All this week, we've explored some of the issues facing our local schools, but something we haven't touched on is magnet schools. They can face challenges a bit different than the traditional school, which leads to the question of whether magnet schools deliver on what they promise to parents. The concept of a magnet school is simple. If you provide an intense, dynamic, active curriculum in the classroom, the school will have done its job, attracting a diverse student population. Elizabeth Miars, principal at Freeman Elementary School of Engineering, in New Hanover County, said the school delivers on the curriculum, but it just has not accomplished the diversity part. "The program is excellent, but the ultimate goal of a magnet school is to draw children from all over the county because their parents want them to be in that school," said Miars. Freeman became a magnet program this school year after the school board redistricted the county to move students closer to their homes. The challenge was to make Freeman more racially balanced. The school had just 100 lottery slots to pull in white children, which principal Elizabeth Miars said is not enough, with enrollment still about 78 percent African-American. "I need to market. I need to open up the school, as I am doing; open up the school, so that more people can come and visit. What I have to overcome is people who think it's inferior because of the neighborhood that it serves. That's the real issue," said Miars. Many teachers also believe the public needs to learn more about what magnet programs are about before making up their minds. Second grade teacher, Meghan Crow said, "The teachers believe in this program. The teachers believe in this school. And most of all, we believe in our students. We need the community to believe in us and be as excited as we are, because we really have a great program here." Miars said "You have to get those community problems out of the way. Then you have to focus in on your students, and you have to create a working environment and a climate and a community of students that will work together. That does not happen over night." Those were some of the growing pains Gregory Elementary faced when it became a magnet school geared toward math, science and technology more than ten years ago. Gregory Elementary principal, Maria Greene said, "It does take some time, and it has taken since 1993 for Gregory to be as successful as it is today." Gregory houses more than 500 students who all entered a lottery to attend the school. Greene said with an open lottery and a successful program, Gregory's student population is racially balanced. "We are exposing them to 21st century skills, which they will need to be successful citizens as they continue to grow and learn through education," said Greene. Greene said the only way to improve diversity in the school is having the space for students to come in, which is a luxury her school has, that other magnets don't. New Hanover County also has an arts and design magnet program at Snipes Elementary. A spokesperson from New Hanover County Schools said it takes between three and five years before you can truly measure the effectiveness of the programs, and that the greatest strength of a magnet school is giving students a chance to learn through hands-on education.
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