The newest of the magnet programs for advanced high school students in Harford County saw its first class of graduates earn their diplomas this spring.
At North Harford High School, the 35 students enrolled in the Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences program were the first to complete four years of the academic concentration.
The magnet programs, since the first one was organized in conjunction with a reconstruction project at Aberdeen High School more than a decade ago, have been much touted by successive administrations of Harford County Public Schools.
The idea behind the programs has been to allow high-performing students to focus on a particular field, in a way that is analogous to a college student having a major.
The first magnet program, outside of Harford Technical High School, which is a magnet building, not just a program, was the Science and Mathematics Academy at Aberdeen High School; it remains a popular draw for the school.
In addition to the Aberdeen and North Harford magnets, there also is a Global Studies and International Baccalaureate magnet program at Edgewood High School.
There are, however, plenty of other comparable programs offered at public high schools in Harford County.
A concentration in biomedical sciences is offered at Bel Air and Havre de Grace high schools; Edgewood also has an Academy of Finance; and Joppatowne High offers a program called Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.
Then there's Harford Tech, often referred to these days as the original magnet high school, for its varied areas of academic concentration, including many that prepare graduates to enter the workforce immediately upon graduation.
The variety of career specialties available to high school students in Harford County is rather impressive, but the time has come when a major evaluation of those offerings is needed.
In recent months, there has been something of a push to expand the school system's capacity to offer the kinds of programs offered at Harford Tech. Among the proposals being considered is construction of a second technical high school, likely on the county's eastern side.
Also lending a measure of urgency to the magnet school situation is the decision last year by the Board of Education to curtail bus transportation for students attending magnet programs at Aberdeen, Edgewood and North Harford.
And there's the matter of the non-magnet biomedical, finance and homeland security programs available primarily to students who are in the enrollment areas of the schools where those programs are offered. These courses of study began as so-called signature programs, with an eye toward possibly turning them into magnet programs that could draw students from across the county, but transition to countywide offerings has been slow in coming.
Would students in Harford County be best served by building a second technical high school that consolidates the existing programs? Or is there justification for setting up a magnet program at each high school instead of building a second Harford tech? Maybe the best way to go is to substantially expand the building known as Harford Tech, so it can accommodate all the special offerings in the county.
Possibly there are several other options that could be pursued.
What is clear, however, is that before more magnet and signature programs are devised, and especially before planning for a new technical high school moves too far along, some sort of accounting needs to be done to take into consideration all of the school system's special offerings.
This is especially important because of the transportation considerations involved. Adding a magnet program that enrolls in the neighborhood of 130 to 140 students at a particular high school means either adding special countywide buses to serve those students, or effectively not offering the program to students who otherwise qualify, but aren't able to make personal transportation arrangements.
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Definitely, there are other considerations that must be taken into account as the school system moves forward, but it's clear the time has come for a bit more focus on the management of the focused areas of concentration offered to students in our public high schools.