Don't mess with magnet successes

Arguments for dismantling or eliminating magnet programs at some Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools are putting some successful magnets in jeopardy. They shouldn't.

Villa Heights Elementary, CMS's only full elementary magnet school for Learning Immersion (K-2) and Talent Development (Gifted 3-5) students, is one example. It was 58 percent black last year, and is a state Honor School of Excellence that surpasses academic goals each year.

But CMS officials, who have been reviewing all the magnet programs for months, have suggested merging Villa Heights into Lincoln Heights, a larger school, so more students who want to get into that gifted magnet program can do so.

Trouble is, Lincoln Heights is a neighborhood school with large numbers of low-income and low-performing students. The merged school would become a partial magnet and neighborhood school, losing characteristics – small class size, close teacher-student relationships – many attribute to Villa Heights' success.

Some school board members have suggested most magnets be eliminated, and only those with distinctive programs, such as foreign languages, be preserved. Superintendent Peter Gorman told the board that standard would eliminate successful magnets at Myers Park and Elizabeth Traditional, Piedmont Open Middle and other schools.

CMS is right to reassess its magnet programs. Some need to be eliminated. They serve no useful purpose.

But those that are working, those that are providing the framework for students – especially low-income and minority students – to perform at high levels should not be tossed out like bad bath water. Like good charter schools – and that's what magnets are in a way – magnets can provide a road map for success for traditional schools.

School board member Trent Merchant quipped that such schools “are refugee magnets” because some parents are fleeing poor performing neighborhood schools.

Rather than dismissing these parents as “elitist” – many are not – Mr. Merchant should be telling them how he is working to fix that problem.

No parents want to send their children to academically struggling schools. No parent should be left with only poor choices. CMS has to do a better job of meeting the academic needs of all its students. Eliminating magnets that work will only make that job more difficult.