• two school campuses

      Altadena Eliot Arts Magnet (Photos – Jennifer Hall Lee, Charlotte Dewaele)

      As we celebrate National Magnet Schools Month, I wanted to bring awareness to the importance of magnet programs in attracting students and serving the community by highlighting both Altadena Arts Magnet (AAM) and Eliot Arts Magnet.

      By Victoria Knapp

      A magnet program is a program in a public school that usually focuses on a special area of study, such as science, the performing arts, or International Baccalaureate. A magnet school is an entire school with a special focus. These programs are designed to attract students from across a district.

      In 2017, Altadena Arts Magnet (AAM) was awarded a $5M federal arts magnet grant. The magnet grant’s purpose was to attract families and grow enrollment in a way that reflected the diversity of the neighborhood.  When our family registered at the school, enrollment was 245 students in a school that could easily educate 500.  The school had become racially and socio-economically isolated and no longer reflected the demographics of the neighboring community.  As of this writing, and as the grant sunsets this year, there are 457 students enrolled!  The program has been so successful that the school has been recognized as a National Demonstration Magnet School, where other districts’ administrators and staff can visit to see the remarkable programs the school is offering in order to mirror that in their own schools.

      In October, 2022, Eliot Arts Magnet was awarded the same $5M federal arts magnet grant.  With current enrollment under 500, the goal is to attract families to the arts conservatory model (a model that focusses on high musical or artistic achievement) and double enrollment.  Many families who are interested in a conservatory model have left Pasadena Unified School District (PUSD) in order to enroll in other districts that offer it.

      It is important to understand the achievement at AAM in the context of the conversation around declining enrollment, which has led to school closures. Altadena has been greatly impacted by PUSD’s decisions to close public school campuses that once served our families. The phenomena of closing schools is not unique to Altadena or to PUSD and is plaguing districts across the country as the national birth rate continues to fall (the US birth rate fell every year from 1989 – 2019) and home prices skyrocket. There are less school aged children (more couples deciding to have one or no children), and fewer families who can afford to rent or buy in the areas where schools are located. While this is true and may seem to be the case in Altadena, these closed campuses only closed as public schools and not as schools.

      The six public school campuses in Altadena that have closed are:

      • Audubon Elementary School (now leased by Odyssey North Charter School)
      • Burbank Elementary School (now leased by the private Stratford School)
      • Noyes Elementary School (now leased by Aveson Elementary Charter School)
      • Loma Alta Elementary School (now Rosebud Charter and Oak Knoll Montessori Schools)
      • Edison Elementary School (now leased by Odyssey South Charter School)
      • Franklin Elementary School (now Twilight Adult Education School, operated by PUSD)

      These campuses did not close and become vacant; they re-opened as charter and private schools.  Meaning, students didn’t dry up; families decided to opt out of public schools in favor of these charter and private schools. Unsurprisingly, a majority of the families opting-out are white and/or of higher socio-economic status.  This dramatic shift from local public to charter schools, created significant imbalances in the remaining public schools.

      A federally funded arts magnet grant was critically important to the growth in enrollment (more than doubling enrollment in 5 years) of the burgeoning programs at Altadena Arts Magnet. We hope the newly awarded $5M arts grant for Eliot Arts Magnet does the same thing.  In addition, under the leadership of one principal, supported by dedicated assistant principals at both schools, the school is now a one school, two campus, K-8 school. More importantly, the middle school is adopting the arts conservatory model that will allow students greater exposure and deeper dives into the artistic pursuits they are most interested in.

      While we may have little control over birth rates or housing prices, it is incumbent upon us all to view our public schools as cornerstones of our democracy, and choose them for our children. That is why the plans for Altadena Eliot Arts Magnet are so important, especially now. We want and need successful public schools with competitive programs that are attractive to local families while continuing to serve neighborhood children.

      If you haven’t toured your local public school or any public school campus recently, please do.  Each school in the district has a website that lists its tours.

      Victoria Knapp is a resident of Altadena, a PUSD parent (of both a high schooler and a soon-to-be middle schooler), Altadena Town Councilmember, Chair of the Town Council’s Education Committee, and PEN Ambassador.

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      1. Jennifer Hall Lee says:

        “Thank you for this piece. Enrollment is an important and necessary part of public schools – public schools can’t survive without enrollment and we need our public schools. Interestingly, PUSD is seen as a leader in our state! We receive back-to-back federal magnet grants because we make them work for all of us! #ILOVEPUSD 

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