Academic Magnet High School

Academic Magnet High will admit the top two students graduating from each middle school in Charleston County, as long as they score a 13 or higher on a 15-point admissions rubric. File/Grace Beahm/Staff

Academic Magnet High School will continue offering admission to the top two graduates of each public middle school in Charleston County, as long as the students score above a certain threshold on an entrance exam.

The Top Two admissions program grew out of community discussions on increasing diversity at the elite public school.

Starting last year, the school district began offering a slot at Academic Magnet to two rising freshmen with the highest grade point averages from each of the district's 21 middle schools, provided that they scored a 13 or higher on the school's 15-point admissions rubric. These seats are in addition to the 150 seats typically offered to ninth-graders.

Last fall, in the first year of the Top Two program, six students started the ninth grade at Academic Magnet who would not have gotten a seat otherwise, according to data provided by the district. Two had already applied and were on a wait list and four were offered an opportunity to apply after the initial application window.

"We’re taking steps. They’re not huge steps, but they are steps forward in this process," said School Board Chair Kate Darby.

The board voted unanimously Monday night to continue the program.

Founded in 1988 and housed for several years on the Burke High campus, Academic Magnet originally reflected the district's 60/40 split of white and nonwhite students, but its racial and geographic diversity has all but vanished since then. Eighty-two percent of students attending the North Charleston campus today are white, and a large share come from Mount Pleasant.

Increasingly, they also come from private schools or outside the district. Thanks in part to an attendance loophole for students who own property in the county, almost one-third of the ninth-graders at Academic Magnet did not attend a Charleston County public school in the previous school year, according to data provided by the district. In December, board members including the Rev. Chris Collins proposed a one-point rubric weighting to help Charleston County public school students get in, but the board never voted to approve that measure.

School choice applications for the 2017-18 school year are available on the Charleston County School District website through Feb. 19. For more information, go to ccsdschools.com/families/students/choice or call the CCSD Choice Hotline at 843-937-6366.

Reach Paul Bowers at 843-937-5546 or twitter.com/paul_bowers.