Lawndale set to offer same-sex classrooms

TUPELO – Parents of some Lawndale Elementary students will have the option of putting their children in single-gender classrooms next year.
The Tupelo School Board approved on Tuesday a pilot program proposed by Lawndale Principal Terry Harbin. It would allow for one all-boy class and one all-girl class in each of the third and fourth grades.
The fifth grade could have anywhere between zero and four single-gender classes, depending on teaching assignments and interest levels of students. For fifth-graders, the school uses different teachers for language arts and math and science.
The single-gender classes would be optional. Parents must choose to have their children considered for the programs.
Single-gender classrooms also will be balanced according to ability level. Most of the classrooms at the school will continue to have a mix of male and female students.
“We’re looking at this being beneficial for all students,” Harbin said. “We want all teachers to be involved in professional development and to become aware of the learning styles that are different between the two genders.”
The goal is to close the achievement gap between male and female students, Harbin said. The single-gender classrooms would focus on the learning style unique to that particular gender.
“Most of the research that has been published has put more attention on reducing tardies and classroom management,” Harbin said. “I’m really going to be looking at its impact on student achievement.”
The program’s success will be measured by Mississippi Curriculum Test scores, end-of-year surveys and discipline reports, among other factors.
The single-gender classes likely will be the same size as the school’s other classes, which Harbin expects to be about 22.
Parents will begin receiving request forms today to allow them to opt into the special classrooms.
The forms will be dated as they are returned. Harbin will then determine who will be in the class by balancing students of different ability levels.
Students in the single-gender classes will have the same curriculum as those in coeducational classrooms, and both groups of teachers will hold common planning meetings.
“They will still teach the same materials. They just might teach it in a little different way,” Harbin said.
Tupelo Superintendent Randy Shaver said he was excited about the pilot program.
“I think that it is stepping out there and doing the right thing for kids,” Shaver said.
The program will include extensive professional development for all teachers. Harbin said he’d also like to see teachers in coeducational classrooms become more aware of strategies that are more effective for boys and for girls.
“I’ve stressed to teachers, they do not need to re-create the wheel,” Harbin said. “They will still do exactly what they’ve been doing. They’ll just learn things that make each gender become more successful.”
Contact Chris Kieffer at (662) 678-1590 or chris.kieffer@djournal.com.

Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal