Westerville News & Public Opinion

Magnet school programs will grow again

Second- and third-grades will be re-added at Emerson and Hanby

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Magnet school programs will return for second- and third-graders at Hanby and Emerson elementary schools next school year.

As part of a two-year roll out plan, Hanby and Emerson elementary schools will offer one second-grade class and one third-grade class in each magnet-school program for the 2014-2015 school year.

First-grade classes will be re-introduced the following year, and therefore available for first- through fifth-graders by the 2015-2016 school year.

Superintendent John Kellogg worked with principals, teachers, parents and district officials to reconfigure the magnet-school program and make it available for every grade level.

"It's been a supportive team and thoughtful team and they have done great work," Kellogg said.

The magnet program is an alternative teaching method for different "strands" -- math and science, art and world cultures.

After a levy failure in November 2011, the magnet programs began their "sunset," meaning already enrolled students were able to finish the programs through fifth grade, but no new students were added as the programs were being phased out.

Now, the next two years will see a "sunrise."

Prior to the levy failure, the district offered two classes for each grade level for each strand.

Instead of offering two classes for each grade level in each strand, the district maintains the program on a smaller scale by offering one class per grade level for each strand at the two elementary schools.

"We have a lot to be celebrating with what's happened here in such an incredibly short time," said Nancy Nestor-Baker, Board of Education president.

"The good thing about that is this is not a district where any student loses because of their choice," she said.

At its peak, there were approximately 800 students enrolled in Westerville magnet-school programs. In the new plan, the district set a cap amount of students at 375 to start, which breaks down to 25 students per class, grade level and magnet strand.

By the 2015-2016 school year, Hanby Elementary School will offer its art strand and a science/math strand to one group per grade level.

Emerson Elementary School will offer its world cultures strand.

Similarly, there will be a lottery system for program selection and registration, but those might be decided by building allocation instead of a districtwide lottery.

District committees meet this week to decide an appropriate lottery system and guidelines. Lottery registration opens May 5.

The district does not intend to re-open Longfellow or Central College and the program will continue its phase out of the math/science strand at Robert Frost Elementary School.

The district will not need to hire additional teachers. As part of the plan, teachers will be reallocated within the schools.

As current fourth- and fifth-grade level classes finish these next two years, a teacher will move to a new grade level and help teach a magnet class for a different grade.

Although Kellogg did not want to speak on teachers' behalf, he said the faculty expressed a stronger desire to maintain the program than teaching a particular grade.

"One thing we liked about this plan is that it allowed us to re-staff the magnet schools without disrupting staffing at other buildings," Kellogg said.

"(The teachers') commitment to that program seems to override any discomfort of teaching reassignment."

Westerville Board of Education members supported Kellogg and his teams' efforts and were happy to hear a solution to maintain the program in the district, even on a smaller scale.

"From where we were just a month and a half ago to where we are now, it just feels very good to me that you and this team have come together and ironed things out," said Rick Vilardo, a school board member, at the board meeting Monday evening, April 14.

"I am just really pleased for the entire district, and I keep saying that because I think this is a district win."

Kellogg is working to minimize any potential problems as the district begins to roll out the new plan, but is optimistic that it will have a smooth transition.

Nestor-Baker is also confident in Kellogg and his teams.

"We are moving ahead in a strong and committed fashion to making sure these programs go forward," Nestor-Baker said.

"If there are mess ups, if we miss a turn, we'll pick it up on the next time around."

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