The Girls Athletic Leadership School (GALS), an all-girls charter school in West Denver, has plans to grow both in Denver and in cities across the country.
The Los Angeles Unified School District will vote later this month on whether to open a brand-new GALS middle school in 2016, and GALS’ leadership in Denver is researching the possibility of opening an all-boys school in Denver.
GALS opened in Denver in 2010. The school currently enrolls 280 students — all girls — in grades 6 through 9, and plans to eventually enroll 600 students in middle and high school. GALS is in the midst of doubling the size of its school building.
Plans for an all-boys school in Denver are still in early stages, but a new task force assembled by the school’s leadership and board is studying the possibility.
Chalkbeat talked with GALS founder Liz Wolfson about why the school is considering expanding, the purpose of an all-boys school, and more. The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Why an all-boys school?
There are practical reasons and then there are philosophical reasons.
GALS was founded on an assumption that we can create a more civil society in the world by ensuring that as many young women as possible understand that they have access to all opportunities and that we can break the clear ceilings that exist in all industries for women.
Philosophically, you can’t change society by only working on women. The philosophy of GALS is based on healthy relationships.
There’s a clear, direct path from education to behavior and relationships that create a more dynamic, inclusive society. This is just our piece of adding our choice option to portfolio of schools that exist.
What boys deal with in schools is just as sensational as what’s going on for girls, in terms of achievement in schools but most importantly in terms of who they are in the world. The messages boys are receiving through public culture today are really disempowering. They need real attention in terms of knowing who they are and feeling that they matter just as they are.
Practically, now that GALS has developed this strong program around health, wellness, and gender, one could argue that a boy doesn’t have that choice, especially with Sims-Fayola [an all-boys public school in the district] closing.
Why does that learning for boys and girls have to take place in a single-gender environment?
We’re honoring the journey of adolescence, so each gender has a chance to fully become themselves before they go into the natural organic stages of socialization, romance, interconnectedness.
It’s about honoring the reality that our public culture hypersexualizes boys and girls and hyperinflates issues of who you’re supposed to be based on a girl in a bikini and a guy watching football. The idea’s to slow that down and allow boys and girls to figure out who they are first…
All we’re saying is, we want healthy interaction, but most importantly we want kids to know who they are.
What’s most important for boys is not always the same as what’s important for girls. Empowerment isn’t the issue, it’s about finding your voice and recognizing that you don’t have to be Superman to be valued and impactful.
What are your plans for expansion outside of Denver?
We’re in the process of putting together our strategic plan for national expansion. The vision from the get-go was to be in four or five distinct geographic regions across the country, with the idea that we want to put out a next generation of girls who have been through our schooling.
We’re not looking to expand like KIPP, or to dominate a single city. We’re looking to hit the discourse around equity around the country.
We’re not going to be a CMO [charter management organization] like DSST or STRIVE, where there’s a central office. It will be a series of place-based organizations, and the directors of each will be on the board of the national GALS.
There are a number of cities we’re interested in: Baton Rouge, Rhode Island, Indianapolis, Seattle Tacoma. We believe it’s not about whether we’re interested, it’s what’s going on locally and do we have the leadership to make it happen.
What does your staff look like? Are your teachers mostly female?
I think our staff looks like every staff. The research shows it’s important to put role models of every shape color and age in front of students.
One thing is that we want role models of different ages. The idea that you can continually fill staff with just 23-year-olds…the bottom line is, a 23-year old has a different perspective than a 45-year-old. We want both. We also look for diversity of staff to match the kids in the school.