Since its opening in 1993, Pinecrest Academy has gone from a small school of fewer than 30 students, to a small campus with separated buildings for male and female students, to their current sprawling campus layout, which has students of all ages attending classes in the same buildings separated by gender.
But the county’s largest private educator is headed towards some radical changes as they prepare to gender-integrate their high school classes for the first time.
According to new Head of School Ed Spurka, Pinecrest will integrate male and female students in its high school classrooms starting in the 2019-20 school year, with the exception of two classes: theology of the body and physical education and health.
In Spurka’s brief time in charge, he said the Pinecrest administration has been considering the idea of integrating their higher-level students, looking at data and studies, while talking to their stakeholders on what their expectations were.
“These whole last six months have been about clarifying what we do here at Pinecrest,” he said. “It wasn't just in the classroom, it was the school environment, and it was the social atmosphere.”
Spurka said that like other Catholic schools around the country pondering this same question, he and his staff wanted to know how they could better meet their students’ needs and whether going coed could help them do that.
At the time of Spurka’s hiring in July 2018, he said that about 35 percent of Pinecrest’s classes were coed, with over half of their courses with at least one section that was coed.
Spurka said they realized that in many cases mixing the classrooms would free their teachers up to offer more classes.
“We were putting our ninth-grade honors and on-level in the same classroom, by prioritizing separating our boys and girls,” he said. “So by making it coed, we could have a class straight for honors and a class straight for on-level.”
Spurka said that even though they still see the benefits of teaching boys and girls separately in some areas, they determined that by integrating their classrooms they will be able to focus on “each child's learning ability and put them in classes that are more appropriate academically for them” rather than lumping kids all together by gender.
After realizing that they needed to mix the classrooms, Spurka and his staff took the data to parents, teachers, staff, students and the school’s founding families to get their input and see if it was something they actually wanted.
Overwhelmingly, the stakeholders agreed with Spurka and welcomed the change, he said.
“When I started talking with our teachers about some of the things we could do if we went to more coed, we had over 98 percent of our teachers in the high school that voted to become coed,” he said.
According to Spurka, one thing that they repeatedly heard from the 77 percent of parents who responded positively about the change was the fact that integration would prepare students for higher education — not just getting into college, but what life would be like at that school.
“Which is a really, really big thing for us in our school,” he said. “We think it'll be a better thing, preparing our kids to be college- and career-ready when they leave Pinecrest.”