AISD: How Much Single-Sex Is Enough?

AISD hires a principal for a new boys' middle school as plans for a boys' academy appear to be on hold

Vince Torres
Vince Torres (Photo by John Anderson)

Austin ISD trustees are moving forward with their plan to open two single-sex middle schools at Pearce and Garcia middle schools in East Austin. However, with the failure of the May bonds, the proposal to build a male equivalent to the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders at the old Ander­son High may be in jeopardy.

Sterlin McGruder
Sterlin McGruder

On May 20, the board voted to hire Sterlin McGruder – currently principal of the Young Men's Leadership Academy at John F. Ken­nedy Middle School in Grand Prairie – to run the new boys' school at Pearce. Prior to running the single-sex campus for grades 6-8, he was principal at Grand Prairie's David Daniels Elementary. McGruder's hiring goes back to the Jan. 28 vote by trustees to merge the Pearce and Garcia middle school attendance zones and turn each campus into a single-sex school – one for boys, one for girls (see "AISD: The Resegregationists," Jan. 29.) The two campuses are scheduled to re-open with their new gender-divided model in 2014. Board President Vince Torres said McGruder "will spend the next six to eight months hiring folks, getting the programming, and working with the community."

Meanwhile, however, the planned boys' academy at the old Anderson campus is back to the drawing board. In the short term, it comes down to finances. The district had planned to spend $20 million in bond money to convert the Ridgeview campus, currently serving as the Alternative Learning Center. But that spending was to be underwritten by Proposition 4 of the May bond elections, which failed at the ballot box. Indeed, some feel that the boys' academy may have dragged down the entire $169 million proposition for arts, athletics, and academic initiatives, which lost by 836 votes districtwide. Without the $20 million, and with the decision to fit the campus into the next round of facility planning, the development of the campus may not fit in with current scheduling requirements from the project's major grantor, the Moody Foundation. Torres said, "There's a very strong possibility that that funding will have to be reapplied for."

Longer-term, Torres conceded that the board may have to reconsider the whole policy surrounding the young men's academy, in light of the bond elections. He said, "We're going to have to go back and look [at] why those propositions failed." With the rejection of the Anderson spending, Torres argued that the board will have to examine "the deeper issues" surrounding the policy. He said, "Is the community saying, 'School for young women? Fine. School for young men? No.' Why is that? Is it the Pearce and Garcia situation? Is it different? Or are times different now?"

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