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Clockwise from top left -- Sligh Middle, Stewart Middle, Jefferson High, Middleton High, Lee Elementary and Shore Elementary -- all earned national certification from Magnet Schools of America.

Six magnet schools earn prestigious national certification

September 05, 2017

Six Hillsborough County schools are among the first in the country to earn an incredibly prestigious stamp of approval, national certifications awarded by the Magnet Schools of America.

They are among only 55 nationally, out of more than 4,300 magnet schools, to earn the recognition.

“Families at these schools, those that may be considering these schools, and the communities in which these schools reside can be excited by the fact that these sites have gained notice on a large scale for working every day to go above and beyond in providing an engaging and diverse atmosphere in which kids can learn and excel,” said Robert Cox, HCPS supervisor of Magnet Programs. “It isn’t something that we just tout within our district, it is something that is recognized across the United States now.”

Here are the recognized programs:

Successful bids came after a grueling nine-month review of schools, based on Magnet School Standards of Excellence and the five pillars of magnet schools: diversity; innovative curriculum and professional development; academic excellence; high-quality instructional systems; and family and community partnerships. While the review was external, the process also forced school leaders to take a closer look at their practices through self-study.

At Middleton, for example, a committee of stakeholders complete the self-evaluation, then sub-groups each focused on the various documents that needed to be assembled throughout the year.

“The process makes all stakeholders take a good look at the program through the lens of the five pillars of magnet schools and overall leads to a realignment of priorities,” said Magnet Lead Teacher Elizabeth Simpson.

While it may sound to some like just a bunch of paperwork, Cox said the process had great purpose.

“This is a highly reflective process that helps sites review what they do, how they do it and how they can continuously improve upon it,” he said. “This byproduct is a reward in itself and only serves to help each magnet site continue to strive to provide an exemplary educational experience every day.”

At Sligh, Magnet Lead Teacher Ewan Brand allows the medical magnet to stand out.

“The team fully embraced the opportunity to obtain national certification and viewed this as a great way to distinguish us from other programs and gain the recognition that our medical magnet program deserves,” he said. “Each year we were able to see how our program has evolved. The number of students has increased, the program has become increasingly diverse, the curriculum has changed to accommodate for students’ needs, enrichment and incentive programs have been put into place and most importantly the culture and perception of our school has changed in the students’, teachers’ and community’s eyes as a place of excellence.”

The distinction honors both students and staff, according to Scottie Basham, Assistant Principal for Magnet Curriculum at Jefferson High School.

“We are a Leadership Academy and all of us have worked really hard to provide an amazing opportunity for our students,” she said. “Our students have really taken the lead. Their voice has helped us build a program that is valuable and resonates with them. They are all leaders and have shown that through this process. This is a true celebration for all of us at Jefferson, and all of our students.”

All of the participating schools were pilots, applying in the Magnet Schools of America’s first ever certification process. Cox called it a leap of faith.

“These schools jumped in when they had no idea what to expect, no idea how much work it would be and no idea what the result would be,” he said. “It's a testament to the confidence they have in what they do and to their spirit of innovation.”

Additional HCPS magnet schools intend to pursue the certification in upcoming cycles. Learn more about HCPS Magnet and Choice options here.

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