GRAND BOULEVARD — Eight girls have signed up to be part of Hales Franciscan High School's first coed class. But the five freshmen girls now registered won't be mingling much with the boys.
When the school year begins at 8 a.m. Monday, ninth-grade girls will take classes and eat lunch separately from boys. Sophomores, juniors and seniors will have coed classes and lunches.
In July, the school's Board of Trustees voted to open admission at the formerly all-boys private school at 4930 S. Cottage Grove Ave. to girls as a way to boost enrollment, said Jeffrey Gray, president of Hales.
"Last school year our enrollment was 125, and we hope to increase that number to 160 this school year," Gray said. "The first year is often the hardest year for students, and we want freshmen to get adjusted to high school [first] before mixing them all together."
Eight girls had registered to attend Hales as of Tuesday, according to Hales Principal Erica Brownfield, and five are incoming freshmen.
"Every day girls are registering," Brownfield said. "The school could hold up to 400 students, but 300 would be ideal for us. But we will not be accepting seniors, which has been our tradition for years."
Alumni expressed mixed feelings about the idea of the school going coed.
"Had it not been for Hales being an all-boys school, I doubt if I would have done so well in school," said Kenneth Johnson, who lived in Bronzeville when he graduated from Hales in 2009 but now resides in Iowa.
Sean Jernigan, 22, graduated in May from Northern Ohio University with a bachelor's in communications and credits Hales for preparing him for college.
However, "Having girls in the classroom could be a distraction for boys and cause them to lose focus with their studies," Jernigan said.
Annual tuition at Hales is $7,500, which is less than most private high schools on the South Side, according to Gray. Tuition at Leo Catholic High School in Auburn Gresham; St. Rita of Cascia in Ashburn; Mount Carmel High School in Woodlawn; and De La Salle Institute in Bronzeville exceeds $9,000 annually.
A $15 million capital campaign at Hales was started in 2006 to improve the school's facilities, and NBA Hall of Famer Michael Jordan donated $5 million to the campaign in 2007. Since the campaign started the school has renovated its football stadium and classrooms and built a chemistry lab.
Even though the campaign is no longer running, Brownfield said the school continues to fundraise to keep its doors open.
Jordan, who was unavailable for comment, previously said he was encouraged to donate because of the academic success it had achieved with black boys.
Since opening in 1962, Hales has served a predominately black student body from neighborhoods including Englewood, Chatham, Auburn Gresham, Bronzeville, Washington Heights and Woodlawn, Brownfield said.