The way Cindy Reuther sees it, there's plenty of attention on girls in school today.
Just not the right ones.
She thinks girls could do with less of tweener pop idol Hannah Montana and more of Laura Jeffrey.
"She had a couple of firsts," Reuther says. "She was one of the first African-American women to graduate from Macalester. She was a librarian in St. Paul. And because she was a librarian, she had a love of learning. And so, when we were thinking about who our namesake could be, we thought about all the big, famous women. And then we thought, wouldn't it be a wonderful opportunity for girls to research women in their own communities."
That's at the heart of the middle school Reuther is hoping to start in St. Paul this fall. It's meant for about 200 girls age 10 to 14.
It's a tough age, the school's founders say.
Tracy Pyscher is out recruiting staff for the school. She's a teacher in Minneapolis and sees first hand what happens to preteens. It's an age when girls start sorting out who they are, sometimes at the expense of their education.
"You look at what happens to girls by the age of 10, statistically. They lose an interest in physical activity. They lose an interest in science and math and technology thinking."
Organizers of Laura Jeffery Academy hope to fix that. They think separating the girls from their male counterparts and putting them in uniforms will eliminate some of the distractions and inhibitions girls suffer in co-ed schools.
It's an idea that's gaining traction all over the country and the Twin Cities. The number of schools offering single-sex classes has tripled since 2005.There are now nearly 300 of them.
In the Twin Cities, a half-dozen schools already offer classes that separate boys from girls.
But doubts about that idea have also grown.
"People are really looking for answers, particularly when it comes to racial achievement gaps," says Patricia Campbell, an education consultant near Boston. She was an expert witness in the landmark lawsuit against the once all-male Citadel military college in South Carolina.
“People are feeling that nothing has worked so far. And single sex education can often be seen as, if you'll pardon the expression, the cheap fix.”Pat Campbell, education consultant
"People are feeling that nothing has worked so far. And single sex education can often be seen as, if you'll pardon the expression, the cheap fix," she says.
There isn't any resounding scholarship showing kids do better in school separated by sex, she says. But there is consistent evidence that schools that focus on women and girls inevitably get less attention and fewer resources than schools for men and boys, Campbell says.
Separate but equal didn't work for black America and it won't work for women, either, she says.
In St. Paul, organizers at Laura Jeffrey Academy say they're up to the challenge.
They've earned a $230,000 grant from the Walton Family Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Wal-Mart's founders. They're also sponsored by the Audubon Center of the North Woods, which has sponsored nearly a dozen other schools already.
But the new school faces some daunting challenges, as well.
Seven months before classes start, they are still deciding on where the school will be located. They originally had planned to open two years ago. Their first information session, at a St. Paul library, drew only four prospective students.
The real obstacle, though, may strike at the heart of their mission.
State law doesn't permit enrollment based on gender, so organizers simply can't guarantee a single-gender student body.
They can only hope that parents and students will still buy in to her school's purpose if a boy decides to enroll, founder Cindy Ruether says.
"Teachers and school administrators every day are thrown balls. And this would be one that our community has talked about. And if that ball comes our way, it will influence and effect our education. Or not. The parents and the boy would have to look at the educational opportunity at Laura Jefferey Academy and decide if it was a good fit."
Parents of can find out more about the school this weekend. Organizers will have another informational meeting 10:30 this Saturday morning at the Rondo library in St. Paul.