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Low Enrollment Shuts Gender-Divided School

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) – An unusual attempt to reduce the racial academic achievement gap in St. Paul with gender-separated instruction is coming to an end in June because of declining enrollment.

The St. Paul Pioneer Press reports that the University Academies for Boys and Girls at North End Elementary didn’t attract enough students to remain viable in tough budget times.

University Academies opened in the fall of 2008 as part of a broad effort by former Superintendent Meria Carstarphen to raise the academic achievement of black students.

The school was modeled after the Excellence Boys Charter School of Bedford Stuyvesant in New York City, which is almost entirely made up of black males and posts some of the highest test scores in New York.

However, the St. Paul school differed in that the student body was never primarily black. District officials also had to accommodate girls who were already there, so the students were separated by gender.

The St. Paul school also never got the resources school leaders had planned for, for example the citywide business that could have increased enrollment.

It also didn’t get the significantly longer school day, cultural curriculum centered on black males, or notebook computers for every student.

It did implement a uniform of a shirt and tie, though the tie later became optional. The school also benefited from some community partnerships.

“There was a cultural shift happening in the school,” said Hamilton Bell, who was principal at University Academies until being loaned this school year to the city’s Promise Neighborhood initiative, which will target a 250-block area of the city with educational, social, medical and municipal services.

For example, math proficiency at the University Academies school rose 11 percentage points for all students from 2008-10, and 25 points for black students.

But housing foreclosures in the neighborhood led to declining enrollment which led to budget cuts, Bell said. He had to cut five key teachers because they didn’t have seniority. “It really, really hurt,” he said.

Tyrone Terrill, president of the African American Leadership Council and a member of the leadership team tapped by Carstarphen to push her plans to help black students, said the district was giving up on the idea too soon.

“The boy-separation thing is real. It’s crucial to their academic growth,” said Terrill, who also serves as chief operations officer at BEST Academy, a charter school in Minneapolis serving black boys.

He predicted “if the North End school had been given an opportunity to put some roots in the ground,” there would have been “some great results from those young men.”

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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