Liz Hicks said she and her colleagues have researched the numbers when it comes to the achievement of girls within the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) curriculum, and they have found a path they hope will lead to more success in those areas. On April 14, the Los Angeles Board of Education approved Hicks’ proposal for a public all-girls school that will be located on the Los Angeles High School campus.
“Most of the all-girls schools have shown that girls do better in an all-girls environment, particularly in those subjects,” said Hicks, who is a Los Angeles Unified School District counseling coordinator. “They tend to develop better self-esteem. It’s just one mode of moving forward in those areas with girls, but they tend to do better with it.”
In Los Angeles, there are already some all-girls schools, Hicks said, but they are all private schools.
“This model at this time is only available to girls in a private school setting, which is cost prohibitive to most girls,” she added.
The Girls Academic Leadership Academy is slated to open on the campus of Los Angeles High School at the beginning of the 2016-17 school year.
“It is clear that within our district, our female student population is underserved in the areas of sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics,” LAUSD Superintendent Ramon Cortines said in a statement. “Not only will this new school help our students discover their potential, think critically and develop important intellectual skills, it will also prepare them for college and beyond.”
Hicks said the school’s design team has been working on the project for more than three years, and it was initially pitched as a pilot school proposal. At the time, there was concern from the district that the proposal needed to include plans for an all-boys school. Hicks said they then prepared plans for both, but when former superintendent John Deasy stepped down, the district decided against proceeding with pilot schools.
However, the design team found an ally in Cortines, who was working in the New York City Department of Education in the late 1990s when that district opened the first all-girls public school in the country — the East Harlem Young Women’s Leadership School — the school after which Hicks and her supporters had designed their academy.
“He decided to move forward with it as an LAUSD school, not a pilot school,” Hicks said. “Around the country there are many young women leadership schools, and of this model, almost all of them have 100 percent of the students graduating, going to college and passing the state exams.”
The Girls Academic Leadership Academy will eventually serve grades six through 12. It will begin with grades six and nine (100 students each), adding a new grade each year thereafter. When all the grades are filled, there will be 700 students attending the school. The district is investing $333,800 to upgrade facilities.
Los Angeles High School, which has suffered from under-enrollment, will provide 14 classrooms once the academy is fully enrolled. It will take the place of the Math and Sciences College Preparatory School, a charter school that is leaving the campus voluntarily.
“We know we are losing enrollment and there is currently a charter school on our campus, so we knew something would be placed here, we just didn’t know what,” said Joyce Kleifield, executive director of The Harrison Trust at Los Angeles High School. “This sounds innovative for a public school.”
Kleifield said Los Angeles High School officials would continue to work to increase enrollment, because they ultimately want to inhabit the entire campus.
“We used to be an overcrowded school with 5,000 students on campus,” she said. “But enrollment is down everywhere and we have open classrooms.”
She said they welcome new ideas, so long as they don’t eliminate the rich history of the campus.
“I want to maintain the history of L.A. High, but I don’t mind moving into the future,” Kleifield said. “If we can better serve our kids by doing something like this, as long as historic L.A. High doesn’t disappear, I’m open to it.”
Hicks said in a perfect world, the academy would have its own campus, but she said the central location of Los Angeles High School is helpful, along with its accessibility by multiple modes of transportation. She said the design team is still putting together a website and brochures, with expectations to take applications of interest in winter 2015-16. She added that hopefully, the academy will serve as a model and impetus to open similar schools.
“[Girls can] have more of a voice,” she said. “They’re really encouraged to develop their voice and be confident in asking teachers questions and gaining a sense of themselves as a person and an academic.”
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