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Charter school group proposes single-gender classes in Pasco

LAND O'LAKES — Boys can hardly sit still in school. Girls not only sit and listen, they collaborate and share.

A growing body of research suggests the two genders respond differently in the classroom, and that if teachers could instruct the boys and girls separately to address those differences, the academic achievement of both genders would soar.

The Florida Charter Foundation, a Sarasota-based charter school group headed by former Republican state representative David Thomas, wants to put the theory to the test in Pasco County.

Thomas and his partners, former Volusia schools chief financial officer Bill Kelly and former Broward elementary principal Terry Maus, have proposed to open two K-8 charter school campuses in Pasco that would separate boys and girls for all academic courses but keep them together for enrichment activities, such as music and athletics. They have not yet picked a location.

The Franklin Academy campuses would be based on the research conducted by the Hollis Institute for Educational Reform at Stetson University. The foundation has approval to open a similar school in Broward County, but did not find a location soon enough to have students for this year. It has applied to open 18 charter schools across Florida, including in Hillsborough County.

"It's the board's belief that there are true opportunities for great education outcomes in a single-gender classroom," foundation spokesman Tom Rogers said, adding that all students will receive the same curriculum based on the Florida Sunshine State Standards. "What we will try to do is offer different modes of instruction that work with them."

Other schools in the region have dabbled in single-gender classrooms, with varying degrees of success. Hernando's Westside Elementary School, for instance, saw gains in its test data three years after implementing the concept in select classes.

James Elementary School in Hillsborough County launched a single-gender academy two years ago and continues to use the idea as a way to attract students from the suburbs. Two Pinellas elementary schools also have tested the theory by putting boys and girls in different classrooms.

Rogers said his group has waived the statutory 60-day period for reviewing a charter proposal, so the school district can take its time in making certain the school is sound for Pasco County. He said more information would become available as the charter comes closer to approval.

The application calls for Franklin Academy campuses to open with 750 students each and to grow to 1,340 each in the fifth year.

The Pasco school district has received only one other charter school application for next year. It's to expand the existing Imagine School at Land O'Lakes into the high school grades.

Imagine School recently attempted to add more students to its K-8 program, but the School Board denied the request based on the lateness of the school's compliance with all contractual requirements. District officials routinely have reported the Imagine School's failure to file financial and other paperwork in a timely fashion.

They also have raised questions about the Virginia-based firm's governance and corporate status — issues that have dogged Imagine in other locations as well. Hillsborough has rejected an Imagine School on such grounds, while Pinellas is considering closing its Imagine School over continued poor academic performance.

Imagine School at Land O'Lakes earned a C from the state in the most recent school grading report.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at www.tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.

Charter school group proposes single-gender classes in Pasco 09/10/10 [Last modified: Friday, September 10, 2010 8:24pm]
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