Students in all of Greene County’s regular public schools will be separated by gender starting next fall, a move educators hope will improve rock-bottom test scores and reduce teen pregnancy and discipline rates in the small, rural system.
School officials say they need drastic change to save the low-performing district from slipping further behind the rest of the state.
Districts nationwide have been scrambling to implement single-sex education, since federal officials finalized rules to ease the process in 2006. But officials in Greene County, east of metro Atlanta along I-20, say they believe they are the first in the country to convert the entire district to a single-gender model.
U.S. Department of Education officials did not return several request for comment. Georgia Department of Education spokesman Dana Tofig said the district does not need state approval to convert to single gender.
But McCollough says he’s been advised by the district’s attorneys that the conversion is allowable under federal law.
Under the model approved by the school board, boys and girls in Greene County will be split into different classrooms in the district’s two elementary schools and will attend separate middle and high schools, McCollough said.
The county’s one charter school—Lake Oconee Academy—will remain coed. It is public, but has autonomy and is governed by a committee of parents and community leaders.
The charter school, unlike the rest of the county’s public schools, has an enrollment zone focused on the predominantly affluent, white lakefront community south of I-20. The rest of Greene is mostly black and middle class or low income.
The charter school opened last fall amid protests by black citizens who said the enrollment zones created de facto segregation. Attending the charter school would not be an option for the majority of families in Greene County, who live north of the interstate.
McCollough hopes the single-gender model will raise test scores and improve graduation rates in a district where more than three-quarters of the 2,000 students are eligible for free or reduced lunches.
Just 67 percent of Greene County ninth graders go on to receive a diploma, compared to 72 percent statewide. Last year, students scored an average of 1,168 on the SAT college entrance exam, far behind the state average of 1,458 and the national average of 1,495.
Less than a third of the system’s 69 graduates got the B average required for a state HOPE scholarship last year. Statewide, 38 percent of graduates qualify for a HOPE award.