Leader Blues

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

TOP STORY>> Schools to get single-gender classes in fall

By John Hofheimer
Leader staff writer


Adopted last winter with great fanfare, plans to separate Jacksonville’s sixth, seventh and eighth graders by gender for core classes languished in recent months, but the plan is back on track for an August launch, Bishop James Bolden III said Monday.

“For a period of time, the ball had been dropped,” Bolden told Jacksonville Rotary Club members. He represents Jacksonville on the Pulaski County Special School District Board. “I went down and raised heaven,” he told club members.

Jacksonville also will house an alternative school for students who are suspended for several days or expelled. Robert Clowers, interim superintendent, said Mike Nellums will be principal of the alternative school for students north of the Arkansas River, and he may also serve as principal of the boys’ school. That alternative school is likely to be housed in a wing of the boys’ school. Clowers said the alternative school also would help students who were short on credits get back on course.

The single-gender public schools will be the first in the state, according to Bolden, but he said he was unimpressed.

“If I feel it’s flakey, I’ll put it right back on the agenda,” he said.

Among the advertised benefits of the single-gender education are better test scores, fewer discipline problems and—an unexpected consequence—a break from the academic distress designation that the junior high had been on for two years. Clowers said the new configuration of grades and genders would retire the junior high school’s numbers and create a brand new one with a clean academic slate.

NO THEMES

Bolden said the plan to assign themes to the high schools—aeronautics to Jacksonville and hospitality to North Pulaski—would not be implemented this fall.

Several questions—including one by former school board member Pat O’Brien, now Pulaski County/Circuit Clerk—were asked about the current school desegregation status and its consequences as far as Jacksonville getting its own school district.

“I do want Jacksonville to have our own district,” said Bolden, who was a leader of the movement to detach Jacksonville-area schools from Pulaski County a year ago. “I’m starting to get more involved in the desegregation (aspects).”

GENDER SEPARATION

The gender separation idea grew out of the board’s decision to move Jacksonville’s ninth graders from the junior high school to the high school—the way other schools in the district are configured. Marvin Jeter III, assistant superintendent for learning services, championed the single-gender school idea and presided over several public meetings leading to the decision. Bolden said Jeter now was seeking another job and would not be back to guide the program. “Keep on trucking,” Bolden said. “Everyone’s replaceable. The program still goes on.”

Jeter couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday afternoon.

Jeter had said grant money would be available to train teachers to teach in single-gender environments, but interim superintendent Clowers, who joined Bolden at the Rotary meeting, said no grant money had been procured, but that the district would pay for it out of its existing teacher-training money.

The teacher training will begin Aug. 11, said Clowers, and would continue throughout the year.

“He’s jumped into this big bowl of gumbo,” said Bolden.

Teachers are now in place to teach at the single-gender schools, located close enough that they will be connected by a covered walkway.

Clowers said James Warren, assistant superintendent for facilities, had said there was money to construct the walkway. That’s good because students must move between the two schools to take electives, which will be coeducational.