D.C. Public Schools has no plans for an all-girls high school like the one it opened in August for black and Latino boys. Instead, the school system plans to create support groups for girls and host a systemwide all-girls conference later this year.
Ron Brown College Preparatory High School, an all-male school, opened its doors last summer. The 100-student school aims to boost achievement for black and Latino boys, who historically have the lowest test scores and graduation rates in the city.
The school has drawn controversy, with the American Civil Liberties Union questioning why the system did not create an all-girls counterpart. The school system replied last fall that Ron Brown was designed with the “specific needs of young men” in mind and that it was working to expand “opportunities to meet the unique needs of our female students.”
On Monday, Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) and Schools Chancellor Antwan Wilson announced those opportunities.
DCPS officials said they held listening sessions with more than 100 girls of color and did not hear that girls wanted their own school.
Instead, they said, girls want a space, such as an after-school club, to talk about their days and their feelings and to learn about one another. Girls want to learn how to build their confidence, the school system said in a news release.
“This tells me that whatever is done is done specifically for their needs and not just a simple replication of what we’ve done for boys,” Wilson said in an interview. “It needs to be unique to them.”
Like many urban school systems, DCPS has struggled to raise graduation rates and test scores for students of color. School systems across the country — including in Miami, New York, Minneapolis and Oakland, Calif. — have spent millions on initiatives, particularly for black males, that aim to provide unique programs to keep students in school and boost academics.
In the District, it’s the girls’ turn.
Through a program called Reign: Empowering Young Women as Leaders, the school system will host a citywide conference for young women of color on June 3 and workshops during the 2017-2018 school year. Educators will receive training on gender and racial equality, and “innovation grants” will be awarded to help schools focus on the academic, social and emotional needs of girls.
Wilson did not rule out an all-girls school in the future. “Should there become a strong desire for us to have a school that is specifically for the needs of young women, then I absolutely will be supportive of that,” he said.
In recent weeks, there has been a public outcry about the number of children, particularly teenage girls, who go missing in the District. Last week, the mayor announced that she would dedicate more resources to the problem and establish a task force to determine what social services teenage runaways need to stabilize their home lives.
Bowser and others say there has not been an increase in missing teenagers but rather that law enforcement has made a more concerted effort to publicize those cases on social media.
Bowser and Wilson said the announcement of Reign was not a direct response to the public outcry.
“We know when we instill that amount of confidence and high expectation and [they] know how to get help when one needs it, we know we put our girls in the best situation,” Bowser said.
Reign will cost the school system $1 million in the first year. When DCPS unveiled the boys’ initiative in 2015, officials said they would spend $20 million over three years.
“We will continue to build. Once this is fully implemented, it will be the equivalent of what we are doing with our young men,” Wilson said.
Last week, Wilson spent a morning with H.E.R. Story, an all-girls group at Phelps Architecture, Construction and Engineering High School. The 13 girls told Wilson that the gathering of peers helped boost their confidence.
“I come from a neighborhood that most people call ‘ghetto,’ ” said Asia Newman, a 10th-grader. “But this has shown me I don’t have to be the stereotype of not going to college, or getting pregnant in high school. I can be better than that. I can go to college and make something of myself.”