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Schools receive second-round of magnet grant funds

By Jeffrey Obser Daily Planet Staff
Thursday November 01, 2001

The Berkeley Unified School District has won a second Magnet Schools Grant from the U.S. Department of Education, which will spread $1 million among four schools. The award will help the schools buy equipment and materials based on a specialized theme of instruction that is integrated throughout the curriculum.  

“I’m very pleased that we could qualify for that money,” said Michelle Lawrence, the district superintendent.  

“I think it supports the creativity that is so much a part of our organization.” 

The grant serves four schools. It renews one school’s funding received in 1998, while the three other schools will receive new funds.  

Three other schools, selected in 1998, are not part of the grant. They have spent their grant funds and are now facing cut-backs. 

The grants bring the name “magnet” with the funding – Le Conte Science Elementary Magnet will make science the centerpiece of its studies; Thousand Oaks Arts and Technology Magnet will emphasize visual and performing arts; and Washington Communications and Technology Magnet will focus on communications and media. 

The City of Franklin Micro-Society K-8 Magnet, with renewed funding, will continue its centerpiece project – a model city, that teaches the art of citizenry.  

It is scheduled to hold an “election” next week. 

Irving Phillips, the district director of magnet programs, said it was a special honor that Berkeley was chosen again. 

“It’s tougher the second time, it really is,” he said, because a district not only has to demonstrate need, but to show success from the first time around. “Our grant application was about 350 pages.” 

In addition to City of Franklin, three other Berkeley schools had received funds from a three-year grant first awarded in 1998. Rosa Parks Environmental Sciences Magnet, Malcolm X Arts and Academics Magnet, and Longfellow Arts and Technology Magnet Middle School all hired instructors, trained staff, and bought equipment. 

Longfellow Principal Bill Dwyer said his school’s share went for computers and technology education, staff training “to use the arts as delivery of skills and concepts related to mandated state standards” and arts purposes. 

Theater props and a “follow spot” stage light purchased with grant money are being used in this year’s production of “Antigone,” Dwyer said. Last summer, five teachers received hands-on instruction in arts education from a program called the Lincoln Center Arts Integration Process. Another program taught students “how to legally and effectively access the Internet to improve both writing and research skills,” Dwyer said.  

Rosa Parks also received a $150,000 grant from the Bayer Corporation when the magnet schools grant came through in 1998, said Kathy Freeburg, the school’s curriculum coordinator. After a $50,000 splurge on a new computer lab, most of the money went to instructors, from science to gardening and cooking, she said.  

“The main thing is that the students are studying the same topics at the same time, so the teachers are collaborating more and it’s also being used in the language arts,” Freeburg said. 

So what happens to a magnet school when the magnet grant runs out? 

Dwyer and Freeburg both said while the nomenclature is here to stay, the money will be missed. 

“We are continuing to promote the program (because) the magnet focus of arts and technology is used in recruiting teachers who have backgrounds in our area of specialty,” Dwyer said. 

However, he said, “the key piece to it was we had four staff positions funded by the magnet grant, and all we were able to continue out of that with the district picking up the funding was a .6 position.” 

That part-time job has been filled by a voice and general music instructor, he said, “so despite the loss of funding for positions, we were able to move the choral music program ahead.” 

Rosa Parks’ money, Freeburg said, is also “gone,” but the school will continue to call itself a magnet. 

“It’s part of our name,” said Freeburg. “The whole idea of magnets is that you have a specialty that’s maybe not true at other schools.” 

Without the grant, Freeburg has gone from full-time to half-time in her coordinating position (she also teaches fourth grade), and a full-time computer instructor is also no longer around. 

“We’re trying to work on sustainability, not just writing grants but finding ongoing contributors,” Freeburg said.  

The federal government launched the Magnet Schools program in 1984. Its official goals are to reduce minority group isolation, raise achievement levels to close the “achievement gap,” develop an innovative curriculum, and promote early career awareness. 

Freeburg said the magnet program had helped the school become “a little more balanced ethnically and achievement-wise.” 

“We’ve had a lot of different programs, and I can’t say the science program did it all,” she said.