Jones: Small magnet program could address racial imbalance
FAIRFIELD — A separate magnet school is not an attractive alternative for the district to address racial imbalance at McKinley School, the superintendent and several board members say.
At the Tuesday Board of Education meeting, Superintendent of Schools Toni Jones suggested the possibility of a smaller magnet program instead of an interdistrict magnet school.
In Fairfield’s case, Jones said it would be a magnet program encompassing a few classrooms within a school, not an entire facility.
“It’s difficult to find a magnet program where it’s just one or two classrooms,” Jones said.
There are three school districts the state says need to fix racial imbalance in four schools — McKinley in Fairfield, two in Greenwich and one in West Hartford.
Of those four schools, though, Jones said, three of them are magnet schools. “I think it’s important to note the reason we’re looking at this had to do with racial imbalance,” she said.
The two magnet program themes parents are most interested in, according to Jones, are STEAM and an International Baccalaureate school. To do an IB school, Jones said, it would likely have to be the entire school, and can be quite costly for annual membership, teacher training and curriculum development.
“When I look at a magnet program, I would not recommend we move forward as part of our state plan to solve racial imbalance,” Jones said. “Greenwich is still on that list. I think that’s the wrong reason to do a magnet school, and I don’t think it would work in Fairfield.”
There are magnet programs for STEAM, such as Code to the Future, which is used in the Baltimore public schools. The initial cost is about $120,000, Jones said, with extensive training costs.
“The other idea is there is something kind of in between those two components,” Jones said, “something like an elementary advanced math academy.” In that case, she said, the district would “own” the program, and design and develop it.
The program could be offered only for fourth- or fifth-graders at McKinley, Jones said, adding what she hears most from families is an interest in advanced math. It also doesn’t require a long-term commitment like an IB school would.
“If you start with fifth-graders, you’ve got that one trial year and they move on to middle school,” she said.
Jones said if the students for such an academy came from all of the other 10 elementary schools, it would help to reduce the racial imbalance, although not solve it.
“It definitely, I think, would help in the long run,” she said.
Board member Jennifer Leeper agreed, saying, “I view the possibility of this math academy filling a void we currently have in our district. We don’t have highly specialized opportunities for groups of really individualized learners, and there has been community demand for it.”
However, some board members, like Jennifer Jacobsen, expressed concern not all of the district’s elementary school students would receive the same math instruction if an academy was put in place.
Jones said the academy would target students who really enjoy doing math, and would be happy if the whole day was devoted to math.
Board member Jeffrey Peterson said he thinks an advanced math academy is a great idea, though, “Part of me weeps we aren’t thinking of an advanced humanities academy.”
“I helped develop the gifted program in my previous district,” board member Trisha Pytko said. “I think we would be better served promoting gifted programs in those schools, rather than bus them to one school. It just doesn’t seem like a feasible way to spend our resources.”
Board member Nicholas Aysseh said he was not in support of a specialized academy at this time. “This was all centered around racial imbalance, and now we’ve brought up a new subject,” he said. “I think we’ve kind of grown a new flower out of this and I think we have a lot of things on our plate.”