Cristo Rey Atlanta Jesuit High School: A Blueprint for Disadvantaged Students’ College Prep

John Tabellione

Friday, November 11th, 2016

With hundreds of students, parents, teachers and administrators posing as rooftop superintendents and architects, a distinctive “CRISTO REY” sign in eight-foot high letters was recently unveiled high above their newly-acquired high school facility undergoing renovation in downtown Atlanta. 

Amid the exposed exterior sheathing, inside drywall dust, and ongoing classroom construction within the seven-story building—donated by developer Jim Cumming—the gathering of supporters were looking forward to completion and the scheduled opening for the 2017 academic year. “We wanted the families to get excited about their soon-to-be new campus, and unveiling the special signage was just the thing to do it. They were also able to see first-hand how we’ve already invested $750,000 just to fix the air-conditioning in this building, which is quite a noticeable improvement over the system at our current location,” said Deacon Bill Garrett, President of Cristo Rey Atlanta. 

The curriculum of Cristo Rey Atlanta (one of the newest in the nationwide network of 32 such college preparatory schools for young people of limited economic means) provides a strong foundation to build core skills that will help students thrive in college and the modern workplace. Students engage in a combination of advanced placement academics, extra­curricular programs, and a unique, professional work experience. It’s a proven work-study model that works: 100% of graduates in all pre-existing Cristo Rey schools since 1996 have gained acceptance into college. 

Cristo Rey Atlanta’s demographics portray quite a diverse enrollment: only 48% of the student body is Catholic; the overwhelming majority of students are Hispanic or African-American; only 7% come from Catholic schools. 

When the school opened two years ago in the office space of the former headquarters of the Atlanta Archdiocese, the architectural floor plan had been redesigned for classrooms, library, meeting space, lockers, etc. Since building code only allowed room for 400 students, however, the school’s leadership team and board knew that they had to urgently search for a larger campus that would meet specifications to accommodate its next two incoming classes.  

Last October, “The Miracle on 222 Piedmont” occurred when Cumming donated the unoccupied, former Oxford Industries office building at the intersection of Piedmont Avenue and John Portman Boulevard to Cristo Rey. 

“We anticipate that the certificate of occupancy will allow us to move into our classrooms next July,” said Garrett. “Meanwhile, in December we will demolish the current parking garage and construct a platform by early Spring. The blueprints will allow us to build an 18,000 square foot, combination ‘gym-atorium,’ along with rooms for music, art, and theatre on the platform, with parking spaces below it. The main floor plan includes 40,000 square feet of classroom space, 15,000 for offices, and another 15,000 for kitchen, cafeteria, library, and chapel areas.

“We’ve had an on-going $25 million capital campaign over the past year and we’re doing quite well, but we still need to raise about $3 million more for the building to be totally gutted, including the sprinkler, electrical, and HVAC systems, as well as for new busses, furniture and other equipment. We hope that benefactors, both current and others, will step up as they have in the past. People are moved by our inspiring mission and want to help these great kids.” 

Cristo Rey, known as ‘The School That Works in the Heart of Atlanta,” matches students and assigns them to work with a corporate partner. 

As Garrett explained it, “In exchange for performing meaningful clerical and administrative tasks, such as data entry, filing, scanning, mail delivery, event planning and reception duties, the participating companies pay Cristo Rey under a separately incorporated employee leasing program. The fees offset a major portion of the tuition of the individuals. The firms may then deduct those costs as a business expense. Parents, however, do pay a fractional amount, depending upon a sliding scale income level, while philanthropy constitutes the remainder of our revenues.” 

Currently, Cristo Rey has 99 business partners, up from 72 in 2015, and 41 its first year. As enrollment reaches full capacity, 140 will be needed to provide work for each student one day a week. Participating companies include nearly all of Atlanta’s icon companies, including major law firms, hospitals, and accounting firms in Atlanta’s corporate towers.  

Garrett noted what it means to be a good corporate citizen in Atlanta today includes partnering with Cristo Rey. “Virtually all companies who work with us are also members or benefactors of the Chamber of Commerce, United Way, and the Woodruff Arts Center.” For further information about Cristo Rey Atlanta Jesuit High School, please visit

About John Tabellione

John Tabellione is an award-winning, professional business writer, complemented by over twenty-five years of strategic communication responsibilities as a Marketing, New Business Development and National Account Sales Executive in consumer goods and commercial industries. 

Experience with Fortune 500 companies, as well as with smaller firms and non-profits, encompassing a variety of products, including those of Georgia-Pacific, Kimberly-Clark and Stanley Works. 

John has a B.A. in English from Fairfield University and an MBA in Marketing from the University of Hartford. In addition, he has studied Russian at the Defense Language Institute at Syracuse University, and Italian language and culture at Kennesaw State University.