APS plan to close Crim, revamp alternative ed brings questions

Alonzo A. Crim Open Campus High School as shown on Jan. 11, 2019.

Alonzo A. Crim Open Campus High School as shown on Jan. 11, 2019.

A plan to combine Atlanta’s alternative education programs and close a non-traditional high school has prompted concerns about how many teachers and staff would remain to help hundreds of students in danger of dropping out.

The Atlanta school board will vote March 4 on a proposal to close Crim Open Campus High School. The ninth- through 12th-grade school would be merged with two other alternative education programs, the online Atlanta Virtual Academy and West End Academy, which allows juniors and seniors catch up on credits and return to their home school to graduate.

About 350 students attend the three programs. In their place, Atlanta Public Schools would launch a new non-traditional school that is expected to operate, at least for next year, in the current Crim building off Memorial Drive.

District administrators tout the proposed merger as a way to put all alternative education services under one umbrella and better guide students to the learning format that best fits them.

APS also said it would save an estimated $1.6 million annually.

Roughly 70 employees, about half of whom are teachers, would be required to reapply for their jobs. Most of the anticipated savings would come from rehiring fewer teachers and staff, though the district has not announced how many positions it will cut.

Eliminating employees is a top worry of Rodderick Jackson, a foster parent of a child at West End and another at Crim. He appreciates the staff’s one-on-one attention, from explaining transcripts to sparking a love of learning.

“The staff at both schools have like family relationships with the students. They know them by name, they know their habits. And, I don’t get emails; I get phone calls. I get phone calls immediately,” he told school board members, during a Tuesday meeting about the proposal.

No one spoke during an official public-comment period. During a more informal question-and-answer session, one of a dozen or so employees of those programs in the audience asked how many teachers will be needed next year. The district has yet to answer that question.

Deputy Superintendent David Jernigan said APS wants to maintain smaller class sizes, which are especially beneficial for non-traditional students who need extra social services and academic help.

In an earlier interview, he said the restructured school won’t need as many administrators. Crim has two assistant principals, and West End Academy has one.

West End principal Evelyn Mobley has been recommended to lead the new school. Jernigan said Tuesday that she will be “looking for the very best to be on this team.”

Current employees would be given the priority for interviews if they apply for positions at the new school. If the board approves the consolidation, staff members would know about their job status by April 1.

APS has required employees to reapply for their jobs before as part of efforts to improve struggling schools. When the district did so in 2018 at Perkerson Elementary School, a third of the teachers were rehired.

The alternative education merger is just one way the district is reworking high school programs. It will open a college and career academy in 2020, and non-traditional students would be able to take courses there in aviation mechanics, dental science and other fields.

APS has scheduled one more public hearing on its alternative school plan for 6 p.m. Feb. 27 at the Tuskegee Airmen Global Academy, 1654 South Alvarado Terrace SW.