Wake all-boys and all-girls schools hope to partner with St. Augustine's University

khui@newsobserver.comSeptember 23, 2013 

— The Wake County school system is negotiating with St. Augustine’s University to provide the college courses that students at the district’s two single-gender leadership academies will need to complete their education.

As soon as Oct. 15, Wake school administrators hope to present to the school board an agreement for upperclassmen at the leadership academies to take college courses at St. Aug’s. Wake has been searching for a college partner for the academies since William Peace University broke off negotiations about providing on-campus courses in April 2012.

A deal needs to be completed before the start of the 2014-15 school year when the first of the leadership academy students are to begin taking college courses. The popular academies would be sending their diverse student bodies to college-level classes at one of the nation’s oldest historically black colleges and universities.

Officials from the school system and St. Aug’s offered few details about the negotiations. Confirmation of the talks emerged from documents provided to the school board last week by school administrators and by a school board member.

Renee McCoy, a Wake schools spokeswoman, said Monday she was unable to provide additional details.

St. Augustine’s President Dianne Boardley Suber referred questions to the school system, according to Shelley Willingham-Hinton, a university spokeswoman. Founded in 1867, St. Aug’s has around 1,500 students at its historic campus off Oakwood Avenue near downtown Raleigh.

Ian Solomon, principal of the Wake Young Men’s Leadership Academy, referred questions to senior school system staff. Teresa Pierrie. principal of the Wake Young Women’s Leadership Academy, could not immediately be reached for comment.

College partner key to plan

The pressure has been on the school system ever since negotiations with Peace University unexpectedly broke down months before the academies opened in August 2012. One of the selling points for the academies is that students will be able to graduate with both a high school diploma and college credit that’s transferable to a four-year university.

The system’s original plan called for housing all the middle school and high school students from both academies on Peace’s campus near downtown Raleigh. The school system found alternative locations for the academies while continuing to hunt for a new university partner.

Former Superintendent Tony Tata won praise for opening the leadership academies, which are Wake’s first single-sex schools. But Tata also drew criticism for not having secured the college partnership before the academies opened.

“It was an example of poor planning,” said school board member Jim Martin. “We have to deal with promises that were made before anything was finalized.”

Both academies are growing

Wake had reached agreements with N.C. State and Wake Tech before opening similar schools that allow high school students to go to those campuses to take courses for college credit.

In their second year, the single-sex academies continue to draw more applicants than they can take. The 230 students from the men’s academy are located at the former Thompson School in downtown Raleigh. The 200 students at the women’s academy are using part of the Governor Morehead School for the Blind near downtown Raleigh.

Both academies could eventually expand to 500 students apiece.

The lack of a college partner hasn’t been a problem, as the oldest students are sophomores. But students who entered during the academies’ first year will be juniors next year, and eligible to take some college courses.

“People realize it’s a new model so there’s going to be a lot to be worked out,” said Marc Dewalle, PTSA president at the men’s academy. “People have a lot of confidence that it will be figured out.”

Hui: 919-829-4534

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