in Houston, Texas
HISD magnet programs to undergo performance reviews
Thursday, Sep 23, 2010, 06:33PM CST
By Lynn Walsh

Magnet programs across the Houston Independent School District will soon receive a full performance review that is expected to be complete by the end of the year, according to a presentation given to school district trustees Thursday.

In August, HISD trustees approved an outside review of all of HISD’s magnet programs. The review will be conducted by an outside group, Magnet Schools of America, and will not cost more than $275,000.

The review will be divided into two phases, according to HISD. Phase one will focus on community and district feedback; phase two will focus on individual magnet programs.

HISD has scheduled the parent and community forums for Oct. 11-15, with four sessions in the evening and two daytime sessions. Location and time details have not yet been announced. Magnet Schools of America will visit individual magnet programs Oct. 25-29.

Magnet programs in HISD have come under fire before. In April, trustees debated whether or not apply for federal funding to bring more magnet programs to HISD. Then and now, magnet schools remain a hot issue in the district between board members, parents and HISD administrators.

Before the presentation started, trustees and HISD Superintendent Terry Grier began to criticize the current ways in which magnet programs operate within HISD.

“There are lots of comments about the magnet program review taking away choice, but we are looking at providing more choice, but quality choice,” said HISD’s chief academic officer, Chuck Morris.

Trustee Larry Marshall said open enrollment, where parents can chose to send their child to a school outside the zone in which they live, is just the beginning. “This is kind of like the first shot over the bow, and this board better get ready," Marshall said. “Somewhere down the line open enrollment has to be revisited."

When students chose to attend a magnet program out of their zone, students living within the magnet program zone get blocked out. Grier said every year his office receives complaints from parents because their child cannot attend their home school and are forced to attend a school that is farther away.

HISD trustee Mike Lunceford said he wants to see the terms used to describe magnet schools defined more clearly. “We have to define what terms mean. What does it mean to be ‘exceptional’? What does ‘quality’ mean?” Lunceford said.

At the board workshop meeting Thursday, Grier said he was concerned with the way magnet programs are currently being funding. “There is little rhyme or reason about who (magnet schools) gets what money,” Grier said. View his entire comments in the clip below.

Magnet schools in HISD currently range from stand-alone schools to school-within-a-school programs. Morris said some magnet schools call themselves magnets but have never received board approval to do so.

According to HISD, a preliminary report is expected Dec. 1, and the evaluations are expected to be complete sometime in late December.

Magnet Schools of America is a private nonprofit that was originally based in Houston before moving to Washington, D.C., in 2000.

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