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Duffy: Comments From The Classroom

Hillel Aron | July 30, 2012

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A.J. Duffy (LA Weekly)

When former UTLA head A.J. Duffy helped found Apple Academy, a charter school, in 2011, it seemed like the ultimate case of a zebra changing his stripes.

Nearly a year later, Duffy still gets quoted in the Times, but he’s no longer head of Apple, which didn’t enroll enough kids to justify his salary, and is back in the classroom.

He’s not happy about this, or about the performance of  his successor, Warren Fletcher — though he does his best to be diplomatic.

The decision to help the charter was startling to nearly everyone, given Duffy had been such an outspoken enemy of the charter school movement.

“Even though I got killed for doing that, it represents the model of local controlled schools,” he said in a phone interview last week. “I believe in local control of schools where teachers, administrators and parents know what’s going on.”

Unfortunately for Duffy, the charter he signed on to help didn’t meet its enrollment targets, and had to let him go.
“A decision was made to try to reach the 690 enrollment that district had given us,” he said. “A decision was made to do word of mouth thing, rather than an all out community outreach, which is what i wanted to do.”

Apple will open in September, with a smaller enrollment, but without Duffy, who will be teaching social studies at Phoenix Continuation School in Venice Beach.

“Continuation is the last stop for these kids who can’t make it in the regular public school system,” he explained. “A lot of these kids are in the system– they have probabtion officers, they’ve been arrested, they’ve been in juvie. Continuation gives them one last opportunity to gain high school credentials.”

When asked to comment on the performance of his successor, Warren Fletcher, Duffy was uncharacteristically diplomatic:

“It’s a difficult time, and forces are pulling UTLA in a thousand different directions. How do you represent the interests of your members while at the same time making sure you represent the interests of students. I could pull him down, but I won’t.”

He did allow, though: “Sometimes we go out on a limb. I don’t know that Warren has gone out on a limb. But it’s a very, very dicey situation either way.”

It’s a situation made all the dicier by looming budget cuts in California.

“The rumors are that the adult education program will be decimated. That will be a terrible thing. There are more adult ed students than K-12 students.”

He also worries that budget cuts could hit even closer to home: continuing education.

“Every year they tell us they’re closing down the program. When the bottom falls out, people in the central bureaucracy think, first and foremost, K through 12,”– meaning kindergarten through 12th grade. “They don’t view continuation as part of that.  They  looks at us as expendable.”

“If we lose continuation high schools,” he cautions, “the crime rate is gonna go up radically.”

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