Starting Monday, thousands of Palm Beach County parents will receive much-anticipated letters letting them know whether their child won a seat in the magnet program of their choice for the next school year.
Results of next year’s choice lottery held in March show that the percentage of applicants who got seats went up slightly in some of more traditionally popular programs at such schools as Suncoast High in Riviera Beach and the Alexander W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts in West Palm Beach.
But despite the district being able to give nearly 250 more students than this year seats in the program of their choice, the growing crush of demand meant, overall, that students again faced long odds. At more than half of the choice programs, less than 1 in 3 students that applied got a seat. At four of the 185 choice programs, fewer than 1 in 10 students won a seat.
“We’re providing more seats every year,” said Pete Licata, the district’s choice and career options director, who said the district has created 50 new programs at schools in the past several years. “We want every kid to be in a place where they can be successful.”
Among the choice programs, the environmental science program at Pine Jog Elementary School in Greenacres remained the hardest to get into, with only four applicants from outside its attendance boundary getting seats. Pine Jog Principal Fred Barch has said the school is nearly impossible for out-of-boundary choice students to get into because is nearly full from students already living inside the boundary.
The district has rebuilt Galaxy Elementary School in Boynton Beach, which will open its new campus in August, as a second environmentally themed magnet school for elementary-age children. Galaxy received 72 applications from students from outside the boundary wanting to get in next year, compared with 230 trying to get into Pine Jog.
Licata said one of the district’s priorities will be putting more schoolwide magnets at elementary schools because principals at those schools are seeking new choice programs to stop the loss of students opting out to go other places, such as charter schools.
Besides Galaxy, the district is opening a veterinary academy at Acreage Pines Elementary next year.
At the high and middle school levels, the hottest ticket was not Bak Middle School of the Arts, Suncoast or Dreyfoos but Palm Beach Central High’s culinary arts academy. Overall, most of the culinary and medical sciences programs at the high school level showed big jumps this year in the number of applications.
Licata attributes the continuing growth in popularity of culinary academies to teens watching the plethora of cooking shows on television. The district already has numerous culinary magnets, and several schools have culinary academies limited to just students already living in their boundaries.
As for the medical programs, Licata said their popularity is owed to the fact that students can get industry certifications in such areas as nursing and graduate from high school and immediately start working in the medical field. “These kids are doing ride-alongs with EMTs,” he said, “they’re doing everything.”
Moreover, Licata said the popularity of medical sciences at all levels — Park Vista High’s medical academy got 585 applications for next year — is pushing the district to plan more medical magnets. For example, a medical billing and coding program planned for Omni Middle School in Boca Raton and a medical science program is being started at L.C. Swain Middle School near Greenacres.