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Alumni

Sister Schools

May-June 2004

Castilleja and Julia Morgan are only about 35 miles apart, but in many ways, the distance between the two California girls' schools seems much greater.

Julia Morgan, in Oakland, opened in 1999. Castilleja, in Palo Alto, will mark its centennial in 2007. Julia Morgan, bursting out of rented space at one college, will soon move into newly leased space on another college's campus. Castilleja, located in a pleasant residential neighborhood near Stanford University, has its own six-and-a-half-acre campus, including a large grassy courtyard, a pool, a sun-drenched art studio, 300 computers with high-speed Internet access, a director's residence, and a newly renovated administration center and theater. Castilleja's 415 middle- and high-school students wear uniforms; Julia Morgan's 146 sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-graders wear what they want, as long as their midriffs stay covered. For the 2003-2004 academic year, tuition, books, and fees were $14,650 at Julia Morgan; at Castilleja, the bill was nearly $8,000 more. (Both schools offer generous financial aid.)

Joan Z. Lonergan
Photography courtesy of Castilleja

And yet the schools are indistinguishable from each other in one key way: both are based on passionate belief in the value of single-sex education. "Our mission is to educate strong, independent young women who have a sense of themselves, who are confident and curious and resilient, girls who have a conscience, girls who value their community," says Joan Z. Lonergan, Ed.M. '84, Castilleja's head of school since 1993. She believes that's most likely to happen in a setting that is, as one Castilleja student wrote in a poem published in a school brochure, "completely de-guy-ified." "In a girls' school, there aren't any cheerleaders; everybody's an athlete. All the class officers are women," says Lonergan, herself a graduate of pre-coed Vassar College. "If you're a girl in a physics class where everybody else is a girl, you don't think, 'Well, this is something I shouldn't be doing.'"

Like many contemporary schools, Castilleja emphasizes math and science; nearly all students take classes in both subjects every year. (Course offerings include computer programming and robotics.) One hundred percent of its alumnae go on to college, with Stanford accepting about 20 percent of each year's graduating class. The school routinely hosts visits from well-known women: most recently, former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright stopped by. She opened her talk by telling students, "Don't put your hand up. Interrupt if you have something to say." They did.

Lonergan, who met with Julia Morgan's founders during their fact-finding days, cites experiences like that to rebut criticism that girls' schools don't prepare graduates for "the real world." "They're going to fare just fine," she says of her students. "They'll be able to negotiate their way in any environment."