Note: at 3 p.m., we updated the chart with the most up-to-date free/reduced lunch stats we could find, at the state Department of Public Instruction.
If you want to get your kid into Watts Montessori Magnet School, good luck. A lot of luck. Of the 929 children who applied to the school in last year's lottery, only 82 of them—9 percent—were selected to fill 73 available seats. ( The wiggle room allows for projected wait lists, school capacity, transfers, etc.)
A third of all DPS students—10,000—attend one of the district's 23 magnet schools, which are either curriculum-based (arts, science) or calendar-based (year-round, traditional). And there is more demand than supply, even after DPS added magnet schools several years ago. Download Annual-lottery-applications-seats-and-assignment-snapshot-2015-16-xlsx-1115
The lottery application period for the 2016–17 school year Jan. 11–29, and already more than 2,000 people have attended magnet school fairs, according to Durham Public Schools.
Because both magnets and non-magnets have attendance zones, there's isn't room for all the kids who automatically can go to a school, and those who want to. "You can't just designate any seat [in a school] as a magnet seat," says Margaret Henderson, director of DPS Magnet Programs.
School capacity is important because Durham's population is projected to increase by another 37,000 people—15 percent—within the next decade, and presumably, some of these new residents will have school-aged children.
How does it work? By lottery: The selections are computer-generated, based on applicant pools. Kids with siblings in a school are considered first, followed by those who live within the priority zone, an area close to the school (which is different from the walk zone.) The third pool of applicants is everybody else.
Let's break down the acceptance percentages by elementary school (hold on middle-schoolers, you're next). The lottery doesn't take into account demographic factors—the computer is blind to those attributes. However, we tossed in the percentages of kids receiving free/reduced lunch as one way of gauging economic diversity. The district average for elementary school free/reduced lunch is 71 percent.
Source: DPS, NC Department of Public Instruction *2014–2015 figures
Magnet schools were devised as a way to improve under-performing schools and to prevent the flight of white and affluent students. Durham School of the Arts was once such a place, but since the mid-1990s, when it became an arts magnet, it has become one of the most sought-after placements in the district.
Because they are often located in the inner-city, the National Coalition on School Diversity reports, magnet schools have historically enrolled greater numbers of African-American and Latino students. But as certain neighborhoods become whiter and wealthier, what does that mean for the socio-economic diversity of their base schools versus their magnet school?
Melissa Geil, writing for WomenAdvancenc.org, addresses the risk that magnets could become resegregated, particularly as Durham's inner city neighborhoods gentrify.
"Magnet schools in North Carolina are some of the finest in the state, and are some of the most desirable schools for parents who are looking to find the right educational “fit” for their children," she writes. "Partial magnets, as we have seen, can work to bolster a community, and offer a neighborhood the opportunity to come together. They can also, however, serve as tools for exclusion and economic segregation. There are no easy answers here."