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Cedar Rapids district admins share more about Johnson magnet decision

Location, standards discussed during board meeting

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Many elementary schools met the criteria to become the Cedar Rapids Community School District’s first magnet school, but a number of factors made Johnson Elementary School the best choice.

That was the message Associate Superintendent Trace Pickering delivered during Monday’s school board meeting, during which administrators provided more information on why the building — also known as Johnson School of the Arts — will open as a science, technology, engineering, arts and math magnet school in fall 2015.

Pickering cited a desire to have the school “in an area of the community actively trying to revitalize,” speaking of the Wellington Heights neighborhood that surrounds Johnson, as well as staff members’ experience teaching in a “theme-based” environment as other reasons for the recommendation.

Even though the Johnson will be a magnet, Pickering told the board that the school will still be subject to the same rules and requirements as other district elementaries. The learning that goes on within the building will be very different, as administrators described Monday.

“It’s going to be focused on the theme and integrates all of these things in project-based ways,” Pickering said. “(Students) will learn the same content in project-based ways.”

“What this structure lends itself to is a fully integrated approach where you’re infusing the arts into the classroom,” added Deputy Superintendent Mary Ellen Maske. “It’s enriching that core curriculum and adding to the Iowa Core curriculum that will be present at Johnson.”

Pickering said administrators will continue to rely on Magnet Schools of America President Doreen Marvin, who is consulting with the district as employees work to transition Johnson into a magnet school, for criteria to define success once the transformation is complete.