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California and the West

Wilson Hails Same-Sex Public Schools

Education: He says Fountain Valley facility is 'clearly working' and announces plans to double number of such academies next year.


FOUNTAIN VALLEY — Flanked by youngsters at the Single Gender Academies, Gov. Pete Wilson on Wednesday announced plans to double the number of same-sex academies to 24 statewide.

Wilson said he has earmarked $5 million in his 1998-99 budget proposal to open more single-gender schools and support those already operating. That would match the amount allocated for the program this school year.

"In the budget for next year, we're going to build upon what is clearly working in Fountain Valley," Wilson said.

Of the money, $3 million would be used to start new academies, and $2 million would support the first dozen--six pairs that are scattered across the state.

The premise behind the experiment is that boys and girls in seventh through 12th grades learn more effectively free of some of the distractions and social pressures that come with adolescence.

The Orange County Department of Education was granted $500,000 of the state funding for this school year to launch the Single Gender Academies, which opened Dec. 1 in a Harbor Boulevard office park. About 70 boys and girls are enrolled now, and the facility will accommodate as many as 160.

Boys and girls attend classes at different times, so they rarely see each other.

"Girls are now free to be intellectually curious. They're exploring the worlds of science and computers," Wilson said. "Boys, I am told, seem more focused on their academics."

While most of the state's single-gender academies opened enrollment to all students, Orange County decided to offer the program to students who had been in trouble with the law, were not performing well in school and were at risk of dropping out.

Those involved in the Fountain Valley program say the format seems to be working.

"This is one of the programs that keep kids in school," said John F. Dean, Orange County superintendent of schools.

Besides the advantage of gender separation, the Fountain Valley academies offer small classes and up-to-date computer and video equipment.

The program "has set a great precedent, not only in the state but in the nation," said state Education Secretary Marian Bergeson, who joined the governor and his wife, Gayle, at the campus Wednesday.

Schools must apply for grants to participate in the program. Locations of new academies will be determined after funding is approved, said Karen Humphrey, a consultant with the state Department of Education.

Following up on last week's State of the State address, Wilson also used the Orange County stop to tout his proposal for "opportunity scholarships" that would allocate $52 million to help 15,000 students enrolled in California's worst-performing schools transfer to private, parochial or other public schools.

Wilson repeated his support for an expanded school year and continuation of the class-size reduction program in the primary grades. He also called for construction of new schools and improvement of existing ones, both items included in his budget proposal.

In his 90-minute tour, Wilson heard firsthand how the experiment is going, not just from the teachers and administrators but also from students.

"We don't have the kind of boy-girl arguments that are common in regular schools," said Kendal Reynolds, 15.

Christina Le, 17, of Fountain Valley said: "We don't have to worry about how we look when we go to school. We're able to concentrate on our work here."

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