Johnny Hanson

Marshall McGowen, 14, a freshman at Michael E. DeBakey High School for Health Professions, focuses on health care speakers during class.

Excerpt from Houston Chronicle Story

Source: Houston Chronicle article posted 4/26/14

In most communities, families send their children to the schools closest to their homes.

But Houston is different. The city was among the first to embrace school choice, with hundreds of magnet and charter schools that enroll students through nail-biting lottery systems.

The Houston ISD, the largest school system in Texas, is an open-enrollment district with a robust magnet program that allows students to transfer to any school with space.

‘Diverse portfolio’

Specialty programs have themes such as Spanish-immersion, Montessori, Mandarin Chinese, energy, medicine and fine arts. Some of the campuses, such as DeBakey High School for Health Professions, are among the most elite in the state with hundreds on waiting lists.

“HISD does have a very diverse portfolio of schools, and parents really need to start early thinking about what’s best for their child – not necessarily what your friends are picking or what your mom’s group is picking, but what you feel is best for your child,” Lupita Hinojosa, school services officer, said.

“Nine times out of 10, it’s that diamond in the rough that will be the right fit.”

The Houston ISD received a record 53,800 applications for magnet schools from about 20,000 students this year. Part of the increase was attributed to an online system that enabled families to apply to up 10 schools.

Many of the higher-performing elementary schools have very few magnet seats open for children not zoned to the school. Poe Elementary, for example, had 526 applications for 15 open seats for kindergarten in 2014-15, according to data released Friday. Twain Elementary had 464 applications for 13 kindergarten seats.

Still, HISD officials said seats are available at some less-publicized programs. Hinojosa said Windsor Village Elementary, with a program for gifted-and-talented students, and Clifton Middle School, the first campus in the district to offer an all-female engineering class, are among the schools that still have spots.

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