Crossroads Academy Wants to Open Permanent High School in Historic Attucks School in 18th & Vine Jazz District

The historic Attucks School opened in 1905 to serve African-American public school students.

By Kevin Collison

The Crossroads Academy hopefully has found a new permanent home for its downtown high school, the long-vacant, historic Attucks School in the 18th & Vine Jazz District.

The charter school has submitted a bid to the city to buy the old building at 1815 Woodland Ave. If accepted, it could ultimately house 500 high school students attending the expanding Crossroads Academy program.

“We love the location, we love the idea of our students being at 18th & Vine and all the cultural and arts resources,” said Dean Johnson, executive director of the Crossroads Academy.

Johnson said his charter school program expects to learn soon whether its bid is accepted.

The old school–its original section opened in 1905–has been vacant for more than 15 years. A two-story addition was built in 1922.

The school building is on the National Register of Historic Places, and was described as the “oldest continually occupied school for city black students” when its historic application was submitted in 1989.

The school’s namesake is Crispus Attucks, an African-American patriot killed in the Boston Massacre at the beginning of the Revolutionary War.

“It’s in bad shape, but it’s got a rich history,” Johnson said. “It can be renovated. We like buildings with a sense of character and dignity to them.”

In the meantime, the first class of the Crossroads Academy high school is being temporarily housed in space with Park University at the Commerce Tower building in downtown Kansas City.

It’s the latest phase in a downtown education story that began in 2012, when the Crossroads Academy opened its first school in a former office building at 1015 Central St. with 190 elementary students.

Since then, the program has grown to more than 600 students and opened a second school last year in a former Quality Hill mansion once occupied by United Way at 1080 Washington St.

As enrollment grew beyond the eighth grade, the search started for a permanent high school facility. Last winter, Johnson told the Downtown Council the program preferred a location near the streetcar line.

But the very success of the streetcar in attracting new development has made it difficult to find an affordable alternative, he said.

“We looked at lots of properties, but we could find nothing from a building point of view in our budget,” Johnson said, “so we started looking further away from immediate walking distance.”

Crossroads Academy high school principal Kirsten Brown with freshmen Julia Bond and Derrick Brown at the school’s temporary space in Commerce Tower.

One of the benefits of Crossroads Academy has been students using downtown as a learning environment. They regularly visit the nearby Downtown Library for research, and occasionally can be seen walking to Barney Allis Plaza to play.

Kirsten Brown, the first principal of the new high school temporarily in Commerce Tower, said the first 35 students in that program enjoy the opportunity to learn inside and outside the classroom.

She was drawn to the Crossroads Academy program because of its diversity, integrated teaching style and project-based learning. A committee of teachers and students referred to as a “crew” helps devise the educational program.

“Every day kids meet with their crew leader and talk about issues and challenges, and support each other,” Brown said. “There’s also a career academy to help students learn about what they’d like to do when they’re older.”

Johnson said that while the Attucks School may not be in the heart of downtown, it would provide similar opportunities for learning outside the building.

“The opportunities for students are not dissimilar to what we do with our elementary schools, there will be good opportunities for partnerships,” he said.

This article was published originally on the KCUR public radio website.