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149629634Southfield Public Schools announced Thursday wide-ranging changes at the high school level — including separate classes for some boys and girls in core subjects — that officials say will help the district improve the way it meets the needs of its increasingly transient population.

A quarter of the ninth-graders who enter high schools in the district are enrolling in the district for the first time. And teachers are finding many of these students are behind academically. The redesign is aimed at addressing that issue.

The changes being announced are not new, but few districts try so many at one time.

“What we wanted is a systemic jolt to the system,” Southfield Superintendent Wanda Cook-Robinson said. “We all know the traditional high school needed to change.”

The changes, which go into effect for the 2013-14 school year, include:

• Create an eighth-grade academy at University High School Academy, a college preparatory school that students must pass an exam to attend, as a way to help prepare eighth-graders who want to enroll in the high school program. An eighth-grade academy also will be created at Southfield Regional Academic Campus (SRAC), the district’s alternative program for high school students who are struggling. It will provide an opportunity for younger students who are struggling to get the help they need.

• Separate classes in math, language arts, science and social studies by gender for students in grades 8-10 at SRAC and for ninth-graders at Southfield High School.

• Create separate wings for ninth-graders at Southfield High and Southfield-Lathrup High School.

• Boost counseling and mentoring support for all freshmen.

The focus, Cook-Robinson said, is on kids and their needs. That’s one of the reasons the district is piloting the gender-separate classes, because some research has found students fare better academically when they are in split classes.

Southfield High principal Michael Horn said he has seen gender-separated classes work successfully — first when he was principal at Brace-Lederle K-8 School in the district and for a year when he took on the principal’s job at Southfield High eight years ago.

“Students are more focused,” Horn said.

He expects the high school changes will make a big difference at his school. There, freshmen have the most discipline referrals, most tardiness, and are the lowest achieving.

“We need to make this transition,” Horn said.

Ninth-graders typically have a difficult time transitioning from eighth grade to the high school. Horn said having them concentrated in one wing of the school — what they’re calling a house — will help.

“If they have their own area, they bond quicker. And I think it will pay dividends down the road when they’re juniors and seniors.”

This article originally published in The Detroit Free Press

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