Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools parent Betrice Gardner was one of the first to apply for a seat in the Dorothy J. Vaughan Academy of Technology, one of several new magnet schools opening for the 2017-2018 school year. "Coding and technology is the future. I want my son to participate in that future," she said.
Gardner was one of six participants in a district media briefing July 19 about enrollment and expansion of CMS magnet schools and programs. Applications for magnet seats increased by 36 percent for the 2017-2018 school year from the previous year, with new options such as the Dorothy J. Vaughan Academy of Technology drawing strong interest. Existing programs at several schools also had waiting lists for the first time.
"The history of CMS magnets is really a bright history," said Dr. Clayton Wilcox, superintendent of CMS and the briefing's leader. "It's a rich history… but we are not going to rest on our laurels." To that end, he said, CMS has expanded its magnet choices for the 2017-2018 school year by adding nine programs or schools and 2,630 new seats in magnet programs.
Dr. Wilcox was also joined at the briefing by the associate superintendent for student assignment and school choice, two magnet school principals and a magnet school student.
"We are excited about our magnet programs and we are excited about increasing choices for our families and students," said Akeshia Craven-Howell, the associate superintendent. She said that applications for magnet programs in 2017-2018 were up significantly from the previous year. In 2017-2018, there were 15,939 applications, compared to 11,703 a year earlier, an increase of 36 percent. In all, she said, there are more than 25,500 students enrolled in magnet schools or programs for 2017-2018, compared to about 22,300 in 2016-2017.
Schools or programs that offer Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) and Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (STEAM) are among the most popular options.
Dr. Tisha Greene, principal at Oakhurst STEAM Academy, said that a computer-science curriculum was added at her school last year and it would be continued this year. Oakhurst is entering its third year as a STEAM magnet.
"We immerse all of our students in STEAM," Dr. Greene said. "We are focusing on problem-based and project-based learning."
Krish Ramaraj, a rising fourth-grader at Oakhurst, said the school offered many ways to learn.
"We have lots of opportunities," he said, adding that last year he took part in Science Olympiad and the chess club. He also plays the guitar – and played the instrument for a school talent show, even though he had a broken wrist.
Oakhurst gave him one additional opportunity, he said: "We were taught about how not to be scared of speaking in public."
Toyia Matthews, principal of the Dorothy J. Vaughan Academy of Technology, said her school had a very special spirit because of the woman for whom it's named. "Dorothy J. Vaughan was a high school math teacher and an inspiration for the movie 'Hidden Figures,'" Matthews said. She said the school has a computer science-immersion program that includes coding, logic, creativity and problem-solving. "We want our students to have the skills needed for the unknown jobs of the future," she said. "This is an unparalleled opportunity for children."
Gardner, the CMS parent, said that opportunity to learn was the reason she chose Dorothy J. Vaughan Academy of Technology for her son.
"I want him to be one of those children who create technology, not just use it," she said.
About CMS magnet schools and programs
CMS magnet programs have consistently earned high ratings from the Magnet Schools of America (MSA), the national organization that monitors specialized curricula. Idlewild Elementary was named the best magnet school in America in 2017 by MSA, which awarded it the Dr. Ronald P. Simpson Distinguished Merit Award. The Simpson award is given to one school each year which exemplifies the five pillars of magnet schools: diversity, innovative curriculum and professional development, academic excellence, high quality instructional systems, and family and community partnerships. Idlewild and the other magnet schools in CMS have also been recognized as schools of excellence and distinction by MSA in recent years.
There are several new choices for parents and students this year. The Dorothy J. Vaughan Academy of Technology will offer technology programs, including coding, to elementary students. Merancas Middle College at Central Piedmont Community College offers an honors program for grades 11 through 13 in which students can earn college credits. The Charlotte Teachers Early College offers a similar program for students interested in an educational career.
Although many programs are filled and have waiting lists, there are still some magnet seats available. For more information about the magnet programs in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, click here.