A charter school operator new to the city will open its doors in Northwest Pasadena next month, hoping to draw students from low-income families and those who are learning English.
Celerity Exa Charter School began recruiting kindergarten and elementary school students on Monday after reaching a verbal agreement to lease the Hodges Children's Center from the Pasadena Unified School District for one year, district spokesman Adam Wolfson said.
Public preschool and special education programs at Hodges recently moved to the former Burbank Elementary School campus in Altadena, leaving the building temporarily vacant. Celera Exa will start classes on Aug. 14.
Hodges can accommodate about 190 students, said Celerity Educational Group founder Vielka McFarlane, a former Los Angeles Unified School District teacher and administrator.
McFarlane initially proposed that Celerity Exa enroll 360 students using classrooms inside Washington Middle School, which already serves more than 550 students and is undergoing conversion into a math and science magnet campus.
School board members were skeptical about whether the Washington campus could hold two schools.
Hodges is located at 136 W. Peoria St., adjacent to the Mack Robinson mail distribution center and less than two miles from Washington Middle School.
McFarlane said she is seeking an additional temporary site in hopes of accommodating more students this year and hasn't given up on Washington as a permanent home.
District officials “haven't said yes to Washington, but they haven't said no,” McFarlane said. “At this point, everything is on the table, as long as it's in the northwest.”
Thousands of Pasadena public school students from low-income or immigrant families live in Northwest Pasadena.
School board members have been critical of other local charter schools for failing to enroll significant numbers of low-income, English-learning and special education students.
Celerity Exa Principal Sara Garcia said the school will attract working parents and help struggling students by operating an after-school tutoring program until 6 p.m. each school day.
“We have high expectations for our students, offer small classes [of 20 to 25 students], and a project-based curriculum to encourage critical-thinking skills,” said Garcia, who previously oversaw academics at Celerity schools in North Hollywood and Sun Valley. Celerity operates seven charter schools in Los Angeles County.
The schools also use frequent assessments and small-group breakout sessions to help students master English, she said.
Although the school district loses state funding when students leave for a charter, Wolfson noted the lease will generate income and said the deal is a “win-win” for the school district and Celerity.
“We chartered the school, so we want to be good partners,” he said. “If that brings much-needed dollars to the district, all the better.”