Education

One of the best magnet schools in the U.S. is Johnson STEAM Academy in Cedar Rapids

Principal Candace Lynch listens May 4 as fourth-grader Daenovious Johnson discusses the “Basketball Champs” game he is working on in a “Discovery Day” activity at Johnson STEAM Academy in Cedar Rapids. (The Gazette)
Principal Candace Lynch listens May 4 as fourth-grader Daenovious Johnson discusses the “Basketball Champs” game he is working on in a “Discovery Day” activity at Johnson STEAM Academy in Cedar Rapids. (The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — It’s one of the highest distinctions for a magnet school, and Johnson STEAM Academy is the only school in Iowa that has it.

Magnet Schools of America designated the Cedar Rapids elementary school as one of the best in the United States this month and marked it as a model for other magnet schools.

As students start the school year Monday in the Cedar Rapids Community School District, Johnson Principal Candace Lynch said she hopes families see the distinction as a sign of the staff’s efforts.

“Johnson staff is committed to providing the best education for their kids that we can, and we will continue to do that,” Lynch said. “This recognition is something that tells us that we’re on the right track. That doesn’t mean we’re going to quit or stop looking for ways to be better. But it certainly means we’re on the right track.”

Johnson STEAM Academy, 355 18th St. SE, opened as a magnet school in 2015. As a magnet, it allows students living outside of its attendance boundaries to enroll through a lottery.

It adheres to the same standards as other schools in the Cedar Rapids district, Lynch said, but reaches them in different ways — by emphasizing its STEAM theme — science, technology, engineering, arts and math — throughout the curriculum.

Of about 4,300 magnet schools in the United States, 151 are nationally certified. Only 36 have a “demonstration” distinction — signifying they exceeded criteria — and only 13 of those are elementary schools.

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“I was just beyond,” Lynch said when she found out about the certification in mid-August. “I was beside myself.”

To earn the certification, Johnson participated in a yearlong process and had to meet standards set by the National Institute for Magnet School Leadership. The school’s certification is valid until August 2023.

The school had to provide evidence of how it promotes the institute’s “five pillars” of magnet schools: diversity, innovative curriculum and professional development, academic excellence, high quality instruction and family partnerships, according to the Magnet Schools of America website.

“It’s an honor for everyone to share,” district Magnet Coordinator Jillian Schulte said. “Parents are partners in learning, and they should be proud of the impact they as parents and community members have made. Families and community members should feel really proud about it, and I hope they walk away feeling proud of all the work the staff is engaged in.”

Since 2015, Kenwood Leadership Academy, Roosevelt Creative Corridor Business Academy, Cedar River Academy at Taylor Elementary and McKinley STEAM Academy have transitioned to magnet schools.

“The process is something we’re really excited about,” said Adam Zimmermann, district executive director of middle level education. “We do have five magnet schools, and Johnson is the first magnet school in the state to be nationally-certified and as a demonstration site. We are excited about the next four following in the footsteps and making strides to be certified themselves.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8330; molly.duffy@thegazette.com

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