Westerville News & Public Opinion

District reconsiders magnet program's fate

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The planned "sunset" on Westerville City Schools' elementary magnet-school program looks to be turning into a "sunrise."

Superintendent John Kellogg presented a plan to the Westerville Board of Education at its meeting Monday, March 10, that would keep the magnet program operating, albeit in a reduced manner.

"It's clear to us as a team there's a real heritage to the magnet program in the district," Kellogg said. "I think we have something in place. I think it's a viable solution to move forward."

The board originally voted, after the failure of a levy in November 2011, to cut the magnet-school program. At the time, the program included first through fifth grades at Central College, Emerson, Hanby and Robert Frost elementary schools. Since then, the programs have been phasing out, reduced this year to grades 3-5 at Hanby, Emerson and Robert Frost.

Each school offers different academic "strands" -- world cultures at Emerson, math/science and arts at Hanby and math/science at Robert Frost.

The proposal presented by Kellogg involves reassigning current staff each school year rather than hiring new teachers.

Current staffing is two full-time teachers per grade level for each strand, but the new plan calls for one full-time staff member per grade-level strand.

Kellogg said the goal is to maintain some of the magnet program's heritage while managing elementary student enrollment, avoiding staffing disruptions and containing costs.

"There's lots of different things we're trying to do," he said. "This gives us a balanced approach."

Within the plan are options to realign existing staff to maintain the current offering for grades 3-5 or to expand the program back to grades 1-5. As it stands now, the magnet program is scheduled to serve only fourth- and fifth-graders in the 2014-15 school year.

Kellogg said a team that will include building staff and community members will be formed to determine staffing decisions at each building. That team will present its findings April 9 to Kellogg, who will present them to the board April 14.

"There are other opportunities out there to talk about," Kellogg said. "As we get that aligned, we'll have those opportunities."

Board members expressed support for maintaining the magnet program.

"It's not perfect, but I much prefer a sunrise to a sunset," board President Nancy Nestor-Baker said. "The programs in these buildings have done incredible things. For us to have dismissed that would have been folly."

Board member Tracy Davidson said she feels hope for the first time in a long time.

"We're talking about adding or building," Davidson said. "It's going to be smaller, (but) we can build."

Board member Rick Vilardo said he was concerned about going down to one class in each grade level stream.

"I really don't like where we're landing here," he said. "I'd love to jump up and say the magnets are surviving."

Kellogg said keeping two classes per stream would set expectations that couldn't be met.

"That is a more expensive path and would certainly have an impact," he said.

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