December 1, 2017
Puzzled over Magnet Schools and School Choice? Here’s how to unlock more than 50 school options, all with free tuition
Hillsborough County is home to one of the top-rated large school districts in the nation, which means all of its public schools are part of a top-flight education system. But within Hillsborough are more than 50 specialized “choice” programs, offering an incredible range of school experiences.
In many cases, especially “Magnet” schools, a specialty becomes a theme that is woven into the fabric of nearly every activity at the school. At an arts magnet, even the math questions will often connect to ideas like paint colors, performances, or poetry.
What’s in store at your child’s next school?
- Is it a learning lab for architecture or environmental science?
- A world-focused school culture built on individual choices?
- A middle school with real medical classes, partnered with USF Health and Florida Hospital?
In schools with “attractor” programs (also called “Choice Schools”), students can choose to spend part of their class time in a deep-dive multi-year series of classes and projects focused on a central theme. For example, students in a middle school aerospace engineering academy will cluster together to design rockets during an engineering class, and then go out of “engineering mode” when they’re with other students in a traditional English class.
Interested? Great – because tuition is free for every choice option, and in many cases, your students will have a free ride to the program with transportation provided by the district.
Step 1 – LEARN
Go to choice.mysdhc.org to look at Magnet and Choice options and spot the specialties and learning styles that may match what your student finds interesting and the way your student learns. You can also get help with any part of the process by calling the Choice Information Line at (813) 272-4692.
Step 2 – GO
Attend the Hillsborough Choice Expo (Nov. 3), STEMtastic (Oct. 19), Choice Exploration Night (Nov. 15 & Dec. 5), or Parent University (Oct. 28). At these free events, you’ll get to sample the different choice options and ask questions in person. The Hillsborough Choice Expo at the Florida State Fairgrounds on November 3 from 3–7 p.m. is the largest event; every Magnet Program and Choice School will be there, showcasing its specialty in a fun and exciting environment.
Contact the schools you’re most interested in to find out about upcoming Open House events or schedule a tour.
Step 3 – APPLY
Apply online at choice.mysdhc.org between November 1 and December 12, 2017. There is no advantage to applying early, all applications are entered together into a computer lottery.
Because space is limited, selection for Magnet Programs and Choice Schools is done using a computer lottery. When you fill out your child’s application, you can choose up to three school options; the order you put them in does not matter.
A computer takes all of the applicants for a particular school and randomly selects students until it fills the number of available seats at that school. Those selected students then receive electronic offers to attend that school and are removed from the lottery so they can’t be picked again. (Note: All Magnet Programs and some Choice Schools at the high school level also require criteria that are specific to each school to apply, including grades, test scores, and/or auditions.)
Results of the first lottery will be available starting in late February 2018. If your student receives an offer to a school, you’ll need to accept or decline it.
There will be a second lottery/offer window that occurs later in the school year. If you do not receive an offer in the first window, you do not need to apply for the second window as your application will remain on file and be automatically entered into the next lottery. If you do not receive an offer from any of the application windows, your student can attend his or her local attendance area school or learn about other options available at choice.mysdhc.org.
Step 4 – GROW
Magnet Programs and Choice Schools are a launchpad to incredible futures for students – leading them to new ways of learning and looking at the world, and helping them develop specific skills that power amazing careers and a lifetime of success. So… What’s in store at your child’s next school?
You’ll see Hillsborough’s choice options split into a few categories:
Magnet Schools – the entire school’s curriculum is totally woven together with a specialty, or theme, like technology, arts, or environmental studies
Attractor Programs – a focused topic, like finance or bio-engineering, is the center of a structured series of individual courses and projects within the school
Partnership Schools – the school is a partnership with nearby private sector supporters in Downtown Tampa, the West Shore area, or USF
Career and Technical Education (CTE) – technical training offered at nearly all middle and high schools leading to high wage/high skill jobs
Hillsborough Virtual School – an entirely online school with certified teachers where students can enroll full-time or part-time
*This article was originally published in the October 2017 issue of Tampa Bay Parenting Magazine.