VOL. 11 | NO. 2 | Saturday, January 13, 2018
Crosstown High Preps For August Opening
By Michael Waddell
The first class of freshmen students has been selected for the fall semester of Crosstown High, a new public charter school opening this August. The school, which will welcome 600 students by 2021, will be located on the first, fourth and fifth floors of the new community-driven, mixed-use Crosstown Concourse redevelopment.
“One of the reasons why I was drawn to Memphis was just the idea of having a school inside the Crosstown Concourse and the ability to pull in really great partners to build meaningful and authentic projects for students – everything from health care to education to the arts,” said Crosstown High executive director Chris Terrill. “Tenants have agreed to work with our students, so I think we can deliver an education that is different than Memphis has ever seen before.”
In mid-December, the school finished a lottery for the 150 students – selected from 289 applications – that will make up its inaugural ninth-grade class, and the first call for teachers was sent out.
Chandra Sledge Mathias is the new principal of Crosstown High School, a public charter school set to open in August at Crosstown Concourse with its first class of 150 freshmen. (Memphis News/Houston Cofield)
“All students had an equal chance to be selected,” Terrill said. “We’re intentionally trying to be a diverse-by-design school, so there are great dynamics as far as economically advantaged versus disadvantaged and a great racial balance. I think we will be most diverse public school in Memphis, if not the state.”
Crosstown High’s curriculum touts personalized learning plans that allow every student to have a customized education to not only learn foundational concepts in math, science and English, but also develop the life skills that will help ensure success later in life.
“This type of progressive education is something that is happening both on the East Coast and West Coast, but it’s not really a Midwest, Mid-South initiative yet,” Terrill said. “We’re just excited to be in Memphis and in Crosstown, and we think this is going to be something that is special for the city.”
Students will enter the school through the first floor, and then make their way to 80,000 square feet of classroom space on the fourth and fifth floors.
“Construction is ahead of schedule, and the first floor space is done,” Terrill said. “Fine details will be completed over the next few months.”
Crosstown High principal Chandra Sledge Mathias was drawn to Memphis by the school’s vision to allow its children’s voices to be heard while helping them explore their passions. She previously led a project-based learning high school in North Carolina and was co-director of an inquiry-based charter school in Chicago.
Mathias moved to Memphis in July and gave herself a homework assignment of learning the city.
“I had done some research on the internet, but I didn’t know the extent of how massive the [Crosstown] development was until I got down here last May for my in-person interviews,” said Mathias, who started out her career teaching English before deciding to move into administration. “The space is incredible. It’s really flexible, and it will allow creativity both on the student and teacher side.”
Between now and June, Mathias and school administrators will work with students regarding the layout and programs of the school.
“It’s a really great opportunity to get input from students about what they want to see in their school,” Mathias said.
Having access to the organizations and foundations within the building is a unique situation for the students.
“For a student to literally be able to walk out of their classroom and connect with professionals in so many different areas and get real experience with these individuals is so unheard of,” she said. “I haven’t seen that type of experience anywhere else in the country.”
Top priorities leading up to the August launch include completing the hiring process. Six more teaching positions will be filled, for a total of nine to 10 teachers.
“We’re still required to meet all of the standards that the state has set for us,” said Terrill, a former teacher and principal. “So we’re looking for certified teachers with a mindset and understanding of project-based learning and the idea that we’re weaving real-world problems into the curriculum and still meeting the state standards.”
The school plans to develop an in-house “education learning lab” that will give educators and students from across the city a venue to “rethink high school” together.