Beech Hill Elementary School was among seven schools recognized statewide for their innovation in single-gender education programs earlier this week.

State Superintendent of Education Jim Rex made the award presentations during a one-day training workshop in Columbia.  More than 300 teachers from South Carolina and other states took part in intensive training aimed at helping them run more effective single-gender classrooms.  The Office of Public School Choice at the South Carolina Department of Education sponsored nearly 30 workshops.  

Award winners are Port Royal Elementary School (Beaufort County); Guinyard Elementary School (Calhoun County); Beech Hill Elementary School (Dorchester District 2); Carvers Bay High School (Georgetown County); Langston Charter Middle School (Greenville County); Dent Middle School (Richland District n and Kingstree Junior High School (Williamsburg County).    

South Carolina has been portrayed in recent national news reports as a pioneer in single-gender programs.  Jim Rex, who wants to expand curriculum choices within public schools, created the Office of Public School Choice and hired David Chadwell, the nationís first statewide single-gender coordinator, to help local districts get started.  About 90 South Carolina public schools currently offer the option to parents, and 100 additional schools are expected to do so next school year, many as partially autonomous operations within existing schools.

ìThese seven schools have shown us the kinds of positive things that are possible through this approach,î Rex said.  ìThey are role models for the nearly 200 schools that will offer single-gender schools next year.î  

Now in its third successful year, Beech Hillís single-gender program uses data and involves both parents and teachers.  Parents are surveyed to gather their input, and book studies extend additional opportunities for parents to learn and discuss gender differences.  Teachers are involved in on-going professional development at the school, within the state, and nationally.  

All schools with single-gender programs may apply for the awards.  An external reviewer evaluated the applications and the schools received site visits where focus group interviews were held with parents, students and teachers.  Classrooms also were visited and evaluated.

Girls and boys in South Carolinaís single-gender classrooms say their experiences have increased their confidence, class participation, desire to succeed in school and ability to succeed.  When more than 1,700 students responded to a recent Education Department survey, three out of four agreed that the single-gender approach was helping them in school.   

ìSouth Carolina students and parents are showing that they like this approach,î Rex said, ìand schools are responding by offering it.  Training workshops like next Saturdayís are one way that the Education Department can help schools become more effective.î

Rex supports legislation designed to increase the number and variety of choices available to students and their families.  A bill sponsored by Rep. Ted Pitts (R-Lexington) would create public school choice committees in the stateís local school districts, each charged with creating new curriculum choices at the elementary, middle and high school levels within two years.

Current curriculum choices across South Carolina include magnet programs, schools-within-schools, alternative schools, virtual schools and charter schools. Some of the stateís public school choice programs include single-gender initiatives, middle college/early college, Montessori education, evening high school, language immersion, academic academies, arts integration and international baccalaureate programs.

Last week Rex announced his agencyís hiring of a statewide Montessori coordinator, and he believes interest in that curriculum option also will be considerable.