New Hanover school board to vote tonight on magnet school changes

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Flamenco dancer Meagan Chandler teaches steps to students in Forest Hills Global Elementary School's Spanish immersion program. School board members will decide tonight whether to move the program to Gregory as part of an overhaul of the district's magnet schools. Photo by Hilary Snow.
Flamenco dancer Meagan Chandler teaches steps to students in Forest Hills Global Elementary School’s Spanish immersion program. School board members will decide tonight whether to move the program to Gregory as part of an overhaul of the district’s magnet schools. Photo by Hilary Snow.

New Hanover County education leaders will decide tonight whether to take action on a plan to revamp the district’s struggling magnet schools.

During its regular monthly meeting at 5:30 p.m., the school board is expected to vote on the proposal, introduced last month, to “revision” the future of programs at Freeman School of Engineering; Gregory School of Science, Mathematics, and Technology; Snipes Academy of Arts and Design and Virgo Preparatory Academy, which is a middle school.

Board members have already approved year-round calendars, beginning in the 2016-17 school year, at each of those schools, with the exception of Gregory.

In addition to a new calendar, district officials want to sharpen the specialized programs at Virgo, Freeman and Snipes. The biggest change would come at Gregory, which has been recommended as the new home for the Spanish immersion program, currently located at Forest Hills Global Elementary School.

Following a recent review, the district found that each of the four magnet schools is underperforming on state accountability tests and is suffering from low enrollment numbers.

Magnet schools, which receive additional funding for their programs, are open to all students in the county, with transportation provided regardless of where they live.

All of the district’s magnet schools earned either a D or F on performance tests the last two years. And while enrollment for students in those schools’ districts has remained fairly constant, according to a presentation from assistant superintendent Dr. LaChawn Smith, those opting to attend has steadily declined, with as few as 50 choosing Snipes this year.

At that school, Smith and superintendent Dr. Tim Markley have recommended boosting its arts focus through the addition of a K-5 instrumental music program and the creation of performance groups. Freeman would see student competition teams and partnerships with area businesses like General Electric.

Freeman, which also has a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) component, would have a more integrated approach to engineering in the classroom.

Virgo would expand its Project Lead the Way initiative to sixth through eighth grades. Project Lead the Way is a national engineering program. The district also wants to strengthen the school’s central focus on robotics and computer programming through participation in eCYBERMISSION, a national robotics competition run by the U.S. Army.

Gregory would shift its curriculum completely, phasing out its current STEM programs until students move to high school and implementing in the meantime a dual language initiative that would put students from Forest Hills Spanish immersion program in the same school with native Spanish-speaking students and expand it through eighth grade.

Tonight’s meeting will be held at the Board of Education Center, 1805 S. 13th St.

Hilary Snow is a reporter at Port City Daily. Reach her at hilary.s@portcitydaily.com.