Celerity Schools: Making a Difference in Los Angeles County

October 5, 2011

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Celerity Educational Group opened their first charter school in the heart of the Crenshaw community in 2005 with a focused commitment to serve LA's most impoverished and underserved students. Their model was simple - expect the best, give the best and accomplish the best. This has proven true. Each Celerity School operating in 2010-11 scored in the top 15% of all California public schools according to CST performance.

"I refuse to expect less from our children or give less to our children in South Los Angeles or Compton than parents from West Los Angeles or Beverly Hills expect or give to theirs," said Celerity founder and CEO, Vielka McFarlane.

A first-generation immigrant herself, Ms. McFarlane came to the United States from her native Panama in 1982. A decade later, she began teaching at some of South LA's lowest performing schools. Frustrated by the low expectations for these students, Ms. McFarlane came together with other reform-minded LAUSD teachers and principals and founded Celerity.

Parents and the community embraced the school with open arms. In the 2011-12 school year, Celerity operates seven schools and serves approximately 3,000 students. Most recently, Celerity opened its first school in Compton - Celerity Sirius. The school was over enrolled in the first two weeks and, thanks to an unprecedented partnership with the Compton Unified School District, Celerity was able to open a second campus on a closed Compton Unified School District elementary school.

Celerity offers a challenging, college preparatory curriculum with an emphasis on project-based learning - a teaching model where students learn through fieldwork, group-projects, and service instead of lectures. Students also participate in computer classes, yoga and performing arts.

"The Celerity instructional model is simple. We focus on servicing the individual needs of each child. We do what it takes to make sure they succeed. Instruction is tailored to their individual learning modality. We use project-based learning and culturally relevant pedagogy to engage students but ultimately, we'll do whatever it takes to make sure they are acquiring the necessary skills and knowledge they need to excel as life-long learners," says Markiena Madison, 5th Grade Teacher at Celerity Nascent Charter School.

Celerity's teachers come from the community and are at the heart of its success. Teachers are given the professional freedom they need to create dynamic, innovative lesson plans.

"I have lived in this community for a long time and Celerity is our shining star. This school has changed our community by raising our expectations of what our students and community deserves. Celerity has empowered me as a parent to understand and expect the best for my child. At Celerity, my child is provided what he/she needs as an individual. We don't get left behind. We have been uplifted with the rest of our community," said Viennie Canelo-Mendoza, Parent at Celerity Nascent Charter School.

And it's working. Out of Celerity's four schools that were open last year, each had API scores over 850. The highest performing school, Celerity Troika, reached 970.

"For me, it is personal," says McFarlane, "I was one of those poor kids no one expected much from. It was education that changed my life. And now we are changing education in Los Angeles - starting in our own communities."

Celerity Educational Group
Address: 3417 West Jefferson Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90018
Web site: www.celerityschools.org
Founded: 2005
Number of Schools: 7
Number of Students: Approximately 3,000

This is one of a series of profiles about high-performing charter schools in Los Angeles that are participating in the latest round of Public School Choice (PSC). The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) board passed this historic initiative in 2009 to reform the operation of new schools and turn around the lowest performing schools in the district. PSC allows non-district school operators - like charter schools, teacher teams, and community groups - the opportunity to run these schools. More than 30 schools have gone through this process to date. Find out more about Public School Choice and read profiles on the other charter applicants.