Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

New principal makes commitment to single-gender classes at Westside Elementary

SPRING HILL — A little more than six years ago, Westside Elementary School embarked on a trailblazing experiment based on a rather simple premise: Boys and girls don't always learn best when they're together.

Citing research that shows the best learning environment for one gender isn't always ideal for the other and that the two genders tend to distract each other, the school started offering all-girls and all-boys classrooms at each grade level, becoming one of the first schools in the Tampa Bay area to do so.

The pilot program received favorable reviews over the first few years. Administrators said students seemed to be gaining in segregated settings, in many cases outperforming their counterparts in mixed-gender settings at Westside. Parents, teachers and students appeared to love the program.

But by the end of last school year, the appeal of program seemed to have lessened — at least for some.

Then-Westside principal Nancy Kesselring said she noticed waning interest among teachers, that there wasn't money available to send teachers for training and that standardized test results in the single-gender classrooms were not convincing.

In May, she and others decided to ax the program — only to be told shortly thereafter that they didn't have authority to eliminate the classes. So they continued, although for only grades 2 to 5.

This school year, with a new principal at the helm, Westside is breathing new life back into the program.

"We're going to do it, and we're going to do it well," said principal Gina Michalicka, who took over for Kesselring, who retired. "We are continuing the program."

Michalicka says they are bringing back more in-house professional development for teachers and restarting a committee to meet and discuss issues surrounding single-gender classrooms. She says there is tremendous teacher buy-in — teachers who truly believe there are academic, behavioral and developmental benefits to separating the sexes.

"It is a passion for them to do it," Michalicka said. "They have seen success throughout the years."

What a difference a few months make.

Kesselring said the testing data for the single-gender classrooms was mixed.

"Some areas have shown gains; however the gains have not been consistent and sustained over time," she wrote, summarizing test data from 2010 to 2013. "The decision to eliminate the single-gender program was based on these results as well as the inability to expand the program to more than one class of each gender at each grade level. Having only one class of each gender at each grade level has resulted in an increase in some social as well as some discipline issues."

Michalicka, looking at the same data, has a much rosier outlook.

While acknowledging that mixed-gender classes sometimes performed better on tests, "by far, when you look at this, you see there's a lot of success with the program," she said.

The school, she said, also looks at other gains: social, behavioral, the general well-being of the student.

A review of the past three years of math, science and reading test data appears to support Michalicka's conclusion. While not universal, the single-gender classes generally outperformed those in mixed classrooms. That was especially true during the 2010-11 and 2011-12 school years.

During 2010-11, the fourth year of the program, the results were very apparent. On standardized reading exams, the boys and girls classes did better than the mixed-gender classrooms at every grade level except for kindergarten. In math, the single-gender classrooms beat their counterparts for all six grade levels — kindergarten through fifth. In science, the separate boys and girls classes bested mixed classes at two of three grade levels.

The following year, 2011-12, the results weren't quite as dramatic, but the single-gender classrooms still generally did better. The same was true for the past school year.

Teachers and students in the classes say there are a lot of benefits, beyond test scores, to separating the sexes.

Dee Cardenas, a single-gender teacher since the inception of the program, said research shows that boys and girls learn differently, and she's noticed a stark contrast between her single-sex and mixed-gender classes.

"They don't run as smoothly in my opinion," she said of the mixed classes. "It seems to run smoother with either the all girls or the all boys because their needs are being met."

Melissa Tomlinson, a single-gender teacher who also had a child in the program, said it allowed her son to be exactly who he needed to be.

"He wasn't stifled from just being a boy," she said. "He needed to move. He needed to tap. He was allowed to just be a boy."

Ten-year-old Jade McCabe has been in both types of classrooms. Although she excelled in both, she definitely prefers being in the all-girl environment.

"The boys are always loud and stuff," she said. "I find it very easy to learn in the all-girls class."

Contact Danny Valentine at or (352) 848-1432. On Twitter: @HernandoTimes.

New principal makes commitment to single-gender classes at Westside Elementary 09/13/13 [Last modified: Friday, September 13, 2013 5:26pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Trump sprinkles political attacks into Scout Jamboree speech

    GLEN JEAN, W.Va. — Ahead of President Donald Trump's appearance Monday at the National Scout Jamboree in West Virginia, the troops were offered some advice on the gathering's official blog: Fully hydrate. Be "courteous" and "kind." And avoid the kind of divisive chants heard during the 2016 campaign such as "build …

    President Donald Trump addresses the Boy Scouts of America's 2017 National Scout Jamboree at the Summit Bechtel National Scout Reserve in Glen Jean, W.Va., July 24, 2017. [New York Times]
  2. Trump, seething about attorney general, speculates about firing Sessions, sources say

    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has spoken with advisers about firing Attorney General Jeff Sessions, as he continues to rage against Sessions' decision to recuse himself from all matters related to the Russia investigation.

  3. John McCain to return to Senate for health care vote

    WASHINGTON — The Senate plans to vote Tuesday to try to advance a sweeping rewrite of the nation's health-care laws with the last-minute arrival of Sen. John McCain — but tough talk from President Donald Trump won no new public support from skeptical GOP senators for the flagging effort that all but …

  4. Last orca calf born in captivity at a SeaWorld park dies


    ORLANDO — The last killer whale born in captivity under SeaWorld's former orca-breeding program died Monday at the company's San Antonio, Texas, park, SeaWorld said.

    Thet orca Takara helps guide her newborn, Kyara, to the water's surface at SeaWorld San Antonio in San Antonio, Texas, in April. Kyara was the final killer whale born under SeaWorld's former orca-breeding program. The Orlando-based company says 3-month-old Kyara died Monday. [Chris Gotshall/SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment via AP]
  5. Blake Snell steps up, but Rays lose to Orioles anyway (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Blake Snell stepped up when he had to Monday and delivered an impressive career-high seven-plus innings for the Rays. That it wasn't enough in what ended up a 5-0 loss to the Orioles that was their season-high fifth straight is symptomatic of the mess they are in right now.

    Tim Beckham stands hands on hips after being doubled off first.