the six magnet schools could be found at the new Wharton Elementary School, which is currently housed at the old Brookemeade school building in Bellevue while the Wharton building on Dr. D.B. Todd Boulevard in north Nashville undergoes renovations.
Register said he is in ongoing conversations with museums across Nashville to launch Wharton as a museum-based magnet school, similar to one he saw first-hand in Chattanooga during his tenure as superintendent of Hamilton County Schools. Under the plan, he said, students would have access to places like the First Center for the Visual Arts.
“It is a tremendous educational program when you develop that kind of partnership, when we have an elementary school that has access to all the museums in town for its students,” Register said.