Listen to CNN Radio's podcast Jim Roope tell the story of how the former head of the teachers union (who very much disliked charter schools) will now become its principal. And he is getting help from a former school board member who disliked the teachers union as much as the former union head once disliked charters.
By Jim Roope, CNN
(CNN) A cheating scandal at a Los Angeles charter school system last year has resulted in an unlikely partnership in the creation of a new charter school system.
Last year, John Allen, the executive director of Crescendo Charter Schools, a six-campus charter school system in L.A., allegedly told teachers at all six schools to unseal the state standardized tests and create a lesson plan that teaches directly to the test.
Some of the teachers refused Allen’s request as they viewed it as cheating. First grade teacher Elise Sargent said their jobs were threatened if they didn’t comply.
“There was a lot of confusion going on,” said Sargent. “For a while there was a lot of undercover talks about how we are going to get this out. We needed to make sure the Los Angeles Unified School District knows about this,” she said.
Sargent said the hesitation came with the fact that the teachers at Crescendo were not unionized and so were not sure the union would help or protect them. Sargent said they braved a call to then teachers’ union president A.J. Duffy.
Duffy had always been critical of charter schools mainly because the teachers were non-union.
“From the time I entered the first of my two terms as UTLA president,” said Duffy, "I wanted to unionize charter school teachers because they needed a voice.”
Duffy signed the Crescendo teachers into the union and the union became their voice.
Duffy reached out to another person who was also critical of charter schools and critical of Duffy, former L.A. school board president Caprice Young. She and Duffy butted heads over the years on many issues.
Young was particularly critical of charter schools because the schools ran independent of the school district and they we also federally funded, which took funding away from the traditional public school system.
Young felt Duffy’s call to her was courageous and described their relationship as “cats and dogs working together.”
With the LAUSD calling for Crescendo to be shut down, these strange bedfellows began working together to keep it open. “We didn’t want 73 teachers out of work and 1,300 students without a school,” said Duffy.
“Somewhere along the line, the idea was born to open our own school,” he said.
The teachers who blew the whistle on John Allen and Crescendo began writing a petition to open their own charter school system and ask Duffy to be the executive director. Duffy said he’d have never envisioned himself as the executive director of a charter school system and neither did anyone else.
“I got a call about two months ago from one of Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s deputies who literally said, ‘Duffy, what the hell is going on out there?’”
Caprice Young, who joined Duffy on the board of the new school, said the biggest hurdle in getting the petition approved by the LAUSD was her new relationship with Duffy.
“Simply that it was so weird to have me and Duffy doing it together,” said Young. “I think we had more scrutiny because of that than anything else.”
Eventually however, the petition was approved.
Click on the audio player above to hear the full story.