As Fort Worth opens all-girls school, it's books and backpacks, but no boys

FORT WORTH -- Darren Johnson escorted his daughter to her new school Monday morning.

He lingered after the morning bell rang, making sure Shelby settled in. Like many parents at the Young Women's Leadership Academy, Johnson was particularly grateful for one thing: no boys.

"It's a great opportunity for my daughter to advance here without distractions," Johnson said. "It's a long drive for us from the Forest Hill area, but it's worth it. And that just gives us more father-daughter time."

The school opened Monday with 150 sixth- and seventh-graders and will add a grade each year through high school. It is among a handful of all-girl public schools in Texas, including those in Austin, Dallas, San Antonio and Lubbock.

The Fort Worth school district converted its former adult education center on West Magnolia Avenue for the school, which will focus on math, science and technology education. Students applied to attend.

Seventh-grader Catherine Sherri said she wanted to go to the academy to focus on academics and avoid the silliness that comes with boys and girls socializing. She was also excited about the school's small classes.

"Boys can be so immature, especially the older they get," Catherine said. "To create an all-girls school, well, I think that is brilliant."

Alisha Sharp, 11, admitted that she missed her jeans but said wearing a uniform isn't so bad because she doesn't have to worry about picking an outfit. The sixth-grader said going to a brand-new school means she can help shape its identity.

"I hope we can start some cool clubs and have sports for girls who like that," she said.

Principal Mia Hall spent months getting the school ready, selecting curriculum, hiring the staff and following up on hundreds of details. But the highest priority was building a sense of community even before the doors opened, she said.

In July, students and teachers attended a two-day summer camp at Journey on Lake Texoma, which incorporates traditional summer activities with science lessons.

"We climbed rock walls together, learned how to use GPS and roasted s'mores," Hall said. "I wanted our girls to learn how to be a team and cheer each other on."

District officials spent years studying single-gender schools and visited several in New York and Texas. A private donation let Fort Worth open the academy.

Superintendent Melody Johnson hopes that an all-boys school isn't far behind.

"I hope a year from now we can get the boys academy, but we'll see how the money goes and where space is available to have it," Johnson said.

Eva-Marie Ayala, 817-390-7700