Submitted by Noel Garland
Dallas' first public all-girls facility to open Monday
08:30 PM CDT on Saturday, August 14, 2004
At first, single-sex education was a hard sell in DISD. Only 50 students had signed up for the district's experiment with all-girls education by May, when Vivian Taylor was named principal of the Irma Rangel Young Women's Leadership School. But officials rallied with stepped-up recruiting and an extended application deadline, and 126 girls will fill the halls at 3801 Herschel Ave. when school starts Monday. Supporters of Dallas' entry into the national boomlet of public, single-sex schools say those are 126 lucky girls. Julia Hodges, who stopped by Wednesday to pick up her daughter's uniforms, said she knows that.
"I've been wishing for this. It is something very special for my daughter to attend an all-girls school," said Ms. Hodges. "I've been telling everybody about it. ... My friend's twin girls are coming here."
Ms. Hodges' daughter, Yamileth Dubon, seemed just as enthusiastic. "I think it will be fun," said Yamileth, 12 and a seventh-grader. "And we'll get into less trouble because there won't be boys."
Expanding for the future
The Rangel school opens with seventh- and eighth-graders. It will expand one grade per year until it serves grades 7-12 in 2008-09. Eventually, the Dallas Independent School District hopes to have 100 students in each grade. The school's curriculum: college-prep. It's mission: "To cultivate dynamic, participatory learning, enabling students to experience great academic success at many levels, especially in the fields of math, science and technology. Students will be encouraged to achieve their personal best as they prepare for college." The school is a clone of the Young Women's Leadership School, an all-girls public school in Harlem, founded in 1996 at the urging of socialite Ann Tisch. The New York school boasts a high college-going rate among graduates, and its program already has been copied in Chicago.
Lee Posey, chairman of Dallas-based mobile home manufacturer Palm Harbor Homes, and his wife, Sally, led the effort to get the school established in DISD. The Poseys were impressed enough by what happened in Harlem that they accompanied two top Dallas administrators to New York in May 2002, said Dr. Carol Francois, DISD's chief of staff. Mr. Posey, who is on the board of the Harlem school, has formed a foundation to support the Rangel school. Liza Lee, former headmistress of The Hockaday School and a nationally known leader in all-girls education, is executive director. Ms. Tisch, creator of the Harlem school, serves on the foundation board, as does Evelyn Miller, executive vice president of The Dallas Morning News.
DISD officials said that although the Rangel school shares the name and mission of the Chicago and New York schools – a fourth Young Women's Leadership School opens in the Bronx this month – the schools do not constitute a network. The school's home, the former Stephen J. Hay building, was renovated with money from the DISD bond program, the district said. "We've looked at their curriculum and talked to staff, but we're not in a network, there are no links or financial connections," Dr. Francois said. Mr. Posey said his Young Women's Leadership Foundation of Texas would lend financial assistance to the school and its students as needed. Ms. Lee predicts success for the girls who attend. "We need schools that will capture and keep our children. ... This school will do that," she said. "I say that based on what I know about all-girls schools in a public sector – they have terrific completion rates and terrific rates of college acceptance."
Charting new paths
The Rangel school is the first girls-only public school in the state. DISD officials have discussed starting an all-boys school next, but there are no plans yet. Single-sex education has become trendy in recent years.
Nationally, there were only four such schools eight years ago, according to the National Association for Single Sex Public Education. This year there will be 36, including 11 new schools, the group says. Of those schools, 11 are girls-only, nine are boys-only and 16 are dual academies in which boys and girls are in different classrooms. The trend is being fueled, in part, by provisions in the No Child Left Behind Act and changes in U.S. Department of Education anti-discrimination policies. Not everyone likes the idea. Some critics say any kind of segregation is wrong.
Dr. Leonard Sax executive director of the national association, said girls and boys learn differently and can be a distraction to each other. But he said the real value of single-sex education is that it "allows students to find out who they are." "We live in a very gendered society and single-sex schools break down stereotypes," Dr. Sax said. At the Rangel school, all 100 seventh-graders and 26 eighth-graders will take pre-Advanced Placement classes, humanities and foreign languages, including Latin. Each girl will be assigned her own laptop computer. The daily curriculum will include leadership training and instruction on maintaining proper diet and appearance. Students will be directed to focus on "aptitude and personality assessments, which will increase the student's awareness of strengths and areas needing development," according to the curriculum.
"We want to create an environment when they can talk about how they're feeling or changing," said Ms. Taylor, the principal. In order to get in, students had to have a C-average, score above the 40th percentile on assessments, write an essay and go through an interview.
Reaping a reward
At the end of their Rangel education is a reward some of the students might not even know about yet.
"Our commitment is every girl who graduates and is accepted to college will have the financial support she needs," Mr. Posey said. "That's why the foundation has been created, and it will have impact on a lot of girls."
The Poseys are longtime proponents of better educational opportunities for girls. Since the 1960s, they have paid the way for 90 college students who couldn't otherwise afford it. The inspiration was Mr. Posey's single mother, who struggled with her own lack of education. Many of the girls Mr. Posey helps come from single-parent homes. He said he is glad to have helped bring the all-girls school to DISD and added that he hopes to create schools like it in every major Texas city. "In the history of education, the more affluent people have always felt that single-sex schools provided the best education for their children," Mr. Posey said. "It hasn't been largely or widely available to low-income kids. "The idea is to create a public school with a private school mission," he said. "The idea of taking girls who want to go to college and may not have the family and financial support, well, why wouldn't that be a fabulous idea?"