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School board discusses Magnet Schools as an option

BY HANNA BEARY | FEBRUARY 11, 2015 5:00 AM

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The Iowa City School Board discussed the idea of opening a magnet school in Iowa City at its meeting Tuesday night.

The Magnet School Task Force presented its findings on the benefits a school would bring to the city.

The task force proposed a timeline for creating a magnet school to open in September 2017.  

A magnet school is a public school that offers special instruction not offered elsewhere. It is usually used to attract a more diverse student body.

Jason Lewis, who will run for the School Board this fall and was also on the task force, believes the magnet school could be valuable for Iowa City and the area.

“I feel as if the community will love this choice,” he said.

According to the task force, a successful magnet school focuses on five main areas: themes, resource allocation, community engagement, organizational framework, and policy and practice development.

Magnet-school themes can include STEM, the arts, language, and many other things. The important factor is that the community supports the theme. The community needs to know not only what a magnet school is but what it is not as well.

There are grants and other options available to help fund a magnet school. However, there is no school in Iowa that accurately meets the qualifications to be a magnet school; therefore, none currently have these grants, said Assistant Superintendent Becky Furlong, the district’s chief academic officer and a member of the task force.

An effective magnet school must have adequate planning time: anywhere from 15 to 18 months, according to the task force.

The practice development for the magnet schools would focus closely to the selection and hiring of the staff that is invested to the curriculum.

“I am very excited about this, as long as we don’t just slap the label on this, and we do it right,” said board Vice President Brian Kirschling.

In other action, several audience members shared their concerns about the district discontinuing certain bus routes.

During the Jan. 27 meeting, the board proposed to discontinue discretionary busing and to use the money in classrooms instead.

Cindy Milan, a member of the Center for Worker Justice, was concerned about what will happen if the discretionary busing is discontinued, not only for her but for other parents as well.

“Without the buses, I fear that there will be a lot of absences and tardiness,” Milan said.

Also discussed at the meeting was a district-wide effort to help those in need.

The Rotary Club is taking steps in order to help the children bear the harsh winter, a local couple said.

John and Deb Ockenfels have adopted “Operation Warm” as their project. This started as a family tradition that soon took off in Rotary, the husband said.

In the Iowa City district, there has been an estimated 9,000 coats donated for the cause.

“I’m starting to notice the number of kids in our School District who really need the help,” John Ockenfels said.


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