New School to Provide Affordable, Private, Christian Education

By Eric Smith

COMING SOON: The Collegiate School of Memphis - an independent, urban, Christian college-preparatory school - will open this fall on the site of Highland Heights Baptist Church in the Berclair neighborhood. -- Rendering Courtesty Of Fleming/Associates/Architects Pc

Parents soon will have a new educational choice for their children as the Collegiate School of Memphis - an independent, urban, Christian college preparatory school - prepares to open this fall.

Anonymous donors have funded the creation of the school, which will be housed on the site of Highland Heights Baptist Church, 675 National Ave., in the Berclair neighborhood.

CSM is beginning a $5 million interior renovation of 90,000 square feet at Highland Heights, said John Avis, a former teacher and administrator for Memphis City Schools and Briarcrest Christian School, who heads CSM.

The renovation includes 70,000 square feet of an existing three-story educational building at the church for classroom and office space, and 20,000 square feet of an existing two-story gymnasium.

The school soon will begin accepting online applications, and it will grant financial aid to students based on family need as it works to attract urban schoolchildren whose parents couldn't otherwise pay for private school.

"We're trying our best to make this affordable to anyone who meets our admission criteria," Avis said. "We are looking for good, hard-working kids who are seeking this kind of opportunity. We feel we can help them excel."

Lofty goals

Visitors to the school's Web site are greeted with scripture: "Grow in stature and wisdom and in favor with God and men" (Luke 2:52). The Web site,, briefly flashes this biblical passage before displaying the school's crest and then its standard homepage.

It's an appropriate salutation given the nascent institution's mission of providing Christian education for urban schoolchildren because, as its Web site says, the Bible is the foundation of the school and will guide its efforts "to provide an environment that encourages and equips young men and women to achieve their academic, ethical and career potential, while developing a sense of social and civic responsibility."

Avis said that's the entire premise behind CSM, whose admissions requirements are posted online.

"We're hoping to create a template for what an urban school should look like," Avis said. "We temper that with the fact that we're doing it in a setting that provides Christian values as part of the perspective and philosophical standard."

CSM will open in the fall with a complete seventh-grade class, adding a new grade each year until it's a full 7-12 secondary
school by 2013. Each grade is expected to
have about 90 students, although that
number will fluctuate depending on admissions.

Avis said the school is hiring staff members and will begin interviewing teachers based on how many students wind up in the first class.

"Enrollment numbers are a moving target," Avis said, "and that will dictate what our specific faculty needs are."

There for everyone

The construction project is expected to wrap up by August, just in time for the school to begin its first classes. Nothing will be done to the buildings' exteriors; instead the renovation will focus on creating adequate classroom space, as well as getting the property up to Americans with Disabilities Act compliance and fire code requirements.

"It's a pretty extensive renovation," said project executive Randy Bratton of Montgomery Martin Contractors LLC, the school's construction firm. "They're upgrading the mechanical system tremendously. They're trying to reuse as much as they can. They have a long-term commitment to the site so what they can reuse they're going to reuse, and what they need to update for the long term they're updating."

Indeed, CSM plans to buy the church property and lease the sanctuary back to Highland Heights, which will not be affiliated with the school. Avis said the benefactors chose the church because of its central location.

"We're there for the Highland Heights community, but we're really for the entire city," Avis said.

"We think that our proximity to Sam Cooper (Boulevard) and Highland (Street)makes us more easily accessible to parents who have children and are in other parts of the city."

The school will be a fully integrated, comprehensive high school, Avis said, replete with activities and athletics found at other institutions. Giving students another school option is the mission of both Avis
and the donors who planted the seeds for CSM.

"We really are excited about this," Avis said. "Our feeling is there are a lot of parents out there that would love to have this
kind of opportunity for their kids, but may not be able to afford it. This will enable them to participate in quality Christian education."