Cedar Rapids Parents Show Support at First Magnet School Forum

By Meryn Fluker, Reporter

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By Katie Stinson

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - If the results of the first of the Cedar Rapids Community School District’s six scheduled Community Conversations about magnet schools are any indication, parent support for the proposed initiative is high.

Of the 20 people in attendance, 17 showed their support for the district moving forward with magnet schools. Participants indicated their feelings by placing sticky notes on sheets of paper in Kirkwood Community College’s Linn County Regional Center in Hiawatha, where the event was held Tuesday evening, and the three remaining community members cast their informal ballots for the “not sure” category.

Associate Superintendent Trace Pickering led the 90-minute session, which was a combination informational meeting and brainstorming opportunity. He directed the guests, a mix of area residents, school board members, district staff and administrators, to use their imaginations as they shared their wishes for potential magnet programming.

“We can afford anything we want … If the community says, ‘Magnets are what we want,’ the funding will follow,” said Pickering, who also told parents to disregard voters’ recent rejection of a proposed increase to the Physical Plant and Equipment Levy, which would’ve funded operations and maintenance upgrades for district buildings. “We can’t restrict our thinking because we think we can’t afford it.”

The result was a robust discussion about curricular themes for magnet schools and what would be needed in order to make them successful.

Vanessa Smith, a Cedar Rapids resident and graduate of the district’s Washington High School, didn’t voice support for one proposed subject area for a magnet school, preferring to focus on her belief that the programs would need commitment and support from teachers and administrators in order to work.

“At this point (a theme) doesn’t matter … You just need the staff who is motivated to teach to the students,” said Smith, mother of a 2-year-old daughter. “Any of those (subjects) will prepare them for the real world and will be better than the rote education they’re getting now.”

Sayde Alexandrescu, another Cedar Rapids mother of a 2-year-old daughter, said she was concerned about the potential monetary burden.

“I think it can all be covered but I think the financial cost must all be addressed,” she said.

At the forum, Pickering reiterated that the cost to create magnet schools would be "substantial" and the district would need partners to help shoulder it.

Alexandrescu, who described herself as “very pro magnet,” said she’d like to see a magnet school in the district by 2016 but acknowledged that the public may not be as supportive – especially when it comes to funding.

“No,” she replied when asked if the community will support the cost of magnet programs. “Do I think they can? Yes.”

Participants proposed 12 potential themes for magnet schools and Pickering had the community members vote for their top three choices. Environmental and outdoor education got the most overall and first-place votes, followed by a hybrid medical sciences/science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) and a tie between entrepreneurial and visual/performing arts for third most votes.

Pickering said that administrators will take the feedback from the six forums – the next one is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 4 at the Educational Leadership and Support Center, 2500 Edgewood Rd. NW, Cedar Rapids, and is set to feature Magnet Schools of America President-Elect Doreen Marvin – into account as they decide how and whether or not to proceed with introducing magnet schools into the district. He said the conversations will also help determine the timeline for potential implementation.

"We’re going to keep this conversation going as long as we need to until we can say ‘Go’ or ‘No go,’” Pickering said.

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