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Austin expands single-gender school choices

Boys will get more competitive, fast-paced activities; girls school will focus on more collaborative learning
Students from the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders in Austin walk at graduation.
Students from the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders in Austin walk at graduation.

Two of Austin ISD’s middle schools will begin operating as single-gender schools next fall. The Young Men’s Leadership Academy at Garcia Middle School and the Young Women’s Leadership Academy at Pearce Middle School will enroll 600 sixth, seventh and eighth graders, and will focus on college readiness, says Austin Chief Schools Officer Paul Cruz.

“Our intent is to have more college-ready students—so these students will be earning high school credits in middle school so they can take more college credits in high school,” Cruz says. “But we also looked at single-gender research and felt it was the best approach for these new schools.”

In one of many studies AISD has cited, Stetson University revealed that 37 percent of boys and 59 percent of girls in a coed classroom scored proficient on state tests, while boys and girls in a single-gendered school scored 86 and 75 percent respectively. And in single-gendered classrooms, there is less gender-stereotyping, stronger relationships among peers and a curriculum that plays to each gender’s strengths.

Based on this research, lessons and projects at the two new Austin schools are tailored to each gender, says Cruz. For example, Garcia will include more competitive, fast-paced activities because boys thrive on competition. Pearce will include more collaborative learning, as girls work well in groups.

The schools’ are meant to serve as an option for low-income students. They’re also part of an effort to prevent students from leaving the district—Austin’s enrollment declined by 1,200 students this year.

AISD has given the new schools about $900,000, some of which went toward hiring two new principals and staff who are promoting the schools in the community. Some of the money is also funding professional development, student recruitment, brochures and websites. “Not only do we want to keep all Austin students in the school system, but we want parents to be really engaged and informed about this new opportunity,” Cruz says.

The district hopes the new schools will follow success of it’s first single-gender school, the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders, which opened in 2007 and serves 700 students in grades six through 12. Cruz says the school was “wildly successful,” as it was rated “exemplary” by the Texas Education Agency. In 2013, Ann Richards’ first graduating class also had a 100 percent acceptance to college.