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Boys' School to Admit Girls in 1991

April 29, 1990|MARC LACEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In a major break from tradition, Junipero Serra High School in Gardena is planning to add pink tiles to one of its locker rooms, romance novels to its library and, most important, girls to its all-male student body.

"Serra Men," as the more than 4,000 graduates of the 40-year-old Roman Catholic school are known, will become "Serra Men and Women" after the school enrolls its first female students in the fall of 1991.

Principal James Crowell, himself a 1970 Serra graduate, began pursuing coeducation about two years ago when the school's enrollment began declining significantly and it became clear that Serra was losing potential students to coeducational parochial schools in Torrance and Playa del Rey. From 1986 to this school year, Serra's enrollment has dropped from 520 to an all-time low of 266.

"An all-boy school is really a holdover from the past," said Crowell, who spent 14 years at Serra as a teacher and dean before becoming principal last year.

Serra's boys are enthusiastic about the change.

"The guys are in favor of it," said Kenny Davis, student body president and a star Serra basketball player. He said it will be strange to return to Serra after graduating this year and "see young ladies walking around."

Serra already has three all-girl sister schools in Compton, Inglewood and Los Angeles, which provide cheerleaders for Serra games and whose students are invited to Serra dances. But the boys said that having girls on campus all day will be different.

"It will give us a chance to mingle a little bit and not just look at other guys," said Christopher Rogers, 16, a junior who will graduate before the girls arrive. "I think the guys may be more mature. You can't act like a fool in front of a girl."

Not everyone is so enthusiastic about the change.

"There is enough time after they graduate from high school to start mingling with girls," said Shirley Smith, who heads Serra's parent-teacher organization. "They'll be doing that for the rest of their lives. I guess I'm a little old-fashioned about that."

Smith said she supports the move only because Serra's future may be at stake.

The new shower tiles and reading material are just a couple of the ideas Crowell has to prepare the school for coeducation. Serra will also renovate four bathrooms for the female students and hold special workshops for teachers and current students to help them adjust to the new arrivals.

Archdiocesan officials have not yet determined whether Serra will admit girls gradually over four years, starting with the freshman class next year, or completely integrate all four grade levels at once. The former option, school officials said, might lessen the impact on area all-girls schools, which could lose students to Serra.

"We're a girl's school and we stress that," said an administrator at St. Mary's Academy in Inglewood who declined to discuss Serra's change to coeducation. "If this is the kind of education they want, they'll go here."

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