A charter school group is giving up its charter to run a school at the former Crestworth Middle School campus, setting the stage for the potential return of that campus to the East Baton Rouge Parish school system.

The school district has sought to bring Crestworth Middle back into its system since 2009, when the state took over the neighborhood middle school after years of poor academic performance and converted it into a charter school. For the past decade, many middle schoolers living in the Scotlandville area have been bused 8 miles across town to Park Forest Middle School.

Superintendent Warren Drake said he’s hopeful he can wrap up a deal soon to return Crestworth to local control.

“The ideal thing would be to bring those kids back to a school in the neighborhood,” Drake said.

A spokeswoman for the Louisiana Department of Education said the agency is working the parish school system to “determine next steps for the Crestworth campus.”

If successful, Crestworth Middle would join Istrouma High as the second Baton Rouge public school the state has taken over to return to local control. Istrouma reopened in 2017, in the process undergoing at least $29 million in renovations.

Drake said he doesn't intend to rush Crestworth Middle's reopening. That facility as well likely needs renovations. Drake has at least $4 million to work with. Voters in 2018 approved that much money to add a middle school program in the Scotlandville area.

“Whatever we do, we want to do it first class,” he said.

The return of the middle school is part of long-running negotiations with leaders at the Louisiana Department of Education about reuniting a bunch of Baton Rouge schools with the parish school system. It’s similar to the school reunification process in New Orleans that began in 2016.

Drake said he’s hoping to have a draft reunification agreement by next month.

“It’s back and forth right now, but we’re getting close,” Drake said.

He said any such reunification would transpire over several years.

Celerity Schools Louisiana voted June 4 to relinquish its charter for the former Crestworth Middle school located at 10600 Avenue F and vacate the premises by June 30.

It’s relocating four miles away at the former Glen Oaks Middle School. There it’s merging its 100 students with another small middle school, Baton Rouge College Prep, which has been on that campus since 2015 and has about 200 students. The plan is to revive Glen Oaks Middle School as the name for the new merged school.

“Our new location will allow our organization the opportunity to educate more students within the East Baton Rouge community in conjunction with our current Crestworth Middle School students,” said Angela Beck, superintendent for Celerity Schools Louisiana.

The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education is set to accept the charter for Celerity Crestworth when it meets next Wednesday.

Celerity, which was based in Los Angeles, arrived in Louisiana in 2014. It launched four schools, three in Baton Rouge and one in Harvey. The school in Harvey was closed in 2018. That left Crestworth Middle, as well as the former Dalton and Lanier elementary schools.

In 2017, Celerity Louisiana severed its ties with its parent organization, Celerity Educational Group, as that group became engulfed in financial scandal. In May, founder Vielka McFarlane was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison for misspending $3.2 million in public funds for personal use.

Celerity Louisiana is going further, changing its name to ReDesign Schools Louisiana.

During its first four years of operation, Celerity Crestworth lost the bulk of its students. It started with 324 in grades K-8 in 2014 and shrunk to about 100 students, making it one of the smallest elementary or middle schools in the Capitol Region. Fifth, sixth and seventh grades had fewer than 10 students each.

But as its enrollment dwindled, the school’s test scores grew overall. A failing school initially, it climbed to a C letter grade by its fourth year. The gains were enough to win the school a four-year renewal of its charter in December.

Performance, however, was uneven across the school. For instance, third grade was strong, fourth grade was uneven, and eighth grade was poor. Fifth through seventh grades had too few students to report scores for those grades.

For its fifth year, Celerity Crestworth dropped its elementary grades, leaving only grades 6 to 8. And it added middle school students from Celerity Dalton and Celerity Lanier. Enrollment at Celerity Crestworth stayed at about 100. But overall middle school enrollment for all three schools declined by 19 students.

The state hasn’t released test scores yet for Celerity Crestworth’s fifth year.


Follow Charles Lussier on Twitter, @Charles_Lussier.