Wake County BOE approves two new single-gender academies

Students in Wake County now have the option of pursuing a single-sex education.

As part of a $130.3 million spending plan, the Wake County Board of Education voted Sept. 20 to open two new single-gender “leadership academies” to improve education by specialization. The new boys’ leadership academy will open at the current site of Longview School in Raleigh, N.C. while the girls’ leadership academy will occupy the Pilot Mill site near Peace College, also in Raleigh.

Ann Dishong, senior administrator for the Wake County Public School System, said the leadership academies will follow the college preparatory model, as high school students will take college courses to better prepare them for higher education.

“This affords students the opportunity to meet high school graduation requirements while earning college credits, too,” Dishong said.

The decision to pursue single-gender schools was sparked by an interest from WCPSS Superintendent Tony Tata and other members of the school board. The new program will be modeled off of a system implemented in Guilford County where high school students in Greensboro, N.C. educated under the single-gender system saw a 100 percent graduation rate. Despite the Wake County Board of Education’s push toward the new teaching plan, it is unclear whether or not there are true advantages to separating sexes in the classroom, said Jacob Vigdor, professor of public policy and economics, who specializes in education policy.

“There are many gimmicks in the K-12 educational system and [the single-gender concept] may be one of them,” Vigdor said.

He added that some low-quality studies have been done on the issue, but the results from those studies have been inconclusive. There is evidence, however, that students perform better in a K-8 facility rather than in separate elementary and middle schools.

The transition from elementary school learning with individualized attention to a middle school setting with multiple teachers and classes can be difficult for children, Vigdor said.

“The issue is that there are high-risk students who, while unsupervised, become exposed to things, such as smoking or drug use, from older students that can cause problems,” Vigdor said.

The proposed curriculum may deviate from traditional learning paths. Educational components are intended to increase the managerial skills in students and prepare them for leadership roles at a civic, national or global level, Dishong added.

“An interdisciplinary arts course will focus on public speaking and 21st century skills,” she said. “The [career and technical education] courses will foster entrepreneur aptitude.”

The spending plan, approved in a 5-3 vote, includes building a high school near Apex, N.C. and an elementary school near Wake Forest, N.C. and converting a Raleigh elementary school into a K-8 institution. The board also approved changes to alleviate overcrowding at Cary High School.

Some board members had raised concerns about the fact that the board voted to fund the leadership academies before approving and finalizing the single-gender concept in its entirety. After an attempt to separate the votes for approval of the academies and funding the academies had failed, the school board decided to implement the single-gender schools and provide funding in the same vote. Despite the opposition of the voting process for the project, Tata said he wanted to keep the funding bundled together, according to WRAL Sept. 20.

Although no dates have been confirmed, the schools may open in 2012, board members noted.


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