Recently, I read in our local newspaper that our school board had passed a resolution to convert one of our elementary schools into a magnet school. So what is a magnet school and how does a magnet school differ from a traditional school? Here are a few of the general differences, but these could vary depending on the school district where you live:
- Magnet schools offer a specialized curriculum and an extended school calendar.
- The method of instruction may differ from that of a traditional school.
- Specialized equipment may be provided free to students.
- Parents must choose to enroll their children in a magnet school, but if the school population receives too many applicants, children will be chosen through an open lottery process.
- Magnet schools attract students who are motivated to learn, which can provide a better learning environment for all students.
What is interesting about magnet schools is that the concept has been used since the mid 1960s, but the reason for their creation was different. According to the magnet school entry at Wikipedia, the idea was developed to end segregation in schools. Over the years, the magnet schools have become popular in states such as Texas, Massachusetts, Maine, Virginia, and Nevada, where some school boards have opened their institutions to include students from outside their jurisdictions.
In an effort to learn more about the magnet school where I live, I contacted Dr. Josh Chastian, who will be the first principal at the John Thomas School of Discovery. Here’s how the interview went.
What are your objectives for the new school?
We are currently in the process of choosing the teaching staff that will work with myself and the district to articulate the objectives for JTSD. Our vision focuses on the opportunity to provide students and families a learning environment that encompasses the ideas of learning through science, technology, engineering, arts, and math. We believe that this will allow us to prepare students to participate in a society where scientific and technological literacy are necessary for success. We further recognize that science is best learned when experienced through an active process that integrates inquiry, technology and engineering, arts, and mathematics.
To accomplish this, we have formulated JTSD to offer choices for parents. The magnet school will provide an education through the focus of STEAM. This allows our lessons to become more project and inquiry based. Students will utilize technology and science equipment for hands-on learning. JTSD is not considered to [be providing] a better education to [its] students, but a different [education]. A great deal of professional development will take place in order to support our teachers in this new endeavor. This professional development will also be shared with other schools so that they may integrate some of the same great concepts at their schools. With science labs, computer labs, and an innovative approach to our art, music, PE, computers, and library, we will be able to change to traditional format of instruction that would be typical of other elementary schools in Nixa.
What goals are you endeavoring to meet?
I am looking forward to the opportunity of creating a school where a new and innovative way of teaching will be introduced to students of Nixa. I want to provide a learning center that will be supportive of not only our students and families, but the community as well. Through service learning, we will be able to give back to the community and utilize our school as a showpiece learning center for all. This is quite a large endeavor to take on. Many individuals have worked hard to start the vision and many more will continue the vision as we create the full reality of JTSD. It is a process to integrate all desired aspects of what JTSD will be. Over the next few years, we will partner with the district and other entities to fulfill our goals for the best STEAM school in the region and state.
How will technology be employed at JTSD?
Along with the computer lab that is currently in place, wireless capabilities throughout the building, one-to-one computing devices for grades 3-6, one-to-two computing devices for grades k-2 will be introduced. The decision has not been made on the exact devices, but could possibly be iPads, netbooks, or laptops. MIDI interfaces in the computer labs will be utilized for electronic pianos for music classes. Scientific technology equipment will be purchased to support science learning in the new science lab. The addition of another computer lab will be used to support STEAM learning. We will also utilize production and video equipment to produce news and video programs. Staff will utilize laptops to optimize productivity at school and at home. Document cameras and smart boards will be used in the classrooms as well.
What type of child profile would be best suited for the school?
All students that have a creative and inquisitive spirit would benefit from the education at JTSD. That seems to fit all young learners and that is why we are encouraging all to apply and be a part of our school.
One of the questions that Jake Ludington, from the LockerGnome staff, had for me was: How would [this] article apply to a national audience?
If this type of school is desired by a group of parents in a community, I believe the best place to start is at the local district school board. I personally believe that every school board wants the best possible education and advantages for the students in their area and that magnet schools are an excellent example of a school district’s commitment to their youth — who, as we all know, are the future of our country. Therefore, educators need our support to provide an educational system that will allow our youth to compete against the youth from other countries.