Single-gender academy may take root

Jul. 15, 2014 @ 07:10 PM

 A little more than a year ago, the Durham Public Schools board voted down a proposal to pilot a single-gender academy that would target low-achieving male students.

The plan, which board members passionately debated, failed to move forward in June 2013 after a vote along racial lines ended in a 3-3 tie.

Former board member Nancy Cox was not present for the vote, which led to the tie.

The proposal, brought forward by then-superintendent Eric Becoats, might not be the last time the board will be asked to consider creating a single-gender academy.

In an interview shortly after he was sworn in Monday, new Superintendent Bert L’Homme said he is a believer in single-gender academies.

 “I’m a big supporter of single-gender schools,” L’Homme. “It gives both girls and boys an opportunity to learn in an environment where they can do their very best.”

When asked if he would pitch the idea of a single-gender academy, L’Homme said it’s on the “agenda already.”

 “Certainly, if we’re looking, especially to work with young men, to keep them on the straight path to graduation, I think that’s one of the choices, and that’s a very powerful choice,” L’Homme said.

School board Vice Chairwoman Minnie Forte-Brown, one of the three board members who voted in favor of moving forward with the single-gender academy, said Tuesday there is still need for such a school to serve male students who are struggling academically.

Some research has shown that single-gender academies improve academic achievement.

 “Clearly, there is a pressing need to work to educate African American boys with integrity and purpose so they can celebrate graduation and a sense of accomplishment and go on to be successful and productive citizens,” Forte-Brown said. “I’m glad we’re going to revisit it because the need is there.”

School board Chairwoman Heidi Carter, who voted against moving forward with the plan, said she still has the same concerns about single-gender academies but is open to listening to new ideas about launching one.

“I was open to the idea then, but had some concerns about opening another choice program,” Carter said.

She said she has heard L’Homme talk about creating single-gender classrooms within traditional schools and would like to hear more about possibly piloting such a program.

Other school board members opposed to the June 2013 plan said they would be more comfortable putting money into existing programs that have already proven successful in addressing the academic challenges facing males, particularly black males whose struggles in the classrooms are the topic of much discussion in Durham and throughout the nation.

As proposed, the all-male academy would have piloted through a partnership with Maureen Joy Charter School before growing into its own space.

The program would have cost an estimated $12 million to start and served males in grades six-12. An all-female school would have eventually followed.

Before being hired to lead the Catholic Schools for the Archdiocese of Washington, L’Homme held several administrative posts in the Prison Pipeline Campaign for Marion Wright Edleman and the Children’s Defense Fund.

The campaign seeks to reduce detention and incarceration by increasing preventive supports and services children need such as quality early childhood development and education services and accessible health and mental health care.

“That is probably the goal that is closest to my heart,” L’Homme said when asked about strategies to reduce the number of children falling into the so-called school-to-prison pipeline. “There is no need for that many men, talented, smart men to end up in prison. We have to make sure that we have schools and curriculum that engage them in learning so they can have the hope of doing something better than they are doing today. Only that will stop them from choosing other paths.”