Magnet review agency recommends phasing out HSU, improving application process

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The school board waits for MSA to present their magnet review. Photo by Farren Vaughan

While presenting their detailed report about JCPS magnet programs to the school board on Monday night, representatives from Magnet Schools of America (MSA) recommended phasing out Manual’s High School University (HSU) magnet program and improving Manual’s application process.

The presentation came after weeks of MSA conducting interviews with stakeholders from principals to students, hosting community forums, and performing site visits and walkthroughs.

JCPS hired MSA to assess its magnet programs’ success in attracting diverse groups of students from around the district and promoting achievement. MSA only made observations and recommendations; no decisions regarding the future of any magnet programs, including HSU, have yet been made by the JCPS school board.

Only one slide in MSA's presentation to the board specifically addressed Manual. Click to enlarge.
Only one slide in MSA’s presentation to the board specifically addressed Manual. Click to enlarge.

While the report covered all the district’s magnet programs, much of the discussion between board members and MSA members revolved around Manual. The report states that Manual ought to remain selective, but should reform its application process to promote transparent, consistent, point-based admission criteria with a public cut score.

Although HSU was not specifically mentioned in their slideshow, MSA representatives addressed it during a question and answer session following the presentation. They said that the transfer of HSU from Manual to Western High School would “share the wealth” as well as allow expansion of the other four magnets at Manual. District 6 board member Carol Haddad sees this as a step in the wrong direction.

“It should stay. It’s an excellent program and there should be more space for kids to go into all [of the magnets],” said Haddad. “[HSU] is the most popular magnet. You can’t take away something that’s popular. It’s also one of the most diverse magnets.”

Ms. Allison Hunt (Social Studies) expressed concern about the proposed change in a post on Facebook.

“HSU isn’t HSU without the other high-quality magnets for electives, which allow students to explore a variety of courses they would not have otherwise,” Hunt wrote. “HSU adds diversity (in terms of ethnicity, socioeconomic status, middle schools attended, interests, etc.) to the school.”

Mr. Tim Holman (Social Studies) also weighed in on Facebook: “What is duPont Manual High School without HSU? I don’t want to find out.”

MSA Executive Director Scott Thomas assured the board that MSA was impressed with Manual and recommended that JCPS keep Manual as a model magnet school.

“Manual is a phenomenal school and their programs are rich,” Thomas said during the presentation.

“It will now be up to JCPS staff to look over the report and bring recommendations to the board that are ‘manageable,'” said Courier-Journal education reporter Toni Konz in a tweet describing what JCPS board member Diane Porter said.

Among other findings in the report by MSA were that the district, not individual schools, does most student recruitment, but these recruitment efforts barely extend beyond Showcase of Schools. English as a Second Language and disabled students were the most underrepresented in magnet programs, and magnet curricula vary greatly depending on the school.

“The equipment was outdated, or not up to industry standards. We noticed there were modernization efforts still going on. There was a lot of variability in the magnets,” said MSA Director of Organizational Leadership & Development Crystal Moore.

Among the recommendations made by the MSA were fixing the criteria for students being exited from a magnet program, building more transparency in the student selection process, printing application materials in languages other than English, and creating magnet-specific professional development for staff and principals.

“Many magnet schools were opened without support and professional development necessary to run them. Many of the magnet programs are like the Galapagos Islands; they developed on their own in isolation of each other,” Thomas said.

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Farren Vaughan, former Co-Editor-in-Chief, attempted to organize focus groups. She plans to become better friends with Bob Woodward and study multimedia journalism and political science at Virginia Tech.