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Viewpoint: Top academic performers -- Where are the boys?

I grew up listening to the likes of Elvis, Fats Domino and Connie Francis. Yes, this makes me old, but that isn't the point here. One of Connie Francis best songs was "Where the Boys Are."

For some strange reason this song came to mind as I sat on the stage last week taking part in the Senior Awards event at Park High School, except I needed to change the words around to "Where are the boys?"

Principal Efe Agbamu, was reading off the names of the top ten academic performers in the class of 2009. Every single one was a female student.

They are very accomplished, talented young women with very bright futures. They are making plans to attend top notch four year institutions and to pursue careers like biomedical engineer, medical doctor, physical therapist, chemical engineer, nurse and the list goes on.

These young women have left their mark on Park High School and soon will be making a positive contribution to our society.

I was very proud of their accomplishments and certainly do not want to take anything away from their hard work, but I couldn't help but think, "Where are the boys?"

Maybe, I thought, just maybe, this was not the norm. Maybe having ten young women ranked as the top ten in the class of 2009 at Park High School was just a happening.

The next day, I put in a call to Principal Linda Plante at Woodbury High School and I asked her to tell me who was in the top ten academic performers in the class of 2009 at Woodbury High School.

I was informed that seven, including the top two, were female and three were males. Principal Plante informed me if we went further down the list the female dominance was even more pronounced.

Again I thought, "Where are the boys?"

We have as our Assistant Superintendent for Teaching, Learning and Assessment in the South Washington County Schools one of the leading assessment professionals in the State of Minnesota, Dr. Rick Spicuzza. I went to his office for an explanation of why our male students were not performing as well as our female students.

He informed me that a significant reading gap has developed between our females and our males. We all know how important reading is to success in school and our females are doing much better in reading.

We used to have a gap in math and science where males outperformed females. This gap has all but disappeared over time as our society raised expectations and opportunities for young women.

So, "Where are the boys?" I am sure you can get hundreds of differing opinions.

Are we letting young men off the hook these days with low expectations? Is it enough to compete in athletics, but not in the classroom? What role do technology and video games play in lower reading scores?

This is where my dad would say, "No excuses, if you don't like the results, then work harder."

I don't have the answers. My goal here is to raise a significant concern in the academic performance of young males.

This is not to take anything away from the outstanding performance of our young women. It would be to the benefit of society for everyone to perform at their highest potential.

It will be important to everyone in the school district and in the community to help reassure our male students that education is important, that everyone needs to do their best and should strive to be at the top of their class.

Our future depends on the success of every child regardless of their sex or their race or their socioeconomic status.

This is the final column I will write as the ISD 833 Superintendent of Schools. I am set to retire at the end of June after four years with the South Washington County Schools.

I am very proud of this school district. It is one of the best districts in Minnesota.