The three magnet schools in Richmond County are celebrated for their near-perfect student achievement and innovative programs.
But some parents and at least one board of education member argue its time to re-examine a policy that kicks middle-grade students out of the schools if they fail a class – a rule that is not being administered the same way by all three principals.
The school board passed a policy in 2012 that reserved summer school remediation at the magnet schools for high-schoolers.
However, when summer school for middle grades was offered for the first time districtwide this summer, LaMonica Lewis, the prinicipal of A.R. Johnson Health Science and Engineering Magnet School, permitted her middle-grade students who failed a class to retake the course in summer and remain enrolled.
Davidson Fine Arts and C.T. Walker Traditional magnet schools did not.
School board President Venus Cain led a heated debate Tuesday, arguing it’s not fair for a Davidson middle school student to be kicked out if they fail a course, even if they pass it in summer school, while the Johnson students have a chance at redemption.
“I am not looking in any manner to dummy down the education, but I am looking for us to treat our magnet school children across the board the same,” Cain said. “Our magnet schools may have the best and the brightest, but it does not give them the opportunity or the right for everybody to make up their own rules.”
Several of her colleagues disagreed. Board member Jimmy Atkins said the magnet schools have had to
adjust to enough changes over the last few years, from transportation to admissions policies, and principals should be given authority to handle their students based on their own judgment.
“I don’t think every magnet school needs to have the same standards because we’re not teaching the same thing at every magnet school,” Atkins said. “We’re teaching different things and we’re teaching different levels of students. As much time as this board has spent on trying to fix something that was not broken with the magnet schools, I’d love to see us spend that much time with the other schools and get these scores up.”
Former Davidson parent April Young said her daughter, Erika Boyle, was treated unfairly by being asked to leave the school after failing seventh-grade math last year.
Erika retook the course this summer and passed with a 94 average but was still not allowed to return. Students in similar situations at A.R. Johnson were allowed back.
“It’s not being fair to her,” Young said. “I’m not asking for her to get special treatment, I’m asking for her to be treated the same as the other children.”
Missoura Ashe, Assistant Superintendent for Elementary Schools who supervises the magnet schools, said her cabinet will re-examine the policy this year but must be cautious about making changes.
“I do believe we need to sit and have a conversation with all the magnet school principals and just look at the guidelines and see how we can align them,” she said. “There may be some areas where we can’t align because the school concepts are different.”
According to the school contracts, Davidson students in grades 6 through 8 must maintain at least a 75 average in core subjects and a 70 average in other subjects to remain enrolled. High school students with a course average below 70 may attend summer school to recover the credit.
A.R. Johnson’s contract states middle school students who do not maintain a 75 average in core classes or a 70 in the other subjects “may require” reassignment back to their zone schools.
That vague language is too subjective and might lead to students being treated differently, Cain said Tuesday.
Young said she will keep fighting to get her daughter back to Davidson or perhaps A.R. Johnson next semester.
She has big dreams of her daughter making it on the big screen, or seeing her name on a fashion line in Paris. Young said the opportunity of learning at a magnet school can help get her daughter there.
“I’ll never stop fighting for my children,” she said. “I want her life to be excellent, I want it to be better than what I had. I’ll do anything to give her that.”