CARY — Single-sex schools could soon become an option for families in Wake County.
It's part of a broader proposal to revamp how the county's school system determines which students go to which schools.
Wake Superintendent Tony Tata says he wants to make schools more attractive now that the new student-assignment plan would rely on families choosing schools instead of automatically being assigned to schools by administrators.
Among the new options Tata introduced to the school board Tuesday: the creation of a leadership academy for male students and one for female students. If approved, they would become the first single-sex schools in the state's biggest public school system.
Tata also proposed creating a science academy and making Hilburn Drive Elementary School in North Raleigh the first Wake school in decades to offer kindergarten through eighth grade under the same roof.
"We're trying to be innovative with our programs and our offerings," Tata said at the school board's first meeting at its new headquarters in Cary.
The board gave Tata permission to continue work on the single-sex leadership academies and the Hilburn conversion. Pending final board approval, Tata said, the leadership academies could be ready for the 2012-13 school year.
The schools, which students could apply to attend, would eventually each accommodate as many as 500 students in grades six through 12.
School officials are considering partnering the academies with colleges to form early-college programs in which students can graduate from high school with two years of college credit.
No locations have been set for the two new schools. But school officials are looking at placing the boys academy at the site of the Longview School in East Raleigh with the girls academy potentially at the former Raleigh Charter High School site near Peace College in Raleigh.
School officials said there are 250 such academies across the country. School officials cited a boys academy and a girls academy in Guilford County where the graduation rates are more than 95 percent and all the students say they'll go to college.
Several board members praised the idea of using single-sex schools.
"It would be a wonderful option for young men and young women in Wake County," said school board member Keith Sutton.
Tata said he's still working on the details of a partnership with the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences to set up a 300-student science academy in downtown Raleigh for implementation in 2012 or 2013.
Tata said one of the benefits of the leadership academies is that they could reduce crowding at other schools. A similar reason is being used for considering offering middle school grades at Hilburn.
Tata said offering a K-8 program at Hilburn would make the school more attractive to families, fill up the hundreds of empty seats at the school and help relieve middle school overcrowding in the area.
"You're commended to be considering such innovative approaches," said Ron Margiotta, the school board chairman.
Assignment plan delay
Tata also indicated Tuesday that the long-anticipated student assignment plan for the 2012-13 school year now likely won't be approved before the election.
Tata said he'll have a final plan to discuss with the school board at an Oct. 4 work session. So come Oct. 11, when five board seats are up for election, voters likely won't have full details of how Wake children will be assigned to schools in years to come.
Board members and residents still have questions about feeder patterns, transportation, magnet schools and grandfathering. A final vote likely wouldn't come until later in October or possibly November.
School board candidate Jennifer Mansfield issued a statement Tuesday urging the board to stop work on the current plan and develop a more transparent alternative.
The new plan would have families pick where they want to go from a list of choices, with the focus on providing options near where students live. The new plan replaces the old policy under which students were assigned to specific schools as part of an effort to balance family income levels at schools.
"There's a lot more work to be done," board member Kevin Hill said after the afternoon work session.
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