The community flocked to a board meeting to support teacher and former student Brian Duhrkoop
Dozens of people wearing 'Keep the Koop' buttons filled the seats and lined the walls of the North Clackamas School District board meeting last week in protest of the near firing of a Milwaukie High School teacher and coach, Brian Duhrkoop.
But what began as a rally to support the former Milwaukie valedictorian turned into a heated critique of the general atmosphere and culture at Milwaukie.
Duhrkoop had negotiated Thursday morning to keep his job, but that didn't keep loyal colleagues, parents and students from showing up that night to show the school board what they thought of the man the administration said was inadequate in the classroom.
'I probably know Brian better than anyone else in here besides his fiancé and parents,' said Dan Williamson, who was Duhrkoop's wrestling coach when Duhrkoop was a student. Duhrkoop has been his assistant wrestling coach for the last two seasons. 'Right from the start he showed me work ethic, he showed me pride, all those things a Mustang should be. I longed for the day he would come back and bring those same attributes back to coach. He's my right hand man.'
Superintendent Ron Naso, in responding after the public comment portion of the meeting, said it wasn't about Duhrkoop's coaching.
'This school district ultimately is about the education of children and we have responsibilities … to make certain that the people who work in our schools meet the standards that have been set in the district,' he said. 'The reality is that this is really about the performance in the classroom.'
But more than one of the audience members vouched for his teaching abilities.
'I'm the math department chair and I have observed Brian in class and he is an outstanding math teacher,' said Robert Lippi. 'I believe he does a fantastic job, and several other math teachers in our department go observe him and say he does a great job.'
Meeting changes gears
But what began as support of one man turned into a challenge, from both sides, to affect the atmosphere at Milwaukie High School.
'I really think there's a problem,' said parentBob Calloway. 'Right now that school in my mind is in turmoil. There's a lack of leadership. The kids are not enjoying themselves, as they should; it is a learning environment, but you have to enjoy it … We would really like everyone to look at that and get that pride back.'
'In organizing this it was not hard,' said parent Rick Bray, referring to the 'Keep the Koop' campaign. 'People come out of the woodwork … It wasn't just Duhrkoop, there is some real discomfort at Milwaukie. [Other teachers] are saying they feel really stifled there.'
Naso acknowledged Milwaukie's struggles, throwing them back at audience members and challenging them to help fix them.
'Milwaukie High School is struggling, but I'm afraid that people aren't paying attention to what those struggles are,' he said.
Naso said the district has 'lots of data' regarding the school's performance in academics, sports and other areas.
'Right now Milwaukie doesn't really shine in a lot of those areas and that's unfortunate,' he said. 'What I want to say to you is I hope you all stay together, not in the support of one person … by himself, he is not the messiah. It is going to take the help of parents and teachers and administrators working together and I want to suggest to you that some of the problems at Milwaukie I believe is because there isn't that cooperation.'
And Naso discussed underlying problems.
'We come to work with the same belief every day, and that is that every child in this community deserves a decent education,' he said. 'I can't say to you that kids across the board at Milwaukie High School are getting a great education, and that's worrisome.'
'What I'm trying to ask is to find a way that you can keep this energy and continue it, find a way to support Brian Duhrkoop, find a way to support [Milwaukie Principal] Kelly Carlisle.'
Williamson, the wrestling coach, tried to respond, but the public comment session had closed and he was silenced by the repeated slamming of the gavel.
In an interview the next day, Williamson said Naso's comments were an attack on the teachers and staff.
'His implication basically was saving face, that there was not a mistake made in the first place,' he said. 'Then he went on to basically, what I would say, degrade the teaching staff at Milwaukie High School, [saying they're] maybe trying to argue with administrators rather than focusing on teaching. I take it as a great insult, a direct slap in the face to our professionalism as teachers.'
A recent report had named Milwaukie as third in the state in percentage of graduates who earned their Certificate of Initial Mastery, which is awarded based on standardized tests, Williamson pointed out. Milwaukie beat out Rex Putnam, ranked 10th. Williamson said the ranking for Milwaukie speaks very highly of its teachers and staff.
'Mr. Duhrkoop never claimed to be a messiah,' Williamson said when asked what he intended to say in response to Naso's comments. 'You sir are not a messiah either. I think some people in this community have placed him [Naso] or he's placed himself on a pedestal, where he can put down the school's staff.'
Williamson said Naso shouldn't make these pronouncements because he has little familiarity with the day-to-day happenings of the school.
'He does not walk down our halls very often,' he said of Naso. 'For him to make judgments on whether the Milwaukie staff is doing our jobs is not right.'