Chicagoans, are you familiar with Hales Franciscan High School? Even if you know nothing about the school, the name should sound familiar to almost any resident of Illinois. Perhaps it is best known for one of its former teachers. Jack Ryan, a wealth investment banker (and self made millionaire at Goldman Sachs), left his wildly successful financial career so he could give back to society by becoming a teacher at Hales Franciscan in Chicago. Ryan's inspirational story lead to him becoming a major candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2003, until the media unsealed his divorce records and he was forced to quit the Senate race. (The rest of the story is familiar to everyone else in America: the Illinois U.S. Senate race was then won by a then little known “rising star” named Barack Obama)
Aside from its famous former teacher, however, there's a very interesting story to Hales Franciscan in its own right. Hales is a private, 4-year Roman Catholic high school in located at 4930 S. Cottage Grove Ave in the Bronzeville neighborhood on the south side of Chicago. Since its founding in 1962, Hales has primarily been a school dedicated to instilling academic excellence in black students from the south side of Chicago (mainly from Englewood, Chatham, Auburn-Gresham, Bronzeville, Washington Heights, and Woodlawn). It has been extremely successful in that goal, as over 99% of the school's graduates go on to be admitted to the colleges and universities, many of them top-tier colleges. Today, the school continues to be the only historically African-American, all-male, Catholic college preparatory high school in the State of Illinois and one of three such institutions in the nation. During 2013-2014 school year, all of this remains intact except for one minor difference: as of last month, Hales is no longer an “all male” institution.
Yes, that's right, Hales is going co-ed. The new policy went into effect August 19, and the new incoming class now has 12 girls among its 125 students. 8 of them are freshmen, and the remainder are sophomores and juniors transferring in from another school. Because there are just a small number of girls enrolling this year, only minor modifications had to be made to the school's structure, but more may come in the future. For now, the girls will be wearing the same dress uniforms as the boys (black pants and Hales polo shirts in the warm-weather months and black pants, white shirts, ties and Hales sweater vests in the winter), and female athletes will compete in cross country and track, because it’s fairly simple to integrate the girls’ and boys’ programs. There is already a woman's bathroom on campus to accommodate female staff members, and the female students will be using it until enough female students are enrolled to justify building additional female restrooms.
Making the school co-ed is not without precedent, as De La Salle Institute was a similarly all-boys Catholic High School on the south side of Chicago (at 3434 S. Michigan Ave.), when it began admitting girls in 2002. But unlike De La Salle, where girls attend classes at a separate campus at 1040 W. 32nd Place, boys and girls will share classrooms at Hales. This has lead to some controversy, and some Hales alumni, as well as some faculty, are not happy about the change. Opponents of the change argue that having girls in the classroom could be a distraction for boys and cause them to lose focus with their studies, whereas proponents argue that the real world is not single sex, and that having girls on campus will teach valuable lessons in manners and make the boys behave like gentlemen in front of their teachers.
Although Hales prides itself on small classrooms sizes and careful enrollment standards, it nevertheless suffered from a problem of low enrollment in recent years. The school considered various ways of getting its usual enrollment levels back up, including the possibility of changing admission quotas, adding seventh and eighth grades, or shrinking classrooms, before finally deciding that admitting girls to Hales would be the best option. Many parents are very pleased with the announcement, as they wanted their daughters to have access to the safe, quality learning environment Hales offers, and were not satisfied with the options of the local public schools in the neighborhood.
Still, Catholic High Schools going co-ed has always been a very polarizing issue, and one in which I am not going to offer my opinion on. What do you think, my faithful readers? Did Hales make the right choice?