CMS magnet results: Waiting list almost doubles, but don’t lose hope yet

Morehead STEM Academy, a K-8 magnet school that specializes in math and science, has 776 students on the waiting list after the CMS lottery.
Morehead STEM Academy, a K-8 magnet school that specializes in math and science, has 776 students on the waiting list after the CMS lottery. Observer file photo

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ revamped magnet lottery, designed to offer more options while boosting school diversity, led to an increase in students placed in magnet programs and an even bigger increase in families who didn’t get the choice they wanted.

So far 23,680 students have gotten the assignments their families requested, an increase of almost 1,200 students in magnets and other opt-in schools.

About 6,400 students are on waiting lists after the first 2017-18 assignment lottery, almost double last year’s number. But more seats may open up in April, after CMS makes one more try at selecting students to balance socioeconomic diversity.

23,680 students got magnet seats in the CMS lottery

1,166 more than last year

6,394 students on waiting lists

3,029 more than last year

The new system, which takes effect this year, uses a combination of neighborhood Census data and self-reported family data to try to strike a balance of students from high, medium and low socioeconomic backgrounds. In full magnet schools, including such perennial favorites as Morehead STEM Academy, Park Road Montessori and Waddell Language Academy, one-third of the seats for new students are reserved for each group. If any of those “buckets” remains unfilled after the first lottery, CMS holds them open until after the second application period, which ends March 29, said student placement director Scott McCully.

When magnet programs are housed in neighborhood schools, magnet seats are allotted to balance the demographics of the overall school. For instance, a magnet program in a high-poverty school would set aside most of the seats for students from higher socioeconomic groups.

That means even schools with waiting lists may have seats open for families who apply in the second round, McCully said. And once that lottery is run, students still waiting will be placed in any unfilled seats, regardless of their socioeconomic status.

776 students waiting for seats at Morehead STEM Academy

424 waiting for seats at Park Road Montessori

395 waiting for seats at Waddell Language Academy

Families who entered the first lottery should have gotten their assignment notices late last week or early this week. Already the new system is creating some consternation.

Loreley Banchik said the results are “a very disappointing surprise” to many parents and school administrators. For instance, Irwin Academic Center, a magnet elementary school, normally seats 100 third-graders who have been labeled academically gifted. This year’s results indicate only 60 applied in the first round and four of them were wait-listed.

Banchik noted that CMS has pushed its options harder than ever this year, touting new and expanded programs. Results “are very discouraging for parents if instead of resulting in more options, they result in less seats,” she said.

McCully said the increased demand signals success for the CMS push to compete with charter and private schools by offering more and better options. And there are early signs that using choice to create diversity is working, he said.

For instance, McClintock Middle School, a high-poverty neighborhood school that has been trying to attract students from more affluent neighborhoods in its zone, filled almost 300 seats in its math-technology-arts magnet. Under the new system, McCully said, most of those seats would have been awarded to students who aren’t coming from the lowest socioeconomic group.

“It looks like the system worked,” McCully said.

CMS has not yet reported results from students in chronically low-performing schools who used the lottery to request seats in higher-scoring neighborhood schools.

Ann Doss Helms: 704-358-5033, @anndosshelms