By Curt Yeomans
Male students in one Clayton County middle school have the option of attending mixed gender, or male-only classes.
North Clayton Middle School is home to the pilot version of the Rising Student Taking Academic Responsibilities Seriously (Rising S.T.A.R.S.) program. The program takes willing male students and puts them in all-male classrooms. North Clayton Principal Clarence Jackson said he came up with "this crazy idea" in response to rising issues with male students.
"I saw the numbers were increasing for boys who were getting in trouble in class, who were not doing as well in school, and were not wanting or having the desire to learn," said Jackson.
The Clayton County Board of Education heard a presentation on the Rising S.T.A.R.S. program on Monday, during its monthly business meeting. District officials said the program is only in its pilot stage right now, so the data is still being evaluated. However, they did not rule out the possibility of expanding the program.
"I would like to think it is something we would consider," said Deputy Superintendent Judith Simmons.
Same-sex education is a controversial topic. Former Greene County Superintendent Shawn McCollough proposed same-sex schools in his district in February. But, the idea was unpopular with the community and helped hasten McCollough's exit from Greene County Schools. He was replaced in June by Barbara Pulliam - who led Clayton County's schools from 2003 to 2007.
Pulliam quickly scaled back the same-sex classroom idea to a pilot program for third-graders, according to reports in the Athens Banner-Herald.
However, Rising S.T.A.R.S. is not a full-fledged, same-sex program. It is only available to sixth-, and seventh-graders. The male students are only in same-sex classrooms for their academic subjects, such as mathematics, social studies, science and English/Language Arts. They attend mixed-gender classes for connections classes such as physical education, art and band.
The program began in August with 41 male students, and has quickly grown to 87 students. Qiana Cutts, a research evaluation and development associate for the school system, said the program has expanded rapidly because of teachers referring students, and word of mouth among students and parents.
"The majority of the students enjoy it, although the seventh-graders are still a little leery because they are used to being in [middle school] classrooms with girls," said Cutts.
There are four male teachers, two female teachers and one female substitute teacher used for the program. There are about 20 students per teacher, compared to 28 students per teacher in a traditional classroom. Jackson said one of the challenges facing the program is the need for another teacher to accommodate the growth.
The students are out performing the rest of North Clayton's student body, according to data provided by the school system. In sixth-grade English/Language Arts, the students in the program had a 61.35 percent passing rate on the benchmark test this fall, compared to a 54.9 percent passing mark for the rest of the sixth-grade (including male and female students).
Similar successes were seen on the benchmark tests for sixth-grade math, science and social studies. Seventh-graders in the program also outperformed their school-wide counterparts in English/Language Arts, science and social studies, but they were one-tenth of a percentage point behind the rest of the school in math.
"The boys who responded to our surveys said they are less distracted without the girls around," said Cutts.
Unlike McCollough's plan for Greene County, the Rising S.T.A.R.S. program is optional, and it will not result in entire schools being turned into same-sex learning centers. Jackson said Clayton County would be better off if Rising S.T.A.R.S. was only offered as an option for parents. "You can't just blanket say this is the way to go," he said. "You need to have options. Some kids need it, some kids don't."
Despite the interest of Clayton County school system officials in the Rising S.T.A.R.S. program, there were some critics in the audience at the board meeting. "This is discrimination because there are no special needs students," said community activist Linda Granger. "This is not the way to go. Parents should have a choice to send their children to private school for that, but not in public schools."
During the meeting, the board approved a recommendation in a student tribunal case, accepted the monthly reports for the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (S.P.L.O.S.T.) program, as well as the finance, construction, purchasing and human resources departments. It also adopted resolutions from the construction department, and approved a list of people to sit on student tribunals.