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Crossroads Founder Takes Another Path : Education: Paul Cummins, who built a prestigious first-rate private school in Santa Monica, plans to open New Roads for low-income students.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

He has already proven he can build a first-rate private school. Now Paul Cummins hopes to do it again, but this time with a twist--the new school will be open to low-income students.

If all goes according to schedule, New Roads School, a sixth-through-eighth-grade offspring of the prestigious Crossroads School in Santa Monica, will open in September.

Cummins, who started Crossroads 23 years ago in a rented church space and is its headmaster, said he has decided to launch the new school because he is concerned that too few children in the Los Angeles area have access to demanding, well-funded schools. He said he is not positioning the school to benefit from possible school voucher programs, which he opposes on grounds that they would favor children from affluent families.

About 40% of the students at New Roads will be recruited from elementary schools including Coeur d’Alene Elementary in Venice, where 17% of the students are homeless. Those families will pay what they can, based on the parent’s income tax records, Cummins said. The remaining 60% of the enrollment will come from families able to pay the full $12,400 tuition.

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Cummins said he wanted to create a private school that was not only academically challenging, but also diverse. Out of the 940 students attending Crossroads from kindergarten to 12th grade, 22% are ethnic minorities. And many of those students come from affluent families, he said.

“We hope the (New Roads) school will be a model of what independent schools can be, cutting across lines of class and race,” Cummins said.

New Roads will enroll 32 students in the sixth-grade class and 16 students each in the seventh- and eighth-grade classes. Cummins plans to hire six teachers, and will serve as the interim headmaster until a permanent headmaster is hired. Classroom space will be leased in Santa Monica Boys & Girls Club on Lincoln Boulevard.

New Roads will use the classrooms from 8 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. After-school activities in the Boys & Girls Club will continue as usual.

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Start-up costs, which will cover remodeling of classrooms in the club, are estimated at $100,000, Cummins said. New Roads has already received financial help from the Ahmanson Foundation, as well as a trustee of the J. Paul Getty Trust. In addition, some Crossroads parents have made contributions.

In 1993, Cummins proposed merging Crossroads with Coeur d’Alene Elementary to create a new charter school with a mix of high- and low-income students. The plan failed, Cummins said, in a tangle of legal and logistic problems.

“There as. . .the constitutional issue of whether you could charge tuition at a public school,” he said. “It looked as though we were going to spend so much time and energy overcoming these obstacles, and it seemed easier to start a new school.”

Beth Ojena, principal at Coeur d’Alene, said parents have already asked her about enrolling their children in New Roads this fall. To apply, children must submit teacher recommendations and writing samples, attend an interview with Crossroads administrators and take a standardized test.

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While Ojena sees promise in Cummins’ effort, she said she warns parents that New Roads must establish its financial base to survive.

“I don’t want to disappoint anyone,” she said.

Cummins said he will know by April if there is enough interest among such families for New Roads to open in September.

So far, he is confident that New Roads will open on schedule. “We’re getting a good response from tuition-paying parents--enough to support the entire budget of the school,” he said.

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