EDITORIAL: Skorkowsky’s magnet school plan attractive

The Clark County School District, in desperate need of nontraditional solutions to some of its most urgent and persistent problems, will tackle several of them with a single plan announced Wednesday. And it’s not a stretch to say it’s a stroke of genius.

Starting with the 2015-16 academic year, the school district will greatly expand its magnet school offerings. The district currently has about 21,000 students enrolled at more than two dozen magnet and career and technical academies, with thousands more students on waiting lists to get in. The schools, which offer specialized programs and areas of study and typically have smaller class sizes, attract some of the system’s finest teachers and most motivated students. Those who fail to perform are shown the door. As a result, many of these schools are among the highest achieving campuses in the state.

We’ve long urged the school district to create more magnet programs because they’re so successful and because so many families clearly want to escape the campuses their neighborhoods are zoned for. As reported by the Review-Journal’s Trevon Milliard, Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky intends to open seven magnet schools and five Select Schools — high schools offering advanced programs — next year. Four additional magnet programs would be opened for the 2016-17 school year. In two years, the school district will have more than 40 such programs open to all students.

But Mr. Skorkowsky won’t convert just any school into a magnet program. To address the system’s enrollment growth and lack of capital funding for new school construction, the school district will create magnets at under-enrolled elementary, middle and high school campuses that are in close proximity to over-capacity campuses.

The hope is that parents who are reluctant to take advantage of open enrollment policies and move their children from crowded campuses to less-crowded ones will do so for schools that offer more specialized instruction. Families certainly aren’t going to transfer their children to schools that have a record of poor performance, no matter how many open seats they have. If the plan works as intended, the school district might be able to avoid a district-wide redrawing of attendance zones, which forces families into schools they don’t want to attend.

“Here’s your out-of-the-box thinking,” Superintendent Skorkowsky told the School Board.

Indeed. Yes, magnet schools have higher operating costs than traditional schools, but they offer more accountability and provide a much higher return on that spending. The plan incorporates an element of school choice to alleviate both campus crowding and under-utilization, and, most importantly, the promise of much higher achievement without significantly higher spending.

Bravo, Mr. Skorkowsky.

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