AVALON PARK — South Side native and longtime educator Veriner James has big plans to bring a private all-girls school to the city’s Southwest Side.
The location of Exousia Leadership Academy for Girls, which aims to educate middle school and high school girls, isn't being revealed until plans are finalized. James has targeted a property but hasn't bought it yet. She wants to see the school open in fall of next year.
James, who has worked as a teacher for 15 years, holds a bachelor's degree in applied behavioral science from National Louis University, a master's in secondary education from the University of Phoenix and a second master's in school leadership from Concordia University. She’s working on obtaining her doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Phoenix.
Initially, her goal was to go into social work, she said, but she felt called by God to go into education.
“I didn’t choose education, education chose me,” James said. “It was a calling I could not ignore.”
She said after doing her research she couldn’t find one single-sex school strictly for middle-school-age girls.
There's a need for this type of school, she said.
"There's a demand, particularly for African-Americans, because we don’t have a school for our brown girls," James said. "This won't be like a traditional private school. We're bringing a fresh approach."
For James, this school will be a solution to saving girls from potentially going down the wrong path in life, James said. The school will use all methods to attract parents, she said.
“The idea is to catch them at that middle-school age, when they're still trying to find out who they are,” she said. “If we can get them at the age where they're most vulnerable, maybe we can be proactive in saving the lives of these young girls from going down the path of destruction.”
The school’s curriculum would center on science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics, and it will focus on more than just academics, she said.
“We want to focus on their social and emotional growth,” James said. “When I think of an all-girls school, I’m thinking about charm, life skills, etiquette, etc. We want to tap into every realm. So not only are they able to compete in the competitive world, but they’ll have skills.”
According to the National Education Association, female students are more comfortable answering questions and speaking their mind in class at all-girls schools. They're also more open to exploring "nontraditional" subjects for women such as math, science and technology.
According to an American Psychological Association study, single-sex education has been growing since the No Child Left Behind Act was passed in 2002 "allowing local educational agencies to use Innovative Programs funds to support same-gender schools and classrooms."
There are 96 single-sex public schools in the nation, according to the National Association for Single Sex Public Education. More than 445 public coed schools offer single-sex classrooms.
James said that in her experience in teaching, she's found it's best for young girls to have an environment just for them to learn, free of distractions.
Since the school will be private, she has to raise her own funding. In order to complete the first phase she is trying to raise $500,000 to buy a property and begin the renovation process.
She’s hosting an "Agents of Change" fundraising gala Saturday at 274 E. Ontario St. from 6-10 p.m. Cost is $75 per person. Keynote speaker is Olive Harvey College President Felicia Davis.
Tickets can be bought here.