Crim High to close under APS plan to restructure alternative programs

Alonzo A. Crim Open Campus High School in Atlanta.  Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner

Alonzo A. Crim Open Campus High School in Atlanta. Phil Skinner

Atlanta Public Schools could close Crim Open Campus High School as part of a plan to consolidate alternative programs that help students graduate instead of dropping out.

The district notified parents Thursday of the proposal to close Crim, which was converted in 2005 from a traditional high school to one that serves ninth- through 12th-graders who haven’t succeeded elsewhere or are seeking a different type of school setting.

Programs at Crim, West End Academy and the Atlanta Virtual Academy would be merged into one new school in a move aimed at being more efficient with resources and more effective for students, said Dan Sims, an associate superintendent in charge of non-traditional schools.

The board is expected to consider the plan March 4.

If approved, this would be the last year for Crim. The school was named for Alonzo Crim, Atlanta’s first black superintendent, who held the post from 1973 to 1988.

Current students would attend the restructured school in the fall. More than 70 employees, including 50 at Crim, would have to reapply for their jobs, though they would be given priority for job interviews.

Sims said he’s seen Crim and the two academies do “miraculous things” for students, and the district wants to create one framework with elements from all three.

The recommendation to close Crim disappointed Tamara Turner, whose daughter previously attended North Atlanta High School and enrolled at Crim to catch up on her courses. She’s now on track to graduate, Turner said.

At Crim, teachers and staff take time to get to know students, connect often with parents, and quickly respond to problems, she said. Turner serves as a parent representative on the school’s governance team and is sad that the students who come after her daughter won’t get the same experience.

“I know when that program gets consolidated, they are not going to get the same attention that they get at Crim. Their classes are going to be bigger. They are going to have new teachers,” she said. “I feel like crying right now because I’m just so upset. I can’t believe anybody would think this is a good idea.”

A couple of years ago, West End Academy moved onto the Crim campus, off Memorial Drive near the Kirkwood and Parkview neighborhoods. No decision has been made about where the district’s alternative education programs would be located if the consolidation plan is approved, said Superintendent Meria Carstarphen. She said the district also hasn’t decided what will happen to the Crim building.

She said the district will hold community meetings to get input on that and other key decisions. The board also is working on a facilities master plan which would provide guidance.

Sims said declining enrollment at Crim is one reason the district saw an opportunity to combine programs.

In October, Crim enrolled 207 students, according to state numbers. In 2010, it enrolled 560.

However, many more students come and go from the school throughout the year. The nature of the school, as a place where students have a second chance to earn a diploma, is one reason Crim’s student churn rate is among the highest in the district.

Over the last five years, the school’s four-year graduation rate has hovered between 6 and 12.7 percent.

West End Academy currently serves about 100 high school juniors and seniors, allowing them to complete credit hours and then return to their home school to get their diploma. Academy Principal Evelyn Mobley is being recommended as principal of the new, restructured school.

The academy uses online lessons, supervised by a teacher, that allow students to move at their own pace. Crim also uses that “blended learning” approach and has teachers who provide instruction, Sims said.

Alex Childers, 18, takes courses at West End and said he usually has only 10 to 15 students in his classes. He’ll be finished by the time any changes would take effect, but he wonders what effect the merger would have on small class sizes.

Sims said the goal of the proposed consolidation is to serve students better, though in a letter to parents announcing Crim’s pending closure he acknowledged that change isn’t easy.

“When they hear the word ‘close’ they think it’s a performance issue. It’s not. We’re excited about this opportunity,” he said.