State hires single-gender school official
When Beech Hill Elementary teachers and administrators began pondering the idea of single-gender classes in 2005, they had no one to turn to for help.
So faculty took it upon themselves to purchase books, find research materials, and investigate positives and negatives of separate classes for boys and girls.
Single-gender classes have thrived at Beech Hill — in the fall, the Dorchester District 2 school will offer optional single-gender classes for those in second through fifth grade — but help is on the way for other schools examining the concept.
Columbia educator David Chadwell joined the S.C. Department of Education's staff last week to begin coaching school districts on how to create single-gender programs.
With Chadwell's hiring, South Carolina became the first state in the nation to employ an education official solely devoted to single-gender education.
Beech Hill Principal Babette Jennings said Chadwell's hiring brings instant credibility at the state level to schools that are already offering single-gender classes.
She said schools now making the switch will have a more seamless transition with guidance from Chadwell, who previously served as a lead teacher for single-gender classes at Dent Middle School in Richland District 2.
"I wish we had David when we first started," Jennings said. "There was no one for us to ask questions to and we were the only elementary school in the state doing single-gender to our extent."
Chadwell is organizing training sessions to inform interested schools about single-gender classes and to help teachers learn how to teach boys and girls differently.
Research shows that boys prefer hands-on, active lessons, while girls perform better in a lecture-style setting where they are free to ask questions without worry
of boys poking fun at them.
Chadwell plans to work with several Lowcountry schools before the start of the upcoming school year and explain these strategies in greater detail.
State Superintendent of Education Jim Rex has ambitious goals to bring single-gender classes, Montessori programs and other innovative choices into South Carolina schools, Chadwell said.
Chadwell said he agrees with Rex that the state can become a national leader in
the field of public school choice.
His travel itinerary during the next few months will take him to several local schools, including Charleston's St. Andrew's Middle.
When students returned to school after the winter holiday last year, the West Ashley school switched all core classes to the single-gender model, Principal Benjamin Bragg said.
Discipline referrals dramatically dropped and the school's test scores rose once boys and girls were separated for English, math, social studies and science, he said.
Chadwell provided assistance during St. Andrew's transition last year, and he can give even more guidance to teachers this year with his new state role, Bragg said.
"He'll be reassuring us how to continue teaching differently and providing us with references," Bragg said. "Change is always difficult and even though we've seen great success so far, we still welcome the outside support."