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Parents find LA schools magnet program application process daunting

File: Brian Tom, 17, a Bravo Medical Magnet High School student, works in the stem cell research lab of USC's Keck School of Medicine.
File: Brian Tom, 17, a Bravo Medical Magnet High School student, works in the stem cell research lab of USC's Keck School of Medicine.
Patrick Lee/KPCC

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With a Friday deadline approaching to get applications in for Los Angeles Unified School District magnet schools, some families find the process time-consuming and frustrating.

One parent they turn to for help is Angel Zobel-Rodriguez, whose experience applying to magnet programs for her 8th-grader led to the launch of her Ask A Magnet Yenta website. There she doles out free advice to parents trying to get their children into the highly sought-after magnet programs.

"I’ve had people that have been trying to figure out which magnet to apply for while the child is in utero," she said.

She praised the Los Angeles Unified School District for its new magnet program webpage and for putting the program’s brochure online. However, the process has a way to go to make it easier for families, said Zobel-Rodriguez.

First, there’s the point system that parents need to understand to push their student ahead in the game; it grants points to students already in a magnet program or who have been on magnet wait lists. Points are also handed out to students who come from schools that are overcrowded or who have siblings already in a magnet school.

“The next question is almost always, which race is it better to be,” she said.

Students can be of any race, but L.A. Unified grants points if their home school is mostly Hispanic, Black, Asian or of another non-Anglo population.

The school district organizes meet-and-greets on magnet schools so parents can find out more information about applying. It also includes in its brochure how many applications are received for open spots, which lets parents know the odds of a student getting into a program.

Magnet school enrollment at L.A. Unified is booming.

According to California Department of Education data, L.A. Unified enrollment ballooned from 31,060 in the 2012-2013 school year to 64,710 the following year.

Some schools get far more applications than they have openings for magnet programs. This school year, the Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies received over 3,000 applications and has just 235 openings for 2015-2016. High-demand programs include those at Hamilton High School, Cleveland High School, and the Sherman Oaks Center for Enriched Studies.

Other schools, though, have dozens of openings and are on the hunt for students. Irving Middle School received 99 applications this school year and is offering 395 openings for next year. Wright Middle School got 152 applications this year and has 295 seats it can fill next year.

Fifteen years ago, when there were few charter schools, parents looked to magnet schools as alternatives to their home district schools. With the proliferation of charters, especially in the Los Angeles area, school district administrators are opening more magnets to keep students from leaving regular public schools.

The district recently opened a dozen new magnet programs with more to come.

“I think sometimes school districts develop magnets to keep students in their district and then we’re talking about a financial issue,” said Alex Morales, California State University, Long Beach, education professor.

Of all the magnet application hurdles, Zobel-Rodriguez wants the district to fix one particular pain point for parents. 

“Don’t make people wait," she said.  "I don’t understand why the application deadline is Nov. 15 [Nov. 14 this year] and they can’t let people know until the middle of April."