Magnet School Option Explored by Jonesboro Educators

January 30, 2003
Posted at: 6:00 p.m. CDT

JONESBORO, Ark. -- As the State of Arkansas works to improve how it teaches children, a local school district is considering future options to retain its students.

Representatives of the Jonesboro Public Schools spent two days in Hot Springs to research, and experience, the magnet school program offered by the local district.

The magnet idea of specially themed campuses, along with federal funding helped the Hot Springs School District start their own magnet schools three years ago. Since November, local school officials, and parents, have talked about the possibility of a magnet plan, among others, in Jonesboro.

One Hot Springs student, Yanick, who is originally from switzerland, gave board members the background of his experience in a magnet school.

Joe Cullum is a Jonesboro school board member. His mission is to observe a school district that tries to offer more than reading, writing, and arithmetic.

"The Hot Springs School District has been magnet for the past few years," Cullum said. "We just came downt o see what they've learned from it."

Magnet school administrators say the more in-depth style of teaching, and individualizing courses makes students more interested and excited about learning, and parents more eager to sign up for the districts that have magnet plans.

Laura Wood is a Jonesboro parent who participated in the fact-finding tour. She says it would be nice to have things spiced up, and possibly changed for the better in Jonesboro.

"You learn this, and you learn this," Wood said. "But you don't really apply it. That's really what they do here. We've seen it today."

More resources, more time, and more concentration on a child's weakness or talent are some of what teachers say are the pluses in this unique learning environment. An environment that looks a little more like college. A school for math or science, or a school for the arts are what students in Hot Springs are offered.

"I think they could discover a talent, or enhance a talent," Wood said.

For example, students interested in drama, music, or more of the visual and performing arts attend to Oaklawn's kindergarten-through-fifth-grade visual and performing arts school.

"The next thing that we will do is come back together and talk about what we've learned," Teresa Alford, special project's director for JPS, said. "(We will) talk about what we have seen, and see as a school district what's best for the school district as a whole."

Many of the people on the tour wanted to know what the magnet plan did for Hot Spring's enrollment. School board members, parents, and teachers were pleased to hear that the magnet plan was in high demand once it got rolling, which wasn't easy, but enrollment in the Hot Springs district did increase.

Plans by Jonesboro officials to explore the magnet or other plans aren't going anywhere fast. School district officials say they're waiting to see what's going to happen in the General Assembly. For now, alternatives like magnet schools, or any other plan to change curriculum in the Jonesboro School Sistrict are on hold.