Six years ago Mary Stillman attended a lecture by Ann Tisch at Washington University.
“That was my ah-ha moment,” Stillman recalls. “Here she is talking about this group of public schools for girls who wouldn’t otherwise have this model of education and it’s working.”
Tisch is the founder of the Young Women’s Leadership Network, which operates a network of all-girls public schools and boasts a 93 percent graduation rate at its flagship institution in East Harlem.
Four years later, Stillman, who is the daughter of former U.S. Sen. John Danforth, began laying the groundwork for an all-girls charter school focused on STEM education -- science, technology, engineering and mathematics. And if all goes according to plan, the Hawthorn Leadership School for Girls will open its doors in August 2015 for sixth and seventh graders. It hopes eventually to expand to serve 500 girls through 12th grade by 2020.
“Our focus is going to be on STEM, which is an area where women, particularly young women, are underrepresented both in academia and in the workplace,” Stillman said. “We are really excited about getting girls involved in hands on ways, with an innovative curriculum, to get them excited about those areas.”
The Hawthorn Leadership School for Girls would be the first college preparatory charter school of its kind in St. Louis. Washington University will be its sponsor; it will also help train its teachers, provide student tutors and mentors and develop its curriculum. Washington University currently sponsors the KIPP Inspire Academy, a middle school in the Fox Park neighborhood.
To reinforce the learning in what's being designed as a collaborative environment, the school will offer after-school and summer programs; it also hopes to develop stronger ties with the community. Students will be required to wear uniforms and meet daily with a faculty advisor.
“Our mission is to provide a wonderful education to young women in St. Louis, with something that is tuition free and open to all,” Stillman said.
The school has garnered support from St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay’s office and is awaiting a review from the mayor’s charter application process in January. The Greater St. Louis Community Foundation will chip in as the school’s fiscal sponsor during the planning phase.
The Hawthorn Leadership School for Girls will also be affiliated with YWLN, which has nine affiliate schools in Illinois, Texas, Maryland and New York.
“We will import some of those best practices and really turn to them for support,” Stillman said.
Stillman said that they will step up fund-raising efforts and begin looking for a location and a principal this spring. Before the school can open, it must also be approved by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
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