MARICOPA — Students from a Maricopa charter school organized a protest on Monday morning in solidarity with a teacher they say was unjustifiably fired.
The protest took place around 7:30 a.m. Monday outside Sequoia Pathways Academy, just days after students said they were told after school that math teacher Kevin Struble had been fired.
Alyssa Coryell, a junior at the high school, said students found out when a message was posted on a school discussion page Friday. The news quickly spread through Snapchat, and by that evening, a walkout had already been planned.
The students gathered just outside the campus as parents dropped their kids off at school. Many vehicles honked in apparent solidarity when they drove past the sign-waving protesters.
Coryell said she was shocked when she learned the news, as Struble had been teaching her Algebra II class just that day. But she was even more surprised when she was told it was due to low test scores and attendance issues.
“It didn’t make any sense at all,” she said. “Most of us have known him for such a long time. He taught a lot of us in fifth grade, so he followed us through middle school and high school. Personally, he’s been such a strong advocate in the classroom because I struggle at math and he’s always been there for me.”
Tensions between students and the school’s charter company, Edkey, grew even higher after students saw a tweet from Edkey CEO Mark Plitzuweit discussing the need for schools to expect more than mediocre teachers, with Coryell saying she took this as a slight against Struble. There was immediate backlash against the tweet, and Plitzuweit’s Twitter account is now private.
Plitzuweit told PinalCentral Edkey has a policy not to comment on personnel matters unless an employee signs off on the release of their personnel file. He did, however, say that his tweet was not directed at any single person, but was actually part of a longer train of thought about education performance in general.
“Last evening’s tweet about mediocre teachers was in no way aimed at anyone in particular,” he followed up on Saturday. “It was an appeal to all educational professionals to transcend above mediocrity and low expectations, which I have stood by since Day 1. This is a basic concept that created school choice. Based on the sheer number of amazing staff that we have within the Edkey Inc. family and the rejection of those two items, we have seen marked improvement across the organization in student outcomes and growth. As CEO, I support all of our great employees across all Edkey schools.”
Coryell, who is an athlete at Pathway, said when she was at the school for practice on Saturday, she saw a group of teachers surrounding Struble’s classroom, helping him pack up his belongings. She said the teachers she had talked to have shown support for their former co-worker.
This was actually the second such walkout that she has participated in during her time at Pathway. In 2015, students held protests following the dismissal of 7-12 Principal Diane Silvia and Dean of Students Nate Lamma. Edkey quickly changed course and reinstated the two administrators just days later.
Coryell isn’t sure if this walkout will lead to the same result. What’s more, she said, if she were in Struble’s shoes, she's not sure if she would even want to come back if she were offered the job.
“I’m just hoping that we can let the CEO or whoever shows up know the impact Mr. Struble has had on us,” she said. “He’s not a mediocre teacher at all. Of all the teachers I’ve had, he’s been the best. He always helps. He stays after-school to work with us.”
While Plitzuweit said he could not offer any details about Struble’s employment or lack thereof, he wants those who are upset about the situation to “think critically about what has happened."
“It is the first week of the second quarter,” he said. “There are approximately 1,500 open teaching positions statewide. The hardest positions to fill are certified math, science and special education. We have a few long-term substitutes already at Sequoia Pathway, more than at any of our other locations. How many possibilities are there that could cause something like this to happen?”