Our Experience with the HoustonISD Magnet School Program

FirstDayofSchoolThe Houston Integrated School District (HISD) has a magnet school program that allows kids to attend schools not in their zone.

Magnet schools are specialized schools that have the magnet-like ability draw in students from all backgrounds throughout the city.  Some of HISD’s Magnet programs draw in lots of students, and some do not.

Vanguard is a special program that is designed to meet the needs of gifted and talented students in grades K-12 by providing a learning continuum that is differentiated in depth, complexity, and pacing. These programs require a special application and testing.

Details on how to apply to these schools can be found HERE.  And everything I know about the Vanguard test is HERE.  In this post, I’ll answer a popular questions that I get:  How was your experience with HISD Magnet Schools?


When my son was 4 years old, I had every intention of sending him to our zoned school.  I never considered driving him across town or putting him on a bus.  A City Council member in my neighborhood once said it was best for kids to stay in their zone because everyone recognizes them and can spot when someone is out of place or up to no-good.

I agreed with this for a while.  But then it came time to plan for Kindergarten.  Shanna, BigKidSmallCity contributor and mom-that-does-her-homework, was applying to schools, so I did too.  I did not tour each school but I did apply to schools with good programs, including Vanguard Schools.

The thing that changed my mind about attending magnet schools is that Joe qualified for the Vanguard Program, but our zoned school did not have one.  And what drove me insane was that the HISD Vanguard Elementary Schools have long wait lists, and we were number 100.

By some miracle, we did get into Twain.  It is not a Vanguard school, but it does have a program for kids with the GT label.  I went and toured the school and was in love.  This school is beautiful, the academics are strong and the programs are established.  And they said they gave out homework based on the kid’s ability.  I was sold.

Well, almost.

I had accepted a spot for Joe at Twain, but could not stop thinking about a brand new language immersion school.  It was new, there was no PTO, no after-school activities, no music class and the building was old and outdated.  But 50% of the day was in a foreign language and if I was looking to challenge my son, what could be better than this.

So we decided to switch to the new school.  And despite not having the best building or best extra curricular activities, this is what I love about it:


1.  Half the day is in Mandarin, taught by a native speaker.  And now my kids mouth off in Mandarin and I don’t even care.  Because they are speaking Chinese.  I took 4 years of Spanish and don’t even know angry Spanish.  (Just that I hear it at Felicia‘s house a lot.)
2.  The school is 100% Magnet.  Everyone that is there has applied to be there and they care about making the school great.
3.  The school will soon become K-8.  I don’t have to worry about middle school.  Which is good, because middle school scares me.
4.  They had a preschool spot available for Brooke.  One drop off location added an hour to my day.

One concern that I have is getting all of my kids into the same magnet school, especially as it becomes more and more popular.  Siblings get preference, but there is no guarantee.  See more about that HERE.

So how was the first day of school?  Bad bad bad.

Joe is young for his class and my most sensitive kid.  He really did not want to go to school for the first semester.  I asked a lot of questions and spent a lot of time volunteering in the classroom, and I don’t think it was because of the school.  I think it was because he had to go to Kindergarten.

As far as Joe knew, every kid was speaking Chinese in Kindergarten.  He even told me his Chinese teacher was his favorite.

He got more brave as the year went on and, now in first grade, he’s excited to run into school each morning.  And Brooke just follows him in.

If you are looking for my recommendation, I would say to apply around town and see where you get in.  A lot of decisions will be made for you because of long wait lists.  For schools that you do get into, consider what is best for your kid.

Maybe you don’t care of the GT program, but what about after-school activities, extra resources for tutoring, dual language, music class or special programs.  And if you take tour, how do you like the school.  More than the building, do you like the environment and staff?  And also consider how you will handle pick up and drop off.  Buses are available, but check on the pick up time, location and route.

In the end, it might turn out that your zoned school is better for you than a magnet school.  That’s great too.  And probably a lot more convenient!

So this is MY experience with HISD magnet schools.  I’d love to hear yours.  Comment here, just keep it polite.  It turns out that school choice is one of the most controversial topics on BigKidSmallCity!



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