There is no magnet school death panel. There will be no magnet school death panel. But it’s good to talk about hard things.

The Ledger’s Madison Fantozzi quoted me – accurately, I think — as saying this at last week’s School Board work session: “I’m probably done with magnet schools until we sit down and go through the ones we have [and what their purposes are].”

I was responding to the new magnet school plan for Combee Elementary and Lake Alfred Addair Middle. I don’t like it. I think it’s disruptive for too many kids. I think it’s going to hurt Boone Middle, which really can’t afford to be hurt. And I’m not the only board member who felt that way. I’ll get the YouTube video up as soon as I can.

But the plan is also more than a year old. It dates to the LeRoy administration. We’ve spent more than a $1 million in federal money. And we can’t really stop it now without doing greater harm. I never had a chance to vote when I could have made a productive difference.

In recent years, education systems in America, Florida, and Polk County have displayed powerful talent and willingness to make non-ideal situations worse. I don’t want to do that. Believe it or not, when it comes to kids, I am a first-do-no-harm kind of guy.

What is our magnet school policy?

I would like to have a long sit down with my fellow board members to go through our existing magnet schools; examine their demographics and community relationships; and come up with a coherent policy framework that guides creation of any future magnets. Today, our policy seems to be: hey, there’s a grant; let’s create a magnet school. I would prefer we have a magnet school policy that articulates what we’re actually trying to accomplish.

Anyway, the “until” in my quote apparently did not make it clear that I was talking about any future magnet schools. 

I’ve been mostly out of town since last Wednesday helping take care of my dad, who was having surgery. I came home last night to a forwarded email circulating amongst some Lincoln and Lawton Chiles Middle parents. Here’s the key excerpt:

One of the school board members has apparently asked for a special session to investigate each magnet school and decide if they should continue.  It was brought up in the February work session during discussion about rezoning 2 new magnet schools.  The rezoning issue is back on the agenda at the April meeting.  I have several of our board members with the legal knowledge and connections looking into how to best fight having this special session.

Let me just clarify this for everybody. There is no “special session to investigate each magnet school and decide if they should continue.” Period. Not what I asked. Not what I want. Believe me, even if I wanted to impose a magnet school death panel (and I don’t), I do not have that kind of power. It’s sort of flattering that people think I might. But I don’t. There’s no need to fight.

But I would like to talk. And I’m always pretty easy to reach. 863-209-4037. billy.townsend@polk-fl.net. I answered the phone and talked to people while in my dad’s hospital room at the VA in Gainesville. I’ll certainly do it now to answer concerns about the future of your school. I don’t duck hard conversations. But this one isn’t even that hard.

Indeed, two Lincoln parents reached out to me directly; and we had excellent person-to-person online chats. One of them shared the chat, with my encouragement, with other parents. Thumb errors and all.

Look, everybody knows the two-tiered magnet/charter vs. zoned school system presents major challenges. We’ve known it for 20 years. If we mean all those platitudes about wanting to “improve” all schools for all kids, we have to enhance collaboration among schools and among communities. That’s what I really want from the charter and magnet communities. This is about life, not death. So let’s talk about it.

4 comments

  1. Tiffany Kumria

    While I understand the reason behind the development of magnet schools, I am not a huge fan of them. I do not believe their intended purpose is as clear as it initially was. I write this as my twin girls are at Lawton. My circumstances for their attendance there are a long story, off-topic from the main point(s) of my message.

    Magnets function with seemingly more money. They have become sort of elitist despite the necessary ratios and lotteries in place. Many parents claim their students were “accepted” into these magnets despite the so-called randomness of selection. They are afforded the opportunity to maintain their own rules and guidelines, while also complying with the district’s.

    My biggest problem is with the option of dismissal they carry based on academic performance or behavior. Upon dismissal, these students often end up in zoned open-enrollment schools. In my case, it would be Lkld Highlands Middle. This middle is the highest populated in the county as of last year. Does this school then receive additional funds to accommodate these dismissed students? No, I do not believe so. So, not only is the school required to accept the students with behavioral and low-performing academic issues, but it is also required to staff, provide services for, and compete with the very same schools that dismissed these students.

    At the risk of sounding like a toddler, it’s just not fair!

    I would like to see magnets and charters accept more accountability for the students enrolled in their schools, using the extra grant money they receive for resources to assist those struggling behaviorally and academically just as zoned schools are required to do.

  2. Tiffany and Billy are right.
    We need a comprehensive look at all the charters and magnets before creating additional ones.

  3. I hear and understand your points. I am the parent of two children who went to a magnet school for a couple years. I am also a teacher at one of our middle schools here in Polk County that has no choice in who enrolls. It is beyond stressful what we have to deal with as far as some of the behaviors go, and then we are evaluated on the same students’ test scores. We are tired, stressed, overworked and underpaid for the amount of work we are expected to do during the course of the school day as well as on our time off.
    I think that magnet schools serve a great purpose and wish we had more of them. They offer choices for a better environment for students who really want to focus on school, and for those who want to be in a safer place. They offer peace of mind for parents as well. I think that it is great that they have higher expectations for behavior and grades. I also think that it is good that they have the option of dropping students who repeatedly break the rules and don’t care about their education. By having more control magnet schools promote valuable work ethics that are necessary for the real world.
    We have to prepare our students for college and careers. We should also be training our students to be respectful, responsible, and law abiding citizens. Which schools do you think will have the highest percentage of students displaying these qualities, traditional schools or magnet schools?

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