Bridgeport magnet school policy tweaked

November 28, 2018

BRIDGEPORT — It took more than two years but the school board managed to make changes to its magnet school policies in an attempt to balance fairness and expected rigor.

“I’m not so sure I would call the new policy a good thing, more like ... it’s less worse than it could’ve been,” said Joseph Solokovic, a board member active in the discussion of the policies even before he was elected to the board a year ago.

The changes, which will take effect with the 2019-20 school year, base admission for students in kindergarten through third grade on a blind lottery with no additional entrance criteria or test.

Students in grades 4 through 8 vying for open slots in the district’s intradistrict magnet schools have to keep good grades, meet attendance requirements and behave to get in and avoid possible reassignment.

Altogether the district has a reported 6,000 applicants or more each year for 2,500 elementary magnet school slots.

Once in, several interventions and warnings have been put into place to make sure students have chances to improve before being sent back to neighborhood schools.

The same safeguards are now in place for the nearly 2,200 high school magnets where entry into Bridgeport Military Academy is through a blind lottery.

Fairchild Wheeler, interdistrict magnet schools with 1,500 seats combined, is open first to graduates of Discovery Magnet School — with left over seats distributed by lottery.

At Central Magnet, graduates of the district’s magnet or talented and gifted programs get first dibs on the 450 slots, with remaining seats open through a lottery process to students who get a final grade of C or better in core academic subjects in 8th grade, have good conduct and good attendance.

The changes came after more than two years of committee debate over the purpose of the city’s coveted magnet schools and an attempt to prevent removal of students from city magnet schools in most instances. Some argued magnet schools should play by the same rules as other city schools and not be allowed to remove students they can’t handle.

Board member Ben Walker said magnet schools should not be allowed to discriminate because one student is smarter or behaves better.

That drew strong opposition from a number of magnet school parents who say the reason the schools work is that standards are kept high.

“When I signed on that dotted line, I knew what I was signing up for,” High Horizons Parent Diane Draper told the issue came before them a year ago.

Sokolovic, whose son attends Park City Magnet, worried that changes as first proposed would have watered down standards. He called for rules to be strengthened, not weakened. It is one of the reasons he ran for a seat on the board. He would become chair of the committee that spent months debating entrance and performance expectations for the schools.

“I truly believe if you demand more and expect more ... our students, magnet or not, will rise up and meet whatever standard that is set,” he said.

He sees the end product as a compromise, that sets a clearer and consistent appeals process for struggling students.

Magnet schools were started in the district in 1980 as a way to promote diversity and offer themed instruction, focusing on such areas as science. The idea was to offer rigor and groom students for college.

By design, magnet schools outshine other schools in the district on most academic measures.

Magnet School principals have told the board that most students who win seats rise to the challenge. They each report having sent no more than a handful of students back to their home schools over the past four years.

The elementary school lottery process opens for most schools in January 7, 2019.

lclambeck@ctpost.com; twitter/lclambeck

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