Board To Superintendent: Study "Magnet" Schools Now

LA MESA -- Attending La Mesa-Spring Valley School Board meetings in recent years has been painful - filled with layoffs and financial lamentations, rising class sizes and other struggles.

Tuesday evening, the district board changed the tone, for at least the night.

The board voted 5-0 to direct district Superintendent Brian Marshall to begin the process of establishing new "magnet" schools within the district. The board's direction was general, but in discussion with a few members of the public and other district employees present, it was clear the idea of a Science and Technology magnet and a Performing Arts magnet were prominent in everyone's thinking with the middle school years being targeted for these new programs.

"I can't speak for the whole board, but you can say I'm in favor of a Performing Arts magnet at La Mesa Middle School,'' board member Bill Baber said at one point.

"Magnets" are public schools built around a focused program.  Generally students apply for the school and are admitted by lottery when demand exceeds the spots available. So-called "STEM" schools focused on science, technology, engineering and mathematics are an example of popular magnets that have been established around the country.

In the increasingly competitive world of public education, magnets have been used to persuade affluent families to keep students in public school and to attract good students from outside the district to grow student populations where needed to keep state funding.

Marshall reminded the board last night that an empirical study conducted for the district several years ago identified STEM and Performing Arts as the most popular magnet topics with parents and that a majority of the parents surveyed said locating the new programs within the I-8/State Road 94 area would be important for attracting the maximum number of applicants.

But Marshall said his committee or committees would move ahead with no preconceived notions, keeping "all options" open as they assessed whether magnets could be established and sustained. He cautioned it won't be a quick decision.

"This is just the first step in a very long journey,'' Marshall said.

Still just the prospect of developing new programs and pursuing innovation within the district won quick praise from parents and teachers who had sat through too many of the depressing meetings during the state's economic melt down.

"My children have gone on from the district at this point,'' said Gerald L. Lecko, a local architect who had two children graduate from La Mesa/Spring Valley schools, "but I have to say it is great to hear us moving ahead, thinking of new ways to improve the district.''

Sitting in the audience was Dr. Mark Arapostathis, a second-grade teacher and director of the Peter Pan Jr. Theater, a Middle School-aged independent organization that has been associated with the district for decades now. Alongside Arapostathis was La Mesa Middle School Principal Beth Thomas, who also praised the board for thinking about innovation and change amid the challenges that have dominated recent years.

Arapostathis said he is clearly interested in helping design and execute a performing arts curriculum for a Middle School magnet.

While much of the discussion on this night focused on middle schools, several board members suggested Marshall keep open the possibility of a combined elementary/middle school magnet that could bring new, focused programs to the grade four-through-eight years "giving four years and more continuity'' to a magnet program said board member Penny Halgren.



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Tags: Bill Baber, Dr. Mark Arapostathis, La Mesa Middle School, La Mesa Today, La Mesa news, La Mesa newspapers, La Mesa-Spring Valley School District, magnet schools


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Comment by Kevin G George on October 4, 2012 at 3:09pm

Magnet schools may be a good idea for education but they are TERRIBLE for the surrounding neighborhoods.

Have you ever tried to drive around Parkway middle school in the morning when students are arriving or departing in he afternoon?

It is complete grid lock for a mile around Parkway at those hours. I have two relatives who live close by and the effect of Parkway becoming a magnet school was devastating for them.

People park blocks and blocks away waiting for their kids to walk to  them because the pick up area is complete grid lock. Therefor every afternoon all the parking in front of all the private residences is taken and driving anywhere from there houses is an impossibility at those hours.

Now imagine that at LM middle school where the traffic at those hours is already horrendous because of the Helix HS traffic.

Bad idea.

Comment by J.Forga on October 3, 2012 at 10:58am

It's about time the La Mesa School district has decided to become competitive about bringing magnet schools into our area.

"In the increasingly competitive world of public education, magnets have been used to persuade affluent families to keep students in public school and to attract good students from outside the district to grow student populations where needed to keep state funding."

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