Board mulls magnet schools

BY PAUL OSGERBY | JULY 09, 2014 5:00 AM

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Magnet programs are a proposal that the Iowa City School Board is keen on, but further months of discourse and community commentary are needed to reach a decision.

“My main concern is to make sure it’s executable,” said board President Chris Lynch.

Lynch took over the vacant position at the beginning of the month as interim president, following Sally Hoelscher’s resignation late last month. He will serve until Hoelscher’s term ends, in 2015.

Superintendent Stephen Murley presented two options for redistricting areas in southern Iowa City and the northern jurisdiction. Proposals for the two districts had one with a magnet school and one without.

In the southern areas, board members chose Twain Elementary as the most promising candidate for a installing a magnet program because of its size and distance from downtown.

Murley said that magnet schools typically perform better with smaller capacities.

The redistricting comes as the board tries to fit the new elementary schools in the updated diversity policy. The initiative is seeking to create a broad mix of socioeconomic-status students as well as ethnic background.

“I find this exciting to explore a magnet program,” board member Brian Kirschling said.

Board member Jeff McGinness raised concerns about Iowa City redeveloping that area of town quickly. He said the Borlaug area success probably wouldn’t come as easily in this area.

Geographic distribution was a concern among all the members about preparing to engage the community in developing a potential magnet program.

Murley presented the other magnet proposal for the Lincoln Elementary, but it raised numerous concerns with Tuyet Dorau and McGinness, including busing costs and reassigning school zones for students.

Lincoln was proposed by Murley as the best candidate for a magnet program in the northern part of the district, citing its similar size to Twain and relevant geographic location.

Dorau said that she believed during the interim, realigning zones should focus on minimizing busing costs so more money could go into the schools.

McGinness said that he didn’t want to keep throwing money at a problem that continually goes against the board’s diversity policy and continues to segregate the school system.

“I’m really worried that the Lincoln magnet creates the perception of an elite private school,” Dorau said.

Board members then suggested the idea of putting Kirkwood as a candidate for a magnet program because of the minimal effects to transportation costs and location.

Murley said that the facility is likely too large to effectively accommodate a magnet program.

The members then proposed that Murley and his committee create a new scenario for Kirkwood as a magnet candidate for the meeting in mid-August. They also questioned why consider running a second, concurrent program before the first one hasn’t even been implemented.

“I’m a huge fan of magnet schools and its possibility,” community member Amy Johnson said. “We need to consider the long-term effects, though.”

She said that her concern lies in where those students go further in the academic careers after completing an elementary magnet program.

After the board meeting in August, members will go out into the community to ask questions about what the people want in the area. The feedback, after board discussions, will generate potential programs to implement.

Murley said there are no specific proposed programs at the moment, but the committee has monitored success in established programs.

“I’m in favor of the program that generates the most community support,” he said.

With a proposed 2015-16 school year deadline to launch the program, board members are worrying about completion.

“I keep hearing the clock ticking in my head,” Lynch said.

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