Thursday, November 15, 2007

Competition for Magnet Middle Schools

No school district is perfect, but based on our year-long evaluation of Greenville County (SC) Schools, there is so much more to be impressed with than there is to complain about. The "magnet" concept seems to be just the right blend between charter and "standard" public schools. Without shunning the leadership, rules and resources of the school district (which is organized county-wide here, not just a city or three), magnet schools get to move in new directions and adapt curriculum to integrate related topics, like the arts, science, or language immersion. They begin at the elementary level, and my sons attend the arts-infused magnet elementary. So far, it's been a great experience, and the boys both get up in the morning, excited to go to school and attend additional art and drama classes after school. Spanish has left them a little flat, but we'll work on that. ;-)

So, with a district as well-planned as Greenville, it's no surprise we are already visiting the magnet middle schools, and applying for next year. Well, here's the interesting part: the magnet schools serve a traditional population and the magnet population. So, each magnet school has a standard attendance area. So, if you live in the attendance area, you automatically have a seat at the magnet school. However, rather than invoking a "schools of choice" process, the additional magnet seats are still an application process, but also slightly competitive, both for the student and for the school.

The process begins with the schools wooing as many magnet applicants as possible, by promoting their strengths and student work. Each school has a "magnet information night," where they invite families to visit and show off their best. Students submit a short form with a statement explaining why they want to attend the school, and attach records from the current school year and last year. It's pretty low-key, but still an application process.

However, one middle school raised the bar this year, announcing enhancements to their curriculum during the application process. School board presentation, media coverage... Here's a great newspaper article on what Greenville Middle Academy has in store when they move to their new building in January (article).

Among these changes is something I'm really excited to see: "The plan calls for students, who already know how to use the Internet, to differentiate between propaganda and facts," said Robert Palmer, Greenville Middle's principal. Greenville Middle's full title is "Greenville Middle Academy of Traditional Studies," but it will become "Greenville Middle Academy of Global Studies" with this curriculum addition. Of course, along with a "global studies" focus comes video conferences with classes from around the world... kids have been doing this, but this is a first for Greenville schools. This is the stuff we helped Novi (MI) schools start in 1995 by installing the networking infrastructure to make it happen.

I've been itching to see it happen for my own kids, and now, it will! Unless, of course, my middle-schooler-to-be chooses a different middle school.

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