Record number of students apply for magnet programs — but some openings remain

Students in a magnet program at Hialeah Gardens High School work with University of Miami students and faculty to tackle issues such as housing needs and climate change in the neighborhood around the school.
Students in a magnet program at Hialeah Gardens High School work with University of Miami students and faculty to tackle issues such as housing needs and climate change in the neighborhood around the school.

Choosing a high school used to be as simple as finding the closest one in the neighborhood. But with more Miami-Dade students than ever applying for choice programs this year, those days appear to be over.

A record 82,000 students submitted applications for more than 500 choice programs for the 2017-2018 school year — everything ranging from forensic science and conservation biology to international finance and robotics. And it’s not just high school. Programs are offered for middle and elementary school students as well.

“They’re very popular,” said Robert Strickland, the administrative director who oversees the programs. “We’re trying to keep up with the demand and assure the quality of the programs stays good.”

Interest in choice programs has exploded over the past decade with the number of applicants almost tripling from 34,000 in 2006. Miami-Dade created its first magnet in the 1970s to provide students with arts instruction, but faced with growing competiton from charter schools the district has created hundreds of new options.

Top choices include iPrep Academy, which emphasizes technology and indvidualized learning, art and design schools like New World School of the Arts and DASH, and rigorous science and technology programs, known as MAST. Some of the most popular programs have waiting lists of more than a thousand students, Strickland said.

Students had until March 30 to make a decision about which program they’ll attend, either a magnet school open to anyone in the county or a program focused on a particular topic within their neighborhood school. Applicants for some of the arts and theater magnets had to audition or submit portfolios. But for most programs, students who met a minimum GPA requirement, usually a 2.0, were selected through a lottery system. The application process ran from October to January and acceptance letters were sent on March 15.

It feels like a private school so you’re getting a private school education for free.

Cristina Guerra, a West Kendall resident

For students who didn’t apply or who didn’t get their top choice, it’s not too late to find a magnet program, Strickland said. At least a dozen programs, listed below, still have open slots for next year. The district will also provide an online list of programs with available spots at the end of April on the magnet website. And for those placed on a waiting list, a spot could open up at any time between now and August, Strickland said.

Students rejected from their top choices have expressed confusion about the selection process, said school board member Marta Perez.

“We hear concerns from parents in both the magnet and the other public schools and I think there needs to be a clarification,” she said. “If there can be an improvement that shows a more transparent method that’s good on both sides.”

At the April 5 school board meeting, Perez asked the district to take a deeper look at the selection process but that request was rejected by the rest of the board.

Parents with children who did get into their top choices tend to have glowing reviews.

“It feels like a private school so you’re getting a private school education for free,” said Cristina Guerra, a West Kendall resident whose daughter attends the Miami Arts Studio program at Zelda Glazer Middle School. “You have to have a C or better to stay in the school so just by having that, you know your children are going to be surrounded by other children who are keeping up their grades.”

Antoinette Colas, a resident of North Miami-Dade, sent her children to private Catholic schools in Haiti, but opted for choice programs at her local public schools when she immigrated to South Florida. “You have less trouble with your kids when you’re in the magnet program. You don’t have kids fighting in school,” she said. “They’re very strict and I love that.”

Colas said the magnets also emphasize preparing for college. Her youngest child is a seventh grader in a science magnet program at John F. Kennedy Middle School in North Miami Beach and is already preparing for the pre-SAT.

Applications for the 2018-2019 school year open in October. Strickland recommended families research the options early in the process and visit the schools they are considering.

East Kendall resident Amy Simons has a daughter at Design and Architecture Senior High (DASH) and advised families to start preparing early for the sought-after art and design programs.

“I hate the idea of putting pressure on kids so early,” she said. “But I think for the kid that knows they want to be in business, they know they want to be in art, then it’s an opportunity.”

Simons’ daughter worked hard to get into DASH and travels almost an hour each way to school, but she feels it’s worth it, Simons said. “My husband and I pinch ourselves every day saying ‘I can’t believe this is a public school,’” she said. “We hit the jackpot because they learn so much and they get so much personalized attention.”

Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho tells the Miami Herald editorial board about the district's concerns about Florida lawmakers' plans to force districts to share local capital revenue with charter schools.

Miami-Dade magnets with open spots

    ▪  Charles R. Drew K-8 Center: Dance; Music; Theater; Visual Arts

    ▪  Linda Lentin K-8 Center: Robotics

    ▪  Country Club Middle School: Biomedical; Forensic Science

    ▪  Hialeah Middle School: Music; Visual Arts

    ▪  Horace Mann Middle School: Music/Entertainment Technology; Coding

    ▪  Jose De Diego Middle School: Engineering & Robotics; Visual Arts

    ▪  Palm Springs Middle School: Multimedia Entertainment Technology

    ▪  Redland Middle School: Agriscience

    ▪  South Dade Middle School: Medical Health Sciences

    ▪  West Miami Middle School: Technology & Environmental Science

    ▪  BioTech at Richmond Heights High School: Conservation Biology

    ▪  Center for International Education: Cambridge International

    ▪  iTECH at Thomas A. Edison Educational Center: Enterprise Resource Planning; Geospatial Information Systems; iCode