A federal grant awarded this week will help three new magnet schools spring up in the West St. Paul-Mendota Heights-Eagan district.

Leaders in the southeast-metro suburban district were notified Thursday that they will receive $2.2 million this school year through a federal program that aims to desegregate schools and fund the development of magnet schools. They expect the grant to be renewed for two more years.

The grant will help transform Moreland Elementary in West St. Paul into a school specializing in arts and health sciences. Pilot Knob Elementary in Eagan will focus on science, technology, math and engineering (STEM). Heritage Middle School in West St. Paul will become an environmental STEM school.

The three schools have already taken some steps to become magnets, but the grant will speed the process, said district spokeswoman Susan Brott. "Now, obviously, it's on a much larger scale," she said.

This year's grant money will pay for hiring new staff members, buying equipment and developing new lessons for the schools, she said.

Districts often turn schools into magnets in the hope of better integrating the revamped buildings by luring new students from other district buildings, as well as charter and private schools.

In the West St. Paul district, the magnet schools were chosen because they have larger minority populations than others nearby, according to school leaders. This spring, for example, Pilot Knob Elementary had a minority population of 55 percent, compared to 11 percent at Mendota Elementary.

West St. Paul school leaders also hope to narrow a racial gap between the district and the community. Recent figures show that minority students comprise 23 percent of children living within district boundaries, compared with 38 percent of those attending district schools.

School leaders say the new magnet schools will also offer more educational choices to all students.

The U.S. Department of Education program that awarded West St. Paul's grant reviews applications once every three years. Several other metro-area districts sought funding this year, including St. Paul, Bloomington, St. Louis Park and the Northwest Suburban Integration district.

School officials in those districts said they haven't heard back about their applications. After West St. Paul got word about its grant and Bloomington didn't, "We're kind of thinking maybe we didn't get it," said Nancy Allen-Mastro, Bloomington assistant superintendent.

Even without the grant, Bloomington will be able to move ahead with plans to turn Hillcrest and Valley View elementary schools into magnets, she said. "It just means we'll have to do some of the things a little slower, or in a bit of a different way."

Sarah Lemagie • 952-882-9016