Twain, Roberts, 13 Other HISD Magnet Programs on Probation; 3 to Close

UPDATE: After appeals from the affected schools, only one program has been slated for closure and eight programs – including those at Twain and Roberts – are still on probation. The Houston Chronicle has more.

At last night’s school board meeting, a preliminary plan was announced under which 15 HISD magnet schools will be put on probation, and 3 more which had already been on probation will lose their magnet programs.

According to HISD policy, a magnet school must have out-of-zone magnet transfers as at least 20% of its student body, and it must meet state minimum standards for student achievement. Schools which fail these criteria will be placed on probation and given one year in which to return to compliance with district policy. If a school still fails to meet the criteria after a year on probation, its magnet program will be eliminated.

The 15 schools placed on probation this year include some of HISD’s most popular magnet programs, notably Mark Twain Elementary and Oran M. Roberts Elementary. Both are ranked among the top 10 most popular and most coveted HISD magnet elementary schools, and they are the two most selective HISD magnet schools overall, according to our sister publication The Houston School Survey. This is not a coincidence; these schools are extremely selective because there are so many zoned students that few seats are left for magnet transfers. Since this is not something which can easily be fixed, it is likely that Twain and Roberts, as well as other schools placed on probation for the same reason, will lose their magnet programs next year.

In addition to Twain and Roberts, the following schools have been placed on probation: Burbank Elementary, Burbank Middle, Carrillo ElementaryCook Elementary, Elrod Elementary, Fleming Middle, Garden Villas Elementary, Gregory-Lincoln K-8, Hartman Middle, Marshall Middle, Roosevelt Elementary, Wainwright Elementary, and Welch Middle. The three schools which are slated for immediate program cuts are Ross Elementary, Scarborough High, and Long Academy. (At these latter two, only some programs are slated to close; Scarborough will retain its computer networking program but lose its architecture program, and Long will retain its pharmacy program but lose its Vanguard program.) All schools facing probation or program cuts will have the chance to appeal the district’s decision.

When an HISD school loses its magnet program, its magnet benefits are phased out. During the first year after the program closes, the school only receives half of its former magnet budget; the following year, its magnet budget is cut completely. Busing for out-of-zone students will also continue to be made available for a year after the program closes. Students who have transferred in through the magnet program will be allowed to continue to attend the school, but no more magnet transfers will be accepted. Depending on the school’s budget, specialty classes may or may not still be available after the first year; if they are available, they will be funded through the school’s remaining budget or through outside sources.

The systematic cutting of magnet programs which do not meet the district’s criteria is a relatively new phenomenon; the probationary system was implemented last year for the first time. In 2013, 13 programs were placed on probation, and 17 – including the STEM program at West University Elementary – were closed.

In a related initiative, the superintendent and the board will be working with several magnet schools – Horn Academy, Scroggins Elementary, Bellaire High, Chavez High, Reagan High, and Westside High – to relieve overcrowding. All of these schools currently enroll significantly more students than their buildings are designed to hold. It is unclear at this time what steps the district will take to alleviate this problem.