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Whistle-blowing teachers to open a charter school

They lost their jobs during a cheating scandal at Crescendo schools. Former union chief and charter foe A.J. Duffy will lead them.

January 18, 2012|By Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times
  • A.J. Duffy, left, former teachers union leader and director of the new charter school, celebrates its approval with teachers Elise Sargent and Tanisha Patel and with David Cunningham Jr., president of the Apple Academy board.
A.J. Duffy, left, former teachers union leader and director of the new charter… (Katie Falkenberg, For The…)

Los Angeles teachers who became whistle-blowers during a cheating scandal won the right Tuesday to open their own charter school.

The new enterprise, called Apple Academy, won unanimous approval from the Los Angeles Board of Education. The school's chief executive, former L.A. teachers union president A.J. Duffy, had been a longtime critic of charter schools.

The cheating, which came to public attention last year, ultimately led to the shutdown last summer of all six Crescendo charter schools. As a result, the families of about 1,200 students had to enroll elsewhere on short notice. And Crescendo employees, including teachers who reported the cheating, were left without work.

"It was a rough ending to last year," said former Crescendo teacher Elise Sargent. "We're so excited to move forward."

Crescendo's founder and chief executive, John Allen, was accused of ordering his principals to direct teachers at the schools to cheat on state standardized tests. Teachers said they were told to review the exams and go over the material with students.

Allen has repeatedly declined to be interviewed and has denied wrongdoing in court documents.

Operators of the new charter, scheduled to open next fall, hope to enroll more than 600 students at up to four locations. Organizers said they have about 300 letters of interest.

Board member Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte questioned whether a successful program could rise from the ashes of Crescendo, which she had wanted to keep open.

Some parents "are really skeptical about this move," LaMotte said.

The best selling point, Duffy said, would be "the teachers whose integrity is unquestioned" after they reported the command to cheat.

One classroom location is a church property formerly leased by Crescendo. The charter also has a tentative agreement with L.A. Unified to use available space at Manhattan Place Elementary in Gramercy Park.

"This comes with our endorsement and support," said L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy.

The board of Apple Academy includes former Los Angeles City Councilman David Cunningham and former L.A. school board president Caprice Young, who later went on to lead the California Charter Schools Assn. Young lost her bid for reelection in an expensive and frequently negative campaign led by Duffy's union. She and Duffy have since become friends.

"It's a new life," Duffy said.

Charters are publicly funded, independently operated and exempt from some rules that govern traditional schools. Most are nonunion. Teachers working to set up Apple Academy have tentatively chosen to affiliate with United Teachers Los Angeles, Duffy's former employer.

"We're excited to get Apple Academy going and to be able to teach our students with all the passion and knowledge we brought to them before," said Tanisha Patel, a former Crescendo instructor.

howard.blume@latimes.com

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