Families in the market for a school in Baton Rouge for the 2016-17 school year can go shopping at the mall.
Magnet Mania hits Cortana Mall on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., showcasing 21 Baton Rouge public schools with magnet programs and 27 other schools offering gifted or talented services.
Magnet programs, which began as a desegregation tool, are specialized programs designed to be so appealing, so magnetic, that they draw a diverse set of students. They have become popular in Baton Rouge, especially the largest magnet school in town, Baton Rouge Magnet High School, which typically has a long waiting list.
Baton Rouge Magnet High is joined this year by Lee High, which is more than doubling in size. A total of 675 new slots are being set aside: 300 each in ninth and 10th grades, and 75 in 11th grade.
Lee is readying to move back to its original home at 1105 Lee Drive and into a $54.7 million facility. The rebuilt school will open in August with three themed academies: bioscience; digital and media arts; and engineering and robotics. The emphasis will be on learning through projects and applying scientific data and research. The school will also have an extensive partnership with LSU.
The East Baton Rouge Parish School Board on Sept. 17 voted to raise the bar for admission to Lee to mirror Baton Rouge Magnet’s. Up until now, Lee High required a portfolio of student work and that students maintain a 2.5 GPA to remain at the school. Now Lee, like Baton Rouge Magnet, requires incoming students have a 2.5 GPA and that they score at least at roughly the 50th percentile nationally or better on a standardized test the school system is planning to purchase.
Lee, however, will give more preference than Baton Rouge Magnet to students who live near the school.
Lee has created what it’s calling a priority zone, which encompasses the old attendance zone used last in 2013 when Lee was still a neighborhood high school.
The school system has created several new magnet schools in recent years. The most recent are new programs launched this summer at Capitol and Southeast middle schools. They collectively educate about 7,500 children, or about 18 percent of the students in the school system.
Magnet Mania is the annual launch event for magnet school recruiting. It is timed to coincide with the application period for private schools, the main competitors of magnet schools.
In addition to booths for the participating schools, Magnet Mania will feature student performances and art, as well health care and robotics demonstrations.
“(Magnet Mania) is about shopping for the right school,” said Theresa Porter, director of magnet programs.
Porter said parents must apply online; no paper applications are accepted.
In years past, the school system has relied on state-mandated standardized test scores for magnet school admission. Last month, though, the School Board agreed to purchase its own test because of concern about ongoing changes and delays in releasing the results from state tests.
Porter said her office has not yet completed its review of the lone proposal it’s received from a testing company. Once a vendor is selected, the school system will notify families of testing dates. The plan is to have two initial dates, one for students already enrolled in the school system, and another for those who are not, as well two more retesting dates. She said the screening test is to be taken both online and on paper and will require about two hours to complete.