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South L.A. charter schools may get a reprieve after cheating scandal

The Crescendo charter school group has taken appropriate steps and probably can stay open, Supt. John Deasy says.

June 22, 2011|By Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times
  • Los Angeles schools Supt. John Deasy is seen visiting Quincy Jones Elementary School.
Los Angeles schools Supt. John Deasy is seen visiting Quincy Jones Elementary… (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles…)

Six charter schools involved in a widespread cheating scandal are likely to earn a reprieve that will allow them to remain open, Los Angeles school officials said.

The unofficial word came from new Los Angeles schools Supt. John Deasy, who said he was satisfied that the Crescendo charter school group had taken appropriate steps to deal with the problems on the South Los Angeles campuses.

"It is likely that the school[s] will remain open as a result of the decisions they have made, who they have fired and safeguards put in place that we have monitored," Deasy said in an email.

The Board of Education had voted in March to shut down the campuses which, like other charter schools in the district, are authorized by L.A. Unified but are run independently. The school board's decision cannot take effect, however, until after public hearings and until after Crescendo has an opportunity to respond. The board must make its final decision within 30 days, Deasy said.

Deasy announced the promising news for Crescendo during Tuesday's board meeting, drawing applause from school supporters who had gathered, as they have at several other meetings, to defend the elementary schools.

The Crescendo campuses faced closure after founding director John Allen was accused of ordering principals to break the seal on state standardized tests and drill students on actual test questions in preparation for the tests in May 2010. A group of teachers alerted L.A. Unified, which launched an investigation. In its wake, the Crescendo governing board suspended, but declined to fire, Allen or the principals.

Senior district administrators recommended keeping the schools open, but the elected L.A. school board overruled them after a Los Angeles Times article about the cheating.

Crescendo's board of directors swiftly called a meeting and fired Allen "without cause," the most immediate option available, giving him one month's severance pay.

L.A. Unified spokeswoman Gayle Pollard-Terry listed other steps taken: "The contracts of six principals were not being renewed and they could not reapply; the chair of the board resigned; four of six board members will be removed. The only two board members that will be kept are two parent representatives."

School board President Monica Garcia said she was won over.

"They have made changes and have earned the right to stay open," Garcia said.

Board member Tamar Galatzan said she still favored closing Crescendo but probably lacked the votes.

Crescendo's spokesperson could not be reached, but parent Jesse Saldana was thrilled.

"I am very excited," said Saldana, whose son won a most-improved reader award at his Crescendo school Tuesday. "It is not the students' fault. It was upper staff, and they are the ones who suffered in the end. I thank all the students, parents and teachers who have voiced their concerns."

When the cheating came to light last year, the state Department of Education invalidated Crescendo's test scores. Crescendo's standardized test results have climbed steeply in recent years, earning acclaim. But it's not clear how much cheating contributed to the scores.

howard.blume@latimes.com

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