Hillsborough okays two single-sex middle schools for next fall

TAMPA — One school for boys and another for girls.

That's the plan for two Hillsborough County middle schools that will be converted next fall to single-gender status, officials said Tuesday. The changes are being partly funded by a $11.5 million federal magnet school grant.

Franklin Middle School will use a portion of that money to become an "all-male school focusing on academic rigor and personal growth." And to keep things fair, the district will spend its own money to convert Ferrell Middle to an all-girls academy.

Magnet supervisor Susan King said the district also will convert Roland Park K-8 and Walker Middle School into international studies schools, with an eye toward eventually offering the popular International Baccalaureate program at those levels.

And Lockhart Elementary and Young Middle will open a joint "creative science" program.

"We're very excited to have these new programs to offer parents more choices," King said. "These are the kinds of choices that are popular, that they call and ask us about."

It was the single-gender schools that drew particular attention at Tuesday's School Board meeting. Member April Griffin said she already has heard from a teacher interested in working in the boys school.

"The research has shown time and again that these are programs for both boys and girls that really work," she said.

Such programs have drawn passionate support when they've been offered within schools in Tampa Bay districts. Pinellas and Hernando counties have offered same-gender classes within schools since 2006. Hills­borough added such programs at a handful of schools beginning two years later, and Pasco County is considering opening a single-gender charter school.

No area districts have forced students to participate.

Doing so would potentially cross a legal threshold under Title IX, the federal statute that bars gender-based discrimination in education. And it might draw a lawsuit like the one currently being waged by the American Civil Liberties Union against a Louisiana school.

In that case, district officials initially assigned two girls to a single-sex classroom against their parents' wishes. The girls were reassigned to what the ACLU described as an academically less-challenging class.

"This program was implemented based on outmoded stereotypes and discredited theories about differences in the way boys and girls learn," said Lenora M. Lapidus, director of the ACLU Women's Rights Project, in a statement. "There is no evidence that separating boys and girls results in improved academic performance."

Proponents say such programs can make a profound difference, particularly for boys, by filtering out social distractions and allowing teachers to target their learning styles.

King, the magnet supervisor, said Hillsborough was spending district money to open the girls academy at Ferrell "pursuant to Title IX."

By offering the new programs within the voluntary system of magnet schools, district officials say they aim to let parents decide for themselves.

Students who choose not to participate will be assigned to a different neighborhood school.

"We're supposed to offer the choice," said spokesman Stephen Hegarty.

In other news Tuesday, the School Board seated new member Stacy R. White, who won the District 4 seat formerly held by incumbent Jennifer Faliero in the Nov. 2 election.

Incumbents April Griffin and Candy Olson were also sworn in to office for new terms. Member Doretha Edgecomb was unanimously elected board chairwoman, and Olson was elected vice chairwoman.

Tom Marshall can be reached at tmarshall@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3400.

Hillsborough okays two single-sex middle schools for next fall 11/16/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 16, 2010 11:10pm]

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