Iowa City school district to explore magnet school idea

School with specialized curriculum would be district's first

The Iowa City Community School District Headquarters in Iowa City. (Brian Ray/The Gazette)
The Iowa City Community School District Headquarters in Iowa City. (Brian Ray/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — After years of being on parents’ wish lists, the formation of a magnet school is now a real possibility in the Iowa City Community School District.

District administrators in recent days developed an idea to turn Twain Elementary in southeast Iowa City into the district’s first magnet school. Such schools have specialized curriculum, such as performing arts or science, technology, engineering and mathematics, open to students throughout the district.

What could happen in the Iowa City school district is to be determined, and there are almost no details yet.

“We’re really in the preliminary discussion phase,” Superintendent Stephen Murley said Tuesday.

The idea came tucked in the latest scenarios for new school boundaries, a process known as redistricting, released Tuesday.

The community has spent the past several weeks discussing boundary proposals for elementary schools so the district can comply with a diversity policy approved last year that seeks to better balance enrollment socioeconomically, and to prepare for new schools set to open in the coming years.

Murley said after hearing last week from Longfellow Elementary parents who objected to their children switching to Twain Elementary, administrators set out to find a way to keep those kids closer to their neighborhoods.

A series of moves resulted in Twain being about half full, he said. When considering who to move into Twain, administrators realized they had the opportunity for a magnet program.

“This was an unintended outcome from this particular round of rezoning,” Murley said.

Iowa City parents have said for years they’d like a magnet school.

As the diversity policy was being debated last year, school board members said they would rather use special programming and other incentives to encourage students to change schools to bring schools closer to each other in terms of the percentage of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, a common measure of poverty.

But administrators said the fast-growing school district did not have the classroom space to do that. The district plans to build three new elementary schools and a new high school and add on to existing buildings in the next several years.

A redistricting proposal — the maps released Tuesday were the third version — is to go to the school board May 13. Murley said for a magnet school to happen, the board first would have to approve a plan that includes space for one.

If that occurs, district staff and community members would be asked for their input. The type of magnet programming and whether Twain would be wholly a magnet school or also house regular kindergarten through sixth-grade classes are among the questions that still would need to be answered, Murley said.

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