Changes to the Westerville City Schools' elementary programs will begin this fall, as the district phases out its magnet-school program.

Changes to the Westerville City Schools' elementary programs will begin this fall, as the district phases out its magnet-school program.

The elimination of first-grade classes for all magnet programs and the combining of three magnet schools on one site is only the first step in changes to the elementary program, however.

"That affords us this year, especially the fall -- and that work has already started -- to work through that process ... of what does our elementary programming look like for the following year," said Karen McClellan, the district's chief academic officer.

As students head back to classes next month, the district will begin polling parents of elementary school children to determine what those parents value in education, what their educational priorities are and whether they would like to have the option of focused programming such as that of the magnets schools, which offered world-cultures, math and science, and arts programs, said David Baker, district executive director of elementary academic affairs.

"We'll get this feedback from the parents as far as what they would dream of seeing in terms of elementary (programs)," Baker said. "I think it needs to go back and forth before we land on what it really looks like for our students."

One thing district administrators said they know they would like to do with elementary-level programming is to allow options for families, such as the magnet programs, but in a way that makes the programs accessible for all families.

Until this year, the district has had five magnet programs located at Hanby, Emerson, Longfellow, Central College and Robert Frost.

Entry into those programs was permitted through a lottery program, and the schools generally had waiting lists each year.

"We know families like choice," McClellan said. "How can we provide that access? Can we find a model that's different than the lottery, where some students by the luck of the draw had access to a math/science program or an arts program?

"That is one factor that we would not like to have those disappointed because they were not chosen."

As the magnet program comes to an end, second- through fifth-grade students from Longfellow and Central College schools will move into Hanby Elementary School.

Emerson and Robert Frost students will remain where they are, but those schools also will not see new first-grade classes.

All of the magnet schools are set to close after the 2012-2013 school year.

With students out of the Central College and Longfellow buildings, the district will have to decide what to do with those, but no formal discussions have begun, McClellan said.

The district may look to use those buildings in providing in-house programs for students with special needs who currently are sent out of the district, McClellan said.

"We have internally talked about using Central College for students with disabilities who currently are receiving those services out of our district as a cost," McClellan said. "There needs to be more study and research put into that. ... We're just exploring different options."