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Founder of Crescendo charter schools fired

John Allen is accused of promoting cheating on standardized tests; L.A. Unified closed all six schools in the group.

March 05, 2011|By Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times
  • Just after the charter groups governing board decided unanimously to fire him as executive director, John Allen, founder of Crescendo schools, leans against a wall. Shortly thereafter, he left the meeting.
Just after the charter groups governing board decided unanimously to fire… (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles…)

In an attempt to fight off a looming closure, officials with a charter school organization caught in a cheating scandal fired the group founder Friday evening and threatened to sue the Los Angeles Board of Education, if necessary, to stay open.

Both announcements drew sustained cheering from more than 300 parents, students and supporters packed into a meeting hall at a South L.A. church that serves as a campus and main headquarters for Crescendo charter schools.

"Please be assured that one of the most, main reasons we're here tonight … is to keep the Crescendo schools open and operating for the sake of our future, which is your children," said Anthony Handy, who chairs Crescendo's governing board.

Crescendo, which operates six schools south of downtown Los Angeles, had its operating charter revoked this week by the board of the Los Angeles Unified School District. The board acted in response to both the cheating and Crescendo's response when it was discovered.

Crescendo founder John Allen allegedly ordered principals and teachers to break the seal on state standardized tests last spring and use actual test questions to prepare students, a violation of state law.

A group of teachers reported the alleged improprieties to the school district, eventually leading the state to invalidate the schools' 2010 test scores. Crescendo did not deny the cheating, but neither Allen nor anyone else was fired.

"Cheating is never right. It's always wrong and should not be tolerated," Handy said Friday, noting that five of the seven members of the Crescendo board joined after the cheating scandal to restore order. "The teachers who stood against the cheating were courageous and should be commended."

Handy also criticized L.A. Unified's revocation of Crescendo's charter.

"We believe this action was taken prematurely without all the facts and was not made in compliance with California's open meeting law," he said, adding that an action to revoke Crescendo's charter was not on the L.A. school board's agenda when it acted Tuesday.

The L.A. board, which authorizes the publicly funded, independently run charter, had been scheduled to decide whether to renew the charters of two of Crescendo's schools. Instead, board members decided to shut down all six.

Incoming L.A. Unified Supt. John Deasy applauded the firing of Allen. "While it's a long time coming, it's definitely the right decision," Deasy said.

Allen sat stoically in a corner of the room as the meeting convened. When the board left for a private session to discuss his fate, he exited also, apparently to join them. He was roundly jeered. One parent waved a sign that read: "Integrity is the essence of success: Fire Allen." Other signs bore similar messages.

The board returned after about 30 minutes to announce it had dismissed Allen "without cause." An attorney for Crescendo would not disclose severance terms, citing employee privacy and saying Crescendo was under no legal obligation to disclose more.

Speaker after speaker lauded the quality of the academics and the teachers. Some also praised the principals. But parents also insisted that anyone involved in cheated deserved to be fired.

"I raised my son and daughter to be people of integrity," said Geoffrey Morris. "I think they all should go," he said, referring to top administrators implicated in wrongdoing.

Allen returned to the room when the board resumed open session. He did not respond to a reporter's request for an interview and, after a few moments, he strode into the night.

howard.blume@latimes.com

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