Will Magnet Schools Stick? One Retired Teacher Says NO

JONESBORO, AR -- A former local teacher is claiming the plan to turn Jonesboro Public Schools into magnet schools won't stick.

The plans for Jonesboro's Magnet Schools are already in place. Teachers have already been assigned locations and starting March 10th, parents can begin making their child's school selection. But at Tuesday night's school board meeting, it was a packed house as a retired teacher of 27 years Debbie Pelley presented information as to why she thinks the magnet schools just won't work.

"I feel like Jonesboro has made the wrong decision and not only I, but numerous others," says Debbie Pelley.

She's talking about the recent decision to implement magnet themes at 5 of their elementary schools. Pelley presented pages and pages of research to the school board including reasons why they should not choose magnet schools.

"I think that our scores will drop. I think that there will be all kinds of problems and I think eventually they'll move back," says Pelley.

But some of the school board strongly disagreed.

"My first question to her was how many of these schools have you been in? She's never been in one of them. I'm sorry but you can't really talk about a school till you've been in it and I've been in these schools. I hope that people that have doubts will go visit a magnet school because you really don't know them till you're actually in them," says Dr. Keith Hendrix, a member of the Jonesboro School Board.

"When the board member said had I been to the school? The Arkansas Department of Education doesn't close schools down because of the way they look. They close schools down because of their scores and when you've got a 57 percent graduation rate like Hot Springs, then why would you go look?," says Pelley.

Pelley says she's done her research and the numbers are there to prove it.

"Why didn't the administrators check into all this? If I can do this research, then why can't they?" adds Pelley.

But Hendrix says they have done their homework.

"This magnet school process has been studied in the Jonesboro School District for the last 10 years and we have researched this in great detail," says Hendrix.

Hot Springs was a school Jonesboro used as a model for the magnet program. Ms. Pelley compared the two school's graduation rates and according to her research Hot Springs was 56 percent in 2005, compared to Jonesboro's 86 percent.

"The graduation rate of the magnet schools should go by the scores those kids make on their benchmarks, not on graduation rates," says Hendrix.

Hendrix also added he feels confident that the board and the school district have made a great choice and these concerns are simply minor compared to the amount of support behind the decision.

"Everybody's going to be skeptical about what's good and what's bad in the magnet school system and it will take us a couple of years I'm sure to get on the road where everyone will understand what it's about," adds Hendrix.

Pelley concluded her presentation to the board asking them to stop all plans to implement the magnet schools and reevaluate their decision. The board made no further reference of her presentation in the remainder of the board meeting.