Opposition arises for Wake single-sex academies

khui@newsobserver.comDecember 3, 2011 

A coalition of advocacy groups wants the Wake County school system to halt plans to open a pair of single-sex leadership academies next year.

In a memo sent Thursday to Wake Superintendent Tony Tata and school board members, the groups argue the academies were approved without enough input or review. The groups also oppose single-sex classes and the requirement that students at the academies participate in the Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps (JROTC) program.

"Instead of spending precious funds on the proposed single-sex academies, spend them on improving and expanding alternative educational programs for struggling students," the groups say in the memo.

The memo was signed by the Great Schools in Wake Coalition, Advocates for Children's Services, the YWCA of the Greater Triangle, the Coalition of Concerned Citizens for African American Children, the North Carolina chapter of the ACLU and CHOICES - a group critical of JROTC programs.

Tata first publicly proposed the leadership academies in September as a way to boost academic achievement. The schools, which would serve sixth- through 12th-grades, would allow students to graduate from high school with college credit.

The school board approved the academies, called the Wake Young Men's Leadership Academy and the Wake Young Women's Leadership Academy, in October.

No students will be assigned to the schools. All students would have to apply to attend. "I believe this is a program that will appeal to many of our families," said school board Vice Chairman John Tedesco.

The original plan was to house the men's academy at the Longview School, an alternative school in East Raleigh. This would have meant relocating alternative school students among several campuses.

But in November, Tata announced Wake had signed an agreement with William Peace University to host both academies at its Raleigh campus. Tata also announced plans to do an audit of the alternative school program.

Leadership and discipline are selling points for the school. For instance, students will have a dress code or uniform and have to participate in JROTC in the ninth-grade.

JROTC is a high school elective that offers classes taught by retired military personnel in areas such as leadership, citizenship and physical fitness.

"JROTC is a wonderful opportunity for some of our students," Tedesco said.

But the advocacy groups contend making students attend JROTC "is a radical proposal that effectively makes public schools more like private military academies."

A new Democratic majority takes office Tuesday. But the efforts to derail the schools are in question because Democratic board member Keith Sutton has been a supporter of the academies. Sutton was in Chicago on Friday with Tata to tour Urban Prep, a nationally acclaimed male-only academy.

"I believe these academies will help close the achievement gap," Sutton said. "It will help young African-American males."

Hui: 919-829-4534

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