Magnet Schools of America Newsletter
September 2017
Public School Choice Debated 

This month the National School Boards Association's Center for Public Education released a national report,"Busting the Myth of 'one size fits all public education'." The report is based on data from the Education Commission of States and the National Center for Education Statistics and highlights the many school choice options that are available in the public education system, including magnet programs. 

The authors make the case that  public education is not the monolith its critics make it out to be and in fact public school districts offer the broadest range of educational choices for parents and families.  The report specifically references magnet schools as a prevalent public school choice option that is available in many states and school districts.  

In a press release announcing the report, T homas J. Gentzel, Executive Director & CEO of the National School Boards Association states, "The constant effort to enhance public education has produced an amazing array of learning opportunities spanning course selection, learning styles, and choice of school."

Richland School District 2 Board Chairman Craig Plank (center) credits magnet programs for giving students the career skills needed to attract major employers to the area such as Boeing and BMW.
"Busting the Myth" was released at a forum held on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC and featured two of our district members, Wichita Public Schools and Richland School District 2.  T errell Davis, Executive Director of Public Affairs and Special Projects for Wichita USD 259, discussed the many choice options that are offered in his district via 24 magnet schools. 

He stated that 98% of students that apply to attend a magnet are placed in the program of their choice, adding, "We want to have enough programs so everyone finds an interest, finds a career path, gets certifications, makes connections and finds jobs." He touted the success of Wichita's magnet program, and pointed out that t he district's high school graduation rate has increased 12 points over the past six years, to 75.5%. 

Craig Plank, Chairman of Richland School District 2 discussed his district's robust public choice program that includes 36 magnet schools. He emphasized that Richland 2's vision for magnet schools is to meet students' diverse needs and interests by maximizing their potential for learning and growth, encouraging creativity, maximizing high standards, and creating awareness of career opportunities for students relative to their interests.  He also proudly announced that his district has the only nationally certified magnet schools in the state.  

Magnets by Design 

There is still time to register for the annual fall technical assistance and training conference in Bloomington-Minneapolis, MN, October 4-6, 2017. Experience a journey through the opportunities and services members are requesting from MSA's National Institute for Magnet School Leadership (NIMSL)!

Build and strengthen your leadership teams and their capacity to support your schools and programs. The technical assistance conference will provide teachers, school and district leaders, and school advocates a unique lens into the world of the Standards of Excellence and beyond.

Sessions will f
ocus on effective school leadership, developing strategic partnerships,  magnet  program development, and leveraging school diversity policies and practices. 

Magnet School Tours

The fall conference will be held in collaboration with Minneapolis Public Schools, Independent School District 196, and Richfield Public Schools and will feature tours of the districts' magnet programs that include International Baccalaureate, STEM, Montessori, Foreign Language and more. 

Keynote Speakers
  • Ed GraffSuperintendent, Minneapolis Public Schools
  • Dr. Brenda Cassellius, Minnesota Commissioner of Education
  • Steven Unowsky, Superintendent, Richfield Public Schools
Magnet School Shark Tank

Back by popular demand, MSA will host its own version of the hit television show Shark Tank where top educational companies will demonstrate how their products can support and enhance your schools and  classrooms. 

Certification Coaching Sessions

Coaching and guidance will be offered to schools currently in the Standards of Excellence Certification program.

Please visit the conference website to register and make your hotel reservations.


MSA is proud to recognize our conference supporters: 
Houston Magnet Named XQ - Super School

In a nationally televised event that included Tom Hanks, Chance the Rapper, Justin Timberlake, U2, Jennifer Hudson, and many other superstar celebrities, the Furr Institute for Innovative Thinking (FITT) was featured as one of 18 XQ Super Schools. This public magnet school that draws students from across the Houston Independent School District received $10 million in 2016 to re-imagine the high school experience. Funding was provided by the XQ Institute, a project of the Emerson Collective, which was founded by Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. 

The Furr Institute was chosen among 700 applicants to receive a share of $100 million. The school's transformation is a truly remarkable story. Nearly a decade ago it was one of 185 Texas high schools identified as a dropout factory by Johns Hopkins University. At the time, only 36% of incoming freshman managed to complete their senior year. Suffering from poverty and gang violence, it took the effort of an entire school and the leadership of a formerly retired 83 old principal to change the direction and narrative of the school.  

With support from the XQ Institute, the Furr Institute for Innovative Thinking was developed by a team of 36 individuals including teachers, administrators, students, parents, as well as community and business partners. It is designed to give students the power to find a learning pathway that matches their learning style and personality. Teacher, Adrian Sendejas says, "In my wildest dreams, FIIT looks more like a university where kids can figure out what it is they want to learn and take the time to go wherever it is they want to go."

This all begins when students enter the Ninth Grade Academy that is built from a personalized learning model that includes flexible schedules, interdisciplinary learning time guided by student interests, and mentorships provided by adults and upperclassmen. Upon entering their sophomore year, students follow one of three pathways, Media and Technology; Place Based Learning; or Global Medicine and Research, which is supported by a partnership with the MD Anderson Cancer Institute. 

The school's principal Dr. Bertie Simmons, who took over the school after her predecessor left following a death threat from one of the school's gangs, explains that the concept of the school is to "help students become lifelong learners and innovators who are globally and digitally literate - poised for careers that may not even exist yet." She states that she would ultimately like the school to become a competency based program, that allows students to earn credits at their own pace without being confined by grade levels. 

Change is indelibly occurring as the Furr Institute prepares to enter a new modern facility. For one thing, it can no longer be labeled as a dropout factory since it now boasts a graduation rate of 94 percent. We encourage you to learn more about FIIT and the other Super Schools on the XQ Institute website

A Journey Toward Certification 

The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do. You can act to change and control your life; and the procedure; the process is its own reward.

- Amelia Earhart
Although not as dramatic as the female pilot flying solo across the Atlantic, certainly in a lens of triumph, completing the journey of magnet certification required steadfast diligence and a focus on the details. These improvement efforts and identifying proof via evidence brought schools' data sets to life.
In 2012, a group of Magnet Schools of America's board members, and volunteers from the membership, took on the task of examining the MSA five Pillars and drafting the Standards of Excellence. Through thirty-six months of drafts and a certification pilot study with six membership districts, the final ten Standards of Excellence were presented to the organization's membership. The purpose of these standards was to drive the process and work for becoming a nationally certified magnet school. Each of the standards have several performance indicators with a rubric that allowed schools to measure their status against exemplars.
North Springs Elementary School celebrates being named 1 of 10 National Demonstration Schools.
In May of 2016, we kicked off the "Become Nationally Certified" event at the National Conference in Miami, Florida. The anticipation and opening the queue for the first applicants for certified schools was exciting! 110 schools across the country signed up for the rigorous evaluation.
Meant as a tool to identify, reflect, and improve, the inaugural certification process resulted in fifty-five schools earning this recognition. Ten of the fifty-five schools' performance indicators exceeded the norm and have received the accolades of being Nationally Certified - Demonstration Magnet Schools.

This first cohort of schools began their certification work in August of 2016; they were provided onboarding details, pacing guides, reference tutorials, and other resources. To gauge where each school stood in the arena of certification, each school was required to partake in a self-evaluation of the Standards of Excellence performance indicators. It was this internal process that would drive the needed concerted efforts and strategic action plans to improve or enhance their status. With a closing date of June 30, 2017, it was paramount that schools used the nearly nine-month process with authentic school improvement efforts. Keep Reading...

MSA National Awards Program 

Golden award star isolated on the white backgroundMagnet Schools of America's 
2017-2018 national awards season is approaching. Please review each of our programs below and start getting prepared to submit a winning application.  All MSA members  are eligible to participate and will be notified when the applications are posted online in the next two weeks. Winners will be recognized at the 36th National Conference in Chicago, IL April 25-29, 2018!

National Merit Awards

The national merit awards program celebrates MSA membership schools through a competitive process. Open to members only, the awards provide an annual opportunity for schools to be recognized for what they have accomplished.
These awards are given to magnet schools that demonstrate high academic standards, curriculum innovation, successful school integration and diversity efforts, and the delivery of high-quality educational services to all students. 

There are two categories of merit awards: (1) Magnet Schools of Excellence, the most prominent merit award given to magnet schools, and (2) Magnet Schools of Distinction. The top rated magnet schools in the Excellence category are eligible to receive MSA's most prestigious awards including the Dr. Ronald Simpson Award, which includes a $5,000 cash prize, the Donald Waldrip Award, MSA Presidents Award, and others that recognize the nation's preeminent elementary, secondary, and new and emerging magnet schools.  

Application Deadline: Monday, November 28, 2017

National Magnet School Superintendent of the Year 

This annual award was created in 2015 and recognizes an exceptional superintendent that has embraced magnet schools as a priority in the portfolio of school choice options. This individual also demonstrates leadership at the national, state, and local levels in support of magnet schools.

Application Deadline: Monday, January 16, 2018  

National Magnet School Principal of the Year 

This award was established in 2009 and recognizes a remarkable magnet school leader who has succeeded in providing innovative programs that promote equity, diversity, and academic excellence for all students. This individual will be chosen from a cohort of regional principals of the year.

To be selected as a regional magnet principal of the year, candidates must be nominated by their district level magnet director. Once nominated, candidates must submit a narrative application and recommendation letters.

Application Deadline: Monday, December 12, 2017 

National Magnet School Teacher of the Year 

The Magnet Teacher of the Year Award was established in 2010 and recognizes an extraordinary full-time teacher who exemplifies excellence in the classroom and is acknowledged by their peers, parents, and students for their contributions made to their profession. This individual will be chosen from a group of regional teachers of the year. 

Regional teachers of the year are selected from MSA's eight regions through a competitive application process. To be chosen, candidates must first be nominated by their district level magnet director. Once nominated, they are
asked to submit a narrative application that describes their professional and educational background, teaching philosophy, community and family engagement efforts, and successes in the classroom. 

Application Deadline: Monday December 12, 2017

National Student Poster Contest 

Magnet Schools of America is proud to sponsor its 12th Annual National Student Poster Contest as part of the celebration of National Magnet School Month in February. We encourage all elementary, middle, and high school magnet students to participate. Certificates and cash prizes will be given to the top posters in each grade level category.  

Submission Deadline: Friday, January 22, 2018

Remembering 9-11

Six word essay empowers student voices
By Ron Hustvedt, Jr.
2014 National Magnet
School Teacher of the Year

Empowering students to use the written word doesn't always have to be about quantity. Sometimes we can challenge students to seriously limit their word count so they can say as much as possible with the fewest number of words.

It's an important skill to possess in this 140-character limit, 30-second elevator talk, highspeed world in which we live in. Publishing that writing for the world to see opens up even more opportunities, both for students to reach out into the bigger world and for the world to get a glimpse of the future writers.

On 9/11 this year I struggled to find a meaningful way to teach about the event to my 7th graders at Salk Middle School in Elk River, Minnesota. I discovered a PBS video where survivors and family members of the fallen used six-words to memorialize their loved one. My students were all born after the tragic events in 2001 and have no personal experience with the event, but they all have experienced some kind of loss in their lives--meaning they could empathize with victims of that day.

Students posted their responses on a class Schoology page so they learned about the power of writing for an audience. I was so impressed by their thoughtfulness, in just six words, I tweeted out a bunch from my @MrHustvedt account. Here are a few of them:

As lives left us, heroes were born.
As the towers fell, love rose.
Grief will come. Healing will last.
The towers have fallen. We haven't.
Dark places have room for light.
You are heroes who saved us.
The ones that fell soared high.
Our eye's opened in darkest time.
Tower is gone. You still there?

Funding Opportunities for Magnets

Through its Field Trip Grants program, Target awards grants of up to $700 to K-12 schools nationwide to defray the cost of field trips. It is accepting grant applications between August 1 - October 1, 2017.

Captain Planet Foundation Grants fund projects that provide hands-on environmental stewardship opportunities for youth and environment-based education programs. The foundation primarily makes grants to schools and organizations with an annual operating budget of less than $3 million. The maximum award is $2,500. The deadline to apply is September 30, 2017.

The foundation is accepting grant applications from pre-K-12 educators who need financial assistance to maintain or implement an arts education program in the 2018-19 school year. Grants of up to $1,000 will be awarded to support new or evolving programs that integrate the arts into educational programming. Application Deadline:  September 30, 2017.

Constellation is accepting grant applications for local community-based projects designed to inspire students to think differently about energy. Grants of up to $25,000 will be awarded for projects at the 6-12 grade level. The company will give priority to team-oriented, learning-focused, hands-on demonstration projects that achieve specific results and reach a minimum of a hundred students. Proposed projects must be  located in areas where Constellation does business. Application Deadline:  October 1, 2017.

Toshiba America Foundation  is accepting grant applications from K-5 grade school teachers for innovative science or math projects in their own classroom. The foundation awards individual grants of up to $1,000 in support of hands-on science or math education projects. Application Deadline: October 1, 2017

The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics is accepting applications from teachers of preK-2 mathematics for projects that incorporate music into the elementary school classroom. Grants of up to $3,000 will be awarded to individual classroom teachers or small groups of teachers collaborating in a single grade or across grade levels. Application Deadline:  November 23, 2017.

Magnets Making News 

One year ago the New Century Technology High School faculty embarked on a journey of reflection, improvement and growth. After an intense application process, New Century has been named as one of only 55 nationally certified magnet schools by Magnet Schools of America. They are also the only school in Alabama to earn this distinction.

"When New World School of the Arts opened 30 years ago it was a pioneer of the magnet school model. Its founders wanted to eliminate the normal neighborhood borders and provide students from across a wide geographical area equitable access to specialized and focused training," explained Dr. Jeffrey Hodgson, Provost and CEO of New World School of the Arts. 

The gap between the proficiency levels of black children and white children in Alabama's public schools is wide, stubborn, and pervasive. The causes for that gap are many, and the impact of that gap is long-lasting. But, after analyzing achievement gaps between black and white students, found a whole group of schools where proficiency for students is high and the gap is minimal. Those schools, by and large, are Alabama's magnet schools.

"As an environmental educator, I value the principles that PLT is founded on," Umberger said. "Not only has this curriculum provided me with a wealth of experience that I can provide for students and teachers that I work with, but it also has helped form my own beliefs of how humans impact this planet."

Christie Cantalupo, a fifth-grade teacher at Six to Six Magnet School in Bridgeport, is Cooperative Educational Services' Teacher of the Year for 2017.
Ms. Cantalupo is now eligible for the 2018 Connecticut Teacher of the Year Award, which will be announced in November.

About a third of Duval County students who take advantage of school choice are enrolled in magnet schools, which revolve around a theme, such as fine arts or engineering.  Trey Csar's son just started his first day of first grade at a dual-language magnet school, where he learns in both English and Spanish.

It's day six of the school year at the CREC Ana Grace Academy of the Arts Elementary Magnet School. Sue Files sits on a colorful carpet with her new kindergarten students - a couple who know just a little bit of English, some who didn't go to preschool, some who are already reading, some who are still working on their letters and numbers.

Pathways to Science celebrates fifth anniversary

This year marks the fifth anniversary of Yale's Pathways to Science, free on-campus STEM enrichment programming for local middle and high school students hosted by Yale faculty members.  "When we were beginning to form Pathways, it was like a thousand flowers, but no garden," Merson said. 

* Do you have exciting news to share about the magnet schools in your community? Please send them to:


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MISSION: Providing leadership for high quality innovative
instructional programs that promote choice, equity, diversity, and academic excellence  for all students.

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Magnet Schools of America memberships expired on June 30, 2017.

To continue receiving important member benefits please make sure to renew your membership for this 
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Please email MSA's Membership Coordinator, Faith Goodwin at
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Jack Kent Cooke College Scholarship

High-achieving high school seniors are eligible for this scholarship. Recipients are awarded up to $40,000 per year to complete their bachelor's degree, in addition to opportunities for internships, study abroad, and graduate school funding.

The application for the College Scholarship Program is currently open. The deadline for all materials is November 14, 2017.

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