The Missouri Board of Education on Tuesday approved the charter school application for Tessera Hall Academy, which would become the second public school in Missouri to serve only girls when it opens in 2016.
The school is being organized by graduates and board members of the former St. Elizabeth Academy, which had been the second-oldest Catholic school in the city when it closed its doors in 2013. Its diverse student body had grown too small for the school to remain open and financially viable.
Immediately, a group of alumnae began organizing and raising funds to keep the mission of the St. Elizabeth Academy alive — service and academics — even if it meant dropping its Catholic affiliation.
Many of the same values that defined St. Elizabeth will also define Tessera Hall, said Jane Keuss, co-founder and board member.
The courses will be rigorous and college preparatory. There will be a strong focus on civic responsibility, ethics and leadership. It will be school where girls “are limited only by their imagination,” Keuss said.
According to its charter application, the school will work to attract a diverse group of girls who are being underserved at low-performing middle and high schools.
Tessera will open with sixth and seventh grades. It will add one grade level a year through 12th grade, with up to 614 students.
A site has not been finalized. Keuss said it will be in south St. Louis, within one of the seven ZIP codes the school will draw from. The University of Missouri-St. Louis is the sponsor.
In August, Hawthorn Leadership School for Girls opened on North Kingshighway, becoming the only public school in Missouri to serve only girls. It also is a charter school — a tuition-free public school that operates with state funds, but independently of the school district.
Hawthorn’s focus is giving girls a strong foundation in science, technology, engineering and math education to put them in the pipeline for high-paying STEM jobs down the road.
Single-sex education in public schools became illegal in 1972 with the passage of Title IX, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex.
Then in 2001, U.S. Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison and Hillary Clinton wrote an amendment to the No Child Left Behind Act that made single-sex education in public schools legal again.
In 2002, only about a dozen public schools across the country offered single-gender classrooms. Now there are more than 500, according to the National Association of Single Sex Public Education. A much smaller number of schools have entire student bodies that are either all-girls or all-boys.
Critics say the approach promotes gender stereotypes and fails to prepare students for a world where both sexes work together.
But advocates say it removes many obstacles that keep girls from achieving in science and math and that it engages boys who otherwise would sit in the back of the class.
“Most of us have been educated in a single-gender school,” Keuss said. “We just feel it is such a freeing and empowering environment in which to learn.”