La Salle High School in Pasadena will open its classroom doors to girls next year for the first time in its 33-year history, making it one of only two coeducational Catholic high schools in the San Gabriel Valley.
"It was mainly a desire we had to prepare our school for the next century," said Brother Philip Clarke, the school's principal.
"We were examining the types of things that we should take care of in terms of curriculum, programs, activities and sports, and when we examined all this, the obvious question came up of why we are remaining a single-sex school in this day and age," Clarke said.
Among the things that sparked the need for the examination, however, was the school's decline in enrollment over the past five years, Clarke said. The school has 320 students, only 64% of its capacity of 500.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday December 14, 1989 Home Edition Glendale Part J Page 3 Column 1 No Desk 1 inches; 31 words Type of Material: Correction
La Salle co-ed--A story in last week's Glendale section of The Times incorrectly stated when La Salle High School will become coeducational. The Pasadena boys' school will begin to admit girls in the 1991-92 school year.
La Salle hopes to attract 150 girls for the 1990-91 school year, Clarke said. Bishop Amat High School in La Puente also is co-ed.
In a survey commissioned by the school, parents of potential future students and alumni have said they would like a co-ed Catholic school in the area, Clarke said, and offering the choice between co-ed and single-sex education was a motivating factor in the decision.
"Single-sex for all students is probably not a good idea," said Clarke, who believes that single-sex schools provide positive learning atmospheres. "So the idea of having a choice where parents of students can choose single-sex or choose co-ed is an important factor for us. And in this area, that choice simply has not been available."
Both students and faculty have welcomed the decision, with the faculty giving almost unanimous support, Clarke said.
"We like the idea of the school going co-ed. It will add new dimensions to the school," said Tom Carter, a sophomore at La Salle.
The school plans to spend $500,000 in physical plant renovations and hire 10 more teachers over the next two years, bringing the faculty to 31.
La Salle is also planning to undergo less tangible changes in anticipation of the new students. The student government will visit co-ed schools to look into the types of social groups and activities necessary to accommodate the girls. Teachers will go through training to prepare them for the psychological and teaching adjustments necessary.
"Any time you introduce a dramatic change into an existing structure, that causes uncertainties, and it causes a certain amount of tension and a certain amount of worry that is there just because of the changes," Clarke said.
All of the teachers at La Salle have taught co-ed classes before, Clarke said. The Christian Brothers, which run La Salle, also own eight other high schools in California and Oregon. All eight either are co-ed or are considering it.
"Christian Brothers prefer" co-ed schools "to single-sex schools because the kids fit better into their present generation, they are prepared better for life than just in a single-sex school, according to our experience," Clarke said.
The decision by the Christian Brothers follows the announcement in early October that the Westlake School for girls on the Westside and the Harvard School for boys in North Hollywood, two prestigious private schools, will merge in the fall of 1991.
Parents of Westlake students have protested the merger, citing research showing that single-sex education may be beneficial for girls. Proponents of the Harvard-Westlake merger, however, contend that single-sex education is out of date and th!t, if Harvard were to go co-ed on its own, Westlake might not be able to survive financially.
The academic debate over the quality of a single-sex education as compared with a co-educational setting, however, has leaned towards the conclusion that, at least for girls, single-sex education is better.
In the 1960s and 1970s, social and economic reasons forced some single-sex schools to close or go co-ed. Single-sex education was viewed as a barrier to the successful socialization of adolescents, said Valerie Lee, professor at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
Lee's research, however, shows that in schools where students are of the same socioeconomic status, "single-sex schools seem to be advantageous to the women that attend them," and that for boys, "it doesn't seem to make much difference" whether they go to a co-ed or single-sex school.
For both boys and girls, she said, "all of the statistically significant single-sex school effects were positive" and there were "few negative effects."