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Lessons Learned

For Teachers, The Strike Was About Fairness, Respect, Students, And Being Paid A Professional Salary

Editor’s note: In early February it became clear that the Denver teachers’ union and DPS administrators were at an impasse. A strike – mainly over the issue of pay – was imminent. At the end of three days, an agreement was reached, and teachers returned to class. The Greater Park Hill News reached out to numerous educators who live and/or work in Park Hill, asking them to share their views. Here’s what they had to say:

Justin Barney

McAuliffe International School

Background:13 years in education, two years in DPS. Barney, shown above with his daughter Vivian, has a Masters of Education and Bachelor of Arts. He teaches Spanish.

“I’m striking because my children and my students benefit when they are learning from adults who are not perpetually stressed about their personal finances. Our words, actions, and daily work should inspire students to want to become teachers and life-long advocates of learning. Instead, internalizing our stress, they say in earnest, ‘Why would anyone ever want to become a teacher? It doesn’t seem worth it.’ I don’t disagree. What does this mean for the next generation of young learners?”

Erika Grimes

Stedman Elementary

Background: Grimes has been an Early Childhood Educator at Stedman Elementary since 2008, her first year teaching. She is currently a Senior Team Lead at Stedman (teach part time, coach/evaluate part time. She holds a BS in Human Development and Family Studies from CSU and will have a Master’s in ECE from CU Denver by the summer. She is an alumni of the BUELL Early Childhood Leadership Program).

“I came to DPS to work in a Title 1 school because I wanted to work with families and children who have historically been neglected by our educational system. I live in North Park Hill with my two children, who also attend Stedman.

“I have a mentor in DPS who is near retirement who said although she may not typically be inclined to strike, she felt she had no choice to allow young teachers to not receive what they deserve. 

“I am choosing to strike because I have been considering changing careers or leaving the classroom because my current compensation, even having leadership responsibilities, is not sustainable for my family. I have seen so many teachers come and go, my hope is that this strike will result in more retention for our staff, and therefore, stability for our students.”

Sara Lemmon 

McAuliffe International School 

Background: Lemmon has a master’s in Secondary Reading from the University of Colorado-Denver. Over 11 years, she has taught in a traditional suburban school, a charter school and, for the last four years, at McAuliffe International School as a 6th grade science teacher and Senior Team Lead. 

“I am striking because it’s expensive to live in Denver. I’m an anomaly for having the ability to live and work in my community. This shouldn’t be the case. Denver teachers drive over an hour to welcome our children every day, and take on second jobs and pick-up additional assignments to make ends meet. Teachers would also like to further their education, however under our current pay structure there is little financial incentive to do so. There are no better teachers than those who reside in our Park Hill schools. We need to support them.” 

Aaron Lowenkron

East High

Background: Lowenkron teaches math at East High School and has since 2012, his first year teaching. He has an AB in Mathematics from Cornell University and a Master of Arts in Teaching from Tufts University. He teaches Algebra 2 and an academic support and intervention class, mostly to sophomores and juniors. 

“I was willing to strike because Denver Public Schools has engaged in experiments on students and teachers since 2005, when Michael Bennet started as superintendent. Though well-intentioned (its focus was on closing what was then known as the ‘achievement’ gap), it was also profoundly misguided. Bringing free-market forces to what has historically been a public good, brought to bear the school-teacher-student turnover that we see in DPS’s disruptive so-called system of ‘choice.’ ”

Amy Maes

Park Hill Elementary

Background: “I have been teaching in DPS for 25 years.

I have my bachelors in Elementary Education.

I have my English as a Second Language endorsement.

I have many hours of PDU’s (professional development units).

I teach kindergarten currently, and have taught 2nd and 1st grades as well.

My mother and father were both DPS teachers.

“I am striking because the district has been top heavy for as long as I’ve been teaching (25 years!), and there HAS to be a change. We are working with the children who will someday run our country. We are teaching the whole child but cannot afford to live in the communities where we teach. We are committed to doing our very best by each child and yet are underpaid and disrespected. We deserve a living wage and Denver’s kids deserve respected educators.” 

Paula Marinelli

Westerly Creek Elementary

Background: Marinelli began teaching in DPS in 1997. She taught ECE at Pioneer Charter School for five years, ECE ELAS at Swansea Elementary for eight years, ELA Resource teacher at Westerly Creek for three years and currently is in her 6th year teaching ECE at Westerly Creek. She has a BA from Providence College, an MFA from Savannah College of Art and Design and an MA/ Certification in Early Education from Metro Denver. She participated in the Teacher in Residence Program to fill a hard-to-serve position. 

“My father taught High School English in Rhode Island for over 30 years. When I was getting ready to pick a major in college and told him that I wanted to be a teacher, he talked me out of it. He lamented the expectations for teachers, lack of pay and lack of respect. But, I found my way into teaching after all, as it was truly my calling to work with young children. Over the years I have seen my pay stagnate (since Pro Comp) and I have seen a top-heavy administration grow more and more out of touch in regard to the needs in schools. 

“My 10-year-old daughter [Leah, pictured above holding sign] has spent lots of time in my classroom and dreams of being an ECE teacher. What do I tell her now? I absolutely love what I do, but there are too many things standing in the way of my being able to be the best that I can be for my kids. 

“I am striking because as a single mom, my daughter depends on me and my ability to support her. But, I also will strike because I want her to realize her dream of being a teacher in a more supportive system.”

Belle Newman

Park Hill Elementary

Background: My students know me as Ms. Belle. I teach ECE at Park Hill Elementary. This is my 10th year in the district and my 8th year as an ECE teacher. I have a BA in Human Development and Education and a master’s degree in Integrated Arts and Literature for Classroom Content Curriculum. 

“I do this for our future, for our children that will grow up and be doctors and lawyers, engineers and nurses, builders and maintenance specialists, servers and service professionals, and all other vital professionals in our society, perhaps even a teacher. I strike because our voices need to be heard in order for change to happen. It is our right and our duty to not only make the system work for us, but for all of those choosing this amazing career in the future. Understand that this is not simply a monetary issue, but an issue of fairness, respect, and equity.”

Julie Orth

Park Hill Elementary

Background: Orth, above in the middle, lives and works in Park Hill as a 2nd grade teacher at Park Hill Elementary. This is her 7th year teaching. She has a master’s degree in special education. She has taught all seven years in Park Hill; the first three in special education. She switched to 2nd grade four years ago.  

“I am willing to strike because I want to be a part of a fighting collective voice for all teachers. This movement is long overdue. This is a large financial burden for me because I do not make enough to have a savings as a cushion. I have been working two to three jobs for over four years now to help make ends meet. This is becoming unsustainable and this is also why I am willing to fight for a larger and predictable pay.”


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