Magnet school system to expand

Richmond County is poised to expand its popular magnet school program, which again this week earned national recognition for its academic successes.

The school system has added grades to one magnet school, is designing a new magnet and is developing three magnet programs for existing schools.

A.R. Johnson Health Science and Engineering Magnet High School will nearly double when school opens in August. The school has a new facility and is adding seventh and eighth grades. Enrollment will jump from 366 students to about 665.

The Georgia Public Policy Foundation ranks A.R. Johnson as the third best high school in the state.

Richmond County high school students will have another magnet school option for the 2010-11 academic year. Laney High School will add an Advanced Placement academy for the upcoming school year and will allow any Richmond County student to apply a year later.

A new stand-alone magnet high school is also being planned.

In March, the school board moved forward with plans to purchase land, which opens the way to establish the vocational magnet school. The magnet school is in the design phase.

And Lake Forest Hills and Warren Road elementary schools have taken the initiative to establish their own programs.

Lake Forest Hills is raising money to establish an elementary school version of the International Baccalaureate program, which is already at the Academy of Richmond County. Warren Road is developing an Arts Infusion program.

After the first year, both schools will open their programs for any student within their respective districts to apply. No date has been set for when this will happen.

Academics, especially the magnet schools, are the solution to many of Richmond County's problems, school board member Frank Dolan said. When academics improve, students will return, and when students return, finances will improve.

Board member Barbara Pulliam, a retired teacher who taught at C.T. Walker Traditional Magnet School, said she also is a strong supporter of the magnet program.

Expanding it will give more students the opportunity to attend a magnet school. The key, though, is parental involvement, she said.

She is also an advocate for the arts, stressing the correlation between the fine arts and academics.

On June 8, Newsweek magazine recognized John S. Davidson Fine Arts Magnet School as one of the top public high schools in the nation, ranking it No. 278.

Reach Greg Gelpi at (706) 828-3851 or greg.gelpi@augustachronicle.com.