GREENSBORO, Ga. — A rural Georgia county is set to become the first school district in the nation to go entirely single-sex, with boys and girls in separate classrooms.
Greene County's radical decision to overhaul the system next fall was born of desperation from years of poor test scores, soaring dropout rates and high numbers of teen pregnancies.
"At the rate we're moving, we're never going to catch up," superintendent Shawn McCollough told parents in an impassioned speech last week.
The school board's decision has angered parents, students and teachers, who say they weren't consulted. Leonard Sax, one of the nation's foremost proponents of single-sex education, said the board has gone too far and called the move illegal.
The pine-shrouded county of about 14,400 people between Atlanta and Augusta is about 70 percent black, and more than three-quarters of the 2,000 students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches.
Last year, the students scored an average of 1,168 on the SAT, far below the state average of 1,458 and the national average of 1,495.
McCollough pointed to research showing that boys and girls learn differently, and said separating them will allow teachers to tailor their lessons.
Boys and girls will be in separate classrooms in the elementary schools. Boys and girls in grades seven through 12 will attend separate schools.
Sax, head of the National Association for Single Sex Public Education, said that while single-sex schools and classrooms are on the increase, he knows of no other community that has converted its entire school system. Federal law allows single-sex classrooms or schools, but parents must also have the option of publicly funded coeducation for their children, Sax said.
"This is the worst kind of publicity for our movement," he said. "It misses the whole point. Our movement is about choice. One size does not fit all. Even a small school district needs to provide choice."