New school claims its place

In a beautiful, old building on N. Kingshighway in north St. Louis, a new school will leave its mark on Missouri history.

Hawthorn Leadership School for Girls, in partnership with Washington University in St. Louis, has set its sights on an old school building in the Kingsway West neighborhood as the spot for Missouri’s first, single-gender public school. An idea that began in the head and heart of Mary Danforth Stillman, daughter of Sen. John Danforth and niece of former Washington University Chancellor William H. Danforth, has quickly gained momentum among community members.

The location choice is no accident. According to the Quality School Assessment conducted by the Illinois Facilities Fund (IFF), Hawthorn’s building falls in a zip code ranked among the top six zip codes in St. Louis city most in need of quality middle schools. Hawthorn principal Robyn Wiens, EdD, said that one of Hawthorn’s goals is to provide high-quality, single-gender education to families that would not otherwise have access to it. Hawthorn will open with a 6th and 7th grade in the fall of 2015, adding a new grade each year until it is fully enrolled as a middle and high school in 2020.

Wiens said that they have already held three information sessions for prospective families, events that have been well attended and have generated excitement from all over the city of St. Louis.

“The spirit in which parents are talking about Hawthorn has crystallized for me that they believe in getting the best education for their daughters and that Hawthorn is the means in which to do that,” Wiens said.

In addition to the informational session for parents, Wiens said that their first prospective teacher session drew 35 educators from the area that were interested in learning more about Hawthorn and its mission.

As an affiliate of the Young Women’s Leadership Network (YWLN), Hawthorn takes its cues from an organization with a proven track record in single gender education. YWLN has five schools and 11 affiliates nationwide. Since 1996, the organization has seen tremendous success, striving to help improve college access to low-income students, a group where only 8 percent of young adults earn a college degree. According to its website, YWLN has generated more than $106 million in financial aid to make college affordable for low-income students. Some of their schools have even seen 100 percent of their seniors accepted into college programs.

Wien hopes that Hawthorn will also achieve this type of success. “I don’t want our students to feel painted into a corner,” Wiens said. “I want to ensure that when students graduate they have choices of colleges, choices of what majors to pursue and choices in what employment they want to seek.”

Vicki May, executive director of the Institute for School Partnership (ISP), said that the university is excited to be a part of an initiative that is meeting a real need in the city of St. Louis.

“The ISP has a vision to see the equal distribution of quality education and an improvement in college access throughout St. Louis, but we know that we cannot do it alone,” May said. “Only through partnerships like the one with Hawthorn can we hope to give every student the education he or she deserves.”

December 2014   |   by, Gennafer Barajas