District adds eighth-grade academies, single-gender classes

By: Jessica Strachan | Southfield Sun | Published April 24, 2013

SOUTHFIELD — In an effort to boost student achievement, the four high schools in the Southfield Public Schools district will see some sweeping changes in the upcoming school year.

In a press conference held April 11, Superintendent Wanda Cook-Robinson, along with school administrators Marty Bulger, Marcia Wilson, Michael Horn and Joseph Spryszak, announced a redesign that includes the option of single-gender classes and eighth-grade academies inside secondary schools.

“We are the only school district in the region to implement this kind of innovative redesign in recent years. We anticipate that the benefit to our students will be distinctly measurable,” Cook-Robinson said.

The changes aim to help students better prepare for the rigor of high school and meet individual needs. Features include eighth-grade academies at University High School Academy and Southfield Regional Academic Campus; gender-separated core classes — math, language arts, science and social studies — at Southfield High and Southfield Regional Academic Campus; ninth-grade wings at Southfield and Southfield Lathrup high schools to give the experience of a “smaller school within a school”; and counseling and ACT support for incoming freshmen, according to Cook-Robinson.

To enter the preparatory academy at University High for eighth-graders, students must apply for acceptance to attend and go on to the ninth-12th grade program, if they maintain a 3.0 or higher grade point average. Science, technology, engineering, art, math and medicine will be the focus.

The eighth-grade academy added at Southfield Regional Academic Campus, the community’s alternative high school, is meant to ease students’ transition into high school.

The district is collaborating with Wayne State University’s College of Education on the redesign, and Allia Carter, Wayne State director of outreach and professional development, said the changes are about fostering relationships to assist with the challenges of high school.

“It’s not about a disconnect, but about how we get everyone through,” she said at the press conference. “Hats go off to the Southfield school district.”

Southfield High School Principal Michael Horn said the changes, like the single-gender classes for incoming freshmen, are rooted in educational research and have proven to be effective.

“Research on single-gender classes found that test scores improve and the academic success of students improve,” he said. “Girls’ scores tend to go up, (and) boys are no longer embarrassed or ashamed to raise their hands and give the wrong answer because there are no girls in there.”

He added that the changes are more in sync with Project Manhood and Project Womanhood mentoring programs and other enrichment activities for the students.

Marty Bulger, principal of Southfield Regional Academic Campus, said the addition of eighth-grade academies encourages peer mentoring, too.

“Students will become mentors,” he said about ninth-graders looking out for incoming eighth-graders. “They’ll need someone to buddy-up with — someone to show them the way.”

Cook-Robinson said the redesign was about re-engineering the district and space already available, rather than creating a new expenditure.

“I told them very few or zero new dollars,” she said. “We’ll use a few more dollars to add counseling support for ninth-graders and to bring eighth-graders to University High School.”

Cook-Robinson also added that the redesign will address achievement gaps in the significant number of high school students who come in from other districts, as well as attract any students in the district who have enrolled elsewhere.

“I’d like to bring all my children home,” she said.