The Denver teacher strike ended early Thursday morning after a marathon bargaining session that went through the night.
Just hours later at East High School, one of the strike's major picket line sites, teachers gathered outside so they could go back into the building together. Every time another educator joined the crowd, they were met with cheers, hugs and high-fives.
Beneath all the celebration, a sense of relief was clear.
Lindsay Anderson, a history teacher at East High School, is married to another teacher. They both went without pay during the strike.
"We are excited to have some income coming in again, but mostly we're just glad that there's an agreement,” Anderson said. “It's been a long 15 months, and it's unfortunate that it came to a strike, but we're so happy with the results.”
Parents also gathered outside the school as they dropped off their children. Judy Hagerty said the last few days had been unpredictable. Yesterday, Hagerty decided to keep her sophomore-year daughter home because there was not much waiting for her at school during the strike.
Despite the challenges it brought, Hagerty said she supported the strike.
"I believe that they were standing up for themselves and their rights, and we supported them fully. It was unfortunate, I wish that things had been resolved before it got to that point. But they did what they needed to do,” Hagerty said.
The final negotiations between the Denver Classroom Teachers Association and the Denver Public Schools began at 10 a.m. Wednesday and went all night, with a tentative agreement reached at 6 a.m. Thursday.
The district agreed to put more than $25 million dollars towards teachers’ base salaries, and raise the starting salary to almost $46,000. In exchange, the union allowed the district to continue offering bonuses to teachers working in high-priority schools, under the condition the district conduct a study to analyze the effectiveness of incentives.
The union's lead negotiator Rob Gould said the reformed salary system will help keep teachers in the Denver Public Schools district.
“For the past few days we’ve witnessed the power of over 3,900 members of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, and how they inspired an entire city to come together for one cause: our students,” Gould said.
The bargaining teams worked from 10 a.m. Wed, though about 5:33 a.m. this morning - breaking '94's bargaining session length record. Going through plan. #DenverTeacherStrike pic.twitter.com/Zu27dWhwlp— Jenny Brundin (@CPRBrundin) February 14, 2019
Superintendent Susanna Cordova, a former Denver Public Schools teacher who had only assumed the role in December, said both the administration and the teachers have more work ahead when it comes to the issue of state funding for education. Colorado is near the bottom nationally when it comes to funding.
“We’re in the shape that we’re in because of the lack of will and the lack of collaboration at the state level to invest in our schools and that is something I am deeply committed to and that I wanna be able to work on with you to help us change that,” Cordova said.
Cordova and union President Henry Roman signed the agreement side-by-side.
While some teachers returned Thursday, not all classrooms were open. During the strike, all K-12 schools remained open while preschool classrooms were closed. The district made the move out of concern there would not be enough staff licensed to teach preschoolers. Nearly 5,000 young kids went without guaranteed childcare during the strike.
One person who stepped up in that time was Bradley Laurvick, the pastor at Highlands United Methodist Church. When Laurvick heard the strike was finalized, he knew some families would have difficult time finding childcare at the last second.
So, Laurvick worked with the city and the state to cobble together the approval needed to provide a place for parents to bring their children, free of charge. Denver teachers on strike volunteered to keep the makeshift preschool classroom staffed. Many of the kids Laurvick saw belonged to single-parent families.
"As a congregation, our entire sense of being is driven by building a home where all belong, and if anybody needs a space to belong, it's kids in a turbulent time with school stuff,” Laurvick said. “And so we wanted to make sure that they not only had a place that was safe, which we knew we could provide, but a place that would still engage them and provide development and education. It wouldn't just be daycare."