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East Aurora: Room for both magnet, partnership schools

Updated: March 10, 2014 6:27AM

AURORA — East Aurora’s magnet academy and Aurora University’s partnership school may serve similar academic purposes, but there are plenty of children to fill both schools’ slots, district officials say.

The Fred Rodgers Magnet Academy and the John C. Dunham STEM Partnership School both focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics and have formed partnerships with local organizations to enrich curriculum.

Both programs offer a computer or hand-held device for every student and hold lotteries if more children apply than there are slots.

But the schools serve different grade levels, different size student bodies and offer varying extracurricular activities, district officials said.

The comparison was drawn at the Jan. 21 School Board meeting, as board members heard a presentation about the AU partnership school.

East Aurora, West Aurora, Indian Prairie 204 and Oswego 308 school boards are in the process of coming to an agreement about the operation of the school, which is slated to open later this summer.

East Aurora School Board member Kirsten Strand said she liked the idea of collaboration, but wanted to make sure parents knew how to decide which school to apply to. She also wanted to make sure one school didn’t become the “elite program.”

Aurora University’s Sherry Eagle, who runs the university’s Institute for Collaboration, said East Aurora’s Assistant Superintendent for Educational Services Beatrice Reyes-Childress had kept that in mind while developing the district’s student selection criteria for the partnership school. All four districts use the same overall rubric to score students, but criteria varies slightly from district-to-district.

East Aurora’s magnet academy expanded this year with the renovation of the building at College Avenue and North Root Street, which the district purchased from the city for $3 million.

The school has 550 students in third to 12th grades right now, but when the expansion rolls out in its entirety in four years, there will be 750 magnet students, or 75 students per grade level.

That’s compared to the STEM partnership school, which will house 50 East Aurora students in third to eighth grades, as well as 150 students from the other districts. The $12 million building on Aurora University’s campus is in the process of being constructed.

Angela Rowley, the magnet academy’s principal, told School Board members that some of the key differences between the two schools is that East Aurora’s magnet academy extends through high school and offers more sports and activities to students, such as band, which will not be offered at the partnership school.

The partnership school will offer clubs and specials, such as music, art and physical education.

Magnet academy staff also will be able to connect with students and their families over the course of nine years, Rowley said. The partnership school operates for five years.

“I’m excited about the AU school being there,” she said. “But we still have a wait list at every grade level.”

She said the magnet academy’s wait list averages 20 to 40 students per grade level.

Rowley said the magnet academy also is specially equipped to help English-language learners, with a teacher at each grade level who has a state endorsement in English-as-a-Second-Language instruction.

According to the current agreement being considered, the partnership school will offer services to English-language learners and special needs students if they are selected for enrollment.

Rowley said that because teachers will stay at the magnet academy long-term, they will become experts in their subject matter.

At the partnership school, teachers from the four districts will work “on loan” for two-year or four-year appointments, then come back to their home districts. There, they will be considered “teacher leaders” who help others learn about STEM education.

Carla Johnson, East Aurora’s director of curriculum and education, added that the magnet academy prepares students for what will happen in high school, as it does not exist as a “stand-alone” program.

Rowley said it’s difficult to say how exactly the curriculum will differ at each school, because the AU partnership school is still being developed.

At the Jan. 21 meeting, Eagle said a main difference is that the STEM partnership school will expose its students to high-level experiences and students will have access to university-level science labs.

Eagle said the hope is that STEM partnership students will continue with STEM education when they leave the school, but they will go back to their home high schools to do so.

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