A prize they weren’t expecting


The CMS educators who attended the 30th Magnet Schools of America conference in Dallas May 18-21 knew in advance they would be recognized. They knew about the three CMS magnets to be recognized as schools of distinction. They knew about the 10 schools in CMS that had been named schools of excellence.

But they didn’t know that two CMS schools had won singular honors that carried significant cash awards.

An astonished Carmen Concepcion, principal at Oaklawn Language Academy, accepted the Dr. Ronald P. Simpson Distinguished Merit Award that recognized her school as the overall top magnet in the country.

“I wasn’t ready to give an Academy Award speech!” Concepcion said. “They pointed to me and said, ‘say a few words’ and I wasn’t expecting that.” But the words came, she said, and she thanked her teachers, parents and the magnet office staff for its support of Oaklawn and its program.

The prize carries a cash award of $5,000. Concepcion said that she is planning to involve her school leadership team and her school families in the decision about how to best use the money to benefit the school.

A second CMS school, Piedmont Middle, won the Dr. Donald Waldrip award and $2,500 as the top secondary magnet school in the country.

“We are so proud of our magnet schools and the recognition they have earned,” said Dr. Jeff Linker, who directs the CMS magnet program. “It is quite an honor to have two of our schools singled out for these awards and it emphasizes the strength of our magnet offerings in the district. We appreciate the continuing commitment of the Board of Education to support magnets as an option for families who find their child’s interests and abilities are attracted to a particular theme.”

The 13 CMS schools recognized as Magnet Schools of Merit are among the top 15% of magnet schools in the nation.  Only one district – Miami-Dade County – won more merit awards. Miami-Dade is the nation’s fourth-largest district and has more than 340 magnet programs in more than 100 schools. CMS, the 19th largest district, has nine magnet programs in 37 schools.

Oaklawn's magnet program began in 2004 with grades K-2 and has received recognition as a MSA Magnet School of Merit every year since 2008. Today, Oaklawn is a K-8 school with 450 students.

Piedmont Middle, an IB World School, has received several national awards this year, including designation as a national Blue Ribbon School of Excellence. The school is also a finalist for the National Association of Middle School Principals School of the Year award.

Other CMS schools recognized by Magnet Schools of America with national honors in the past three years are Davidson IB (Alexander) Middle, Smith (Waddell) Language Academy, and Cotswold Elementary, an IB World School.