Bayou, alligators new scenery for Calif. workers in Sorrento

The alligator in the pond and the bayou running through the campus are included in the rent for the Los Angeles-based nonprofit that’s made Sorrento the headquarters for its Louisiana charter school operations.

It’s a whole new feel for many of the staff members of Celerity Schools who moved from California over the summer to work at the organization’s Louisiana location on the former campus of River Parishes Community College.

The community college moved to the Edenborne Development in Gonzales earlier in the summer, and Celerity signed a lease Aug. 1 for the 12-acre site on La. 22.

“This is too perfect,” said Craig Knotts, regional vice-president and superintendent for the nonprofit’s Celerity Louisiana Group, which began operating four charter schools in Baton Rouge and New Orleans in August.

Celerity plans to open six more schools over the next five years through its contract with the state, Knotts said.

This year, its schools serve approximately 1,400 students in Louisiana at Celerity Lanier, Celerity Crestworth and Celerity Dalton charter schools in Baton Rouge and Celerity Woodmere Charter School in Harvey.

In California, where it was founded in 2004, Celerity teaches 4,000 students in numerous schools, Knotts said.

Celerity also operates charter schools serving 1,000 students in Florida and 120 students in Ohio, he said.

Sorrento is the only place outside the nonprofit’s main headquarters in Los Angeles where Celerity has opened a centralized office, Knotts said.

There are 10 administrative employees at the Sorrento office, and that number likely will increase to as many as 50 in the coming years, he said.

For a few weeks each summer, teachers, including as many as 500 teachers when all 10 Celerity charters schools are operating, will come to the site for training, he said.

Principals and other administrators will come for regular training throughout the school year, Knotts said.

One reason the nonprofit chose Sorrento in Ascension Parish for the office location is that it’s halfway between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, close to its first schools in the state, he said.

“What’s equidistant; what’s in the middle?” is what Celerity asked itself, Knotts said.

The answer, after their real estate agent pointed it out, was Sorrento.

Celerity first looked at the property in March, said Al Robert, owner of the property that features a historic old home, the Jacob-Nassar House, that he moved there more than a decade ago to save it from destruction.

The old home, built between 1890 and 1900 on the levee in St. James Parish, served as the administration building for the River Parishes Community College and will do the same for Celerity.

Behind the home, which faces La. 22, there are two modern classroom buildings. Another building with classrooms lies across Bayou Conway, which runs through campus and is crossed by a bridge walkway.

Altogether, there’s more than 35,000 square feet of building area, Knotts said.

The site is an unusual one and ideal, he said, for what has already become the training center for the staff of the Louisiana schools Celerity operates.

“I think it’s a great transition for the building,” Knotts said of the 1890s-era home on-site. The campus is “the perfect size for what we need to do,” he said. “This is a great facility in the heart of South Louisiana.”

“We have other offices in the concrete, urban landscape of Los Angeles,” Knotts added. “It’s a beautiful building” in California, but it’s in a gritty city setting with no trees, he said.

The nonprofit will begin moving into the campus in earnest in the coming weeks, Knotts said.

Knott’s wife, Tirza Rivera, director of operations for the Celerity Louisiana Group, said the nonprofit’s new location “is ideal for the amount of professional development we offer the teachers.”

“I look forward to all the times we can gather together as an organization and share practices,” said Angela Beck, director of school services.

“It’s a family unit feeling,” she said of the new setting.

The alligator and bayou are nothing new for Beck.

A native of Louisiana who grew up in St. Charles Parish, Beck lived in California for several years, where she was the principal of Celerity’s first charter school, and has returned to her home state.