Dick Koeppe and Bob Tschirki first inductees in the Legacy Stadium ‘Wall of Fame’
These two very different men took strikingly similar paths leading to the same place as leaders at the helm of the Cherry Creek School District. Their legacies will be permanently cast in bronze side-by-side in the new Legacy Stadium "Wall of Fame."
Richard Koeppe and Robert Tschirki were honored during a special ceremony Oct. 10 dedicating the new stadium before the Smoky Hill vs. Grand-view football game. Plaques commemorating these outstanding leaders were unveiled, beginning a new tradition of honoring those who have helped the Cherry Creek School District realize its motto of "Dedicated to Excellence."
"Both of these great leaders helped shape the legacy of achievement and excellence for which the Cherry Creek School District is known in Colorado and the rest of the nation," said Superintendent Monte Moses. "Despite the challenges of growth and shrinking budgets, the unwavering dedication of these two men ensured that we never strayed from our mis-sion ‘to inspire every student, to think, to learn, to achieve, to care.’ "
The new stadium, built with funds from the sale of district property, is adjacent to Cherokee Trail High School, and is the district’s second. The first, Stutler Bowl, was built next to Cherry Creek High School in 1964. In recent years, the rapid growth of the district created increased demand for Stutler Bowl and created problems with scheduling.
Both Koeppe and Tschirki came from poor, rural origins. No one in their families had ever attended college. Both men cred-ited their parents’ sup-port and teachers who cared for starting them along the road to success.
Tschirki, who served as superintendent from 1990 to 1999, recalled that one of his high school teachers came to his parent’s home the night of his graduation to convince they and Bob that he ought to go to college. He told them, he thought Tschirki should become a teacher. His father wanted to know what that would cost.
"Mr. King said it would cost about $1,000 a year," Tschirki recalled. "And Dad turned to Mom, and he said, ‘We have about $800 in savings. Bob can have that, but he has to pay the rest of the way. We don’t have any way of paying for the rest.’ "
Born on an Iowa farm, Koeppe, who served as superintendent from 1972 to 1987, said the thought of college had never occurred to him or his parents either. "Both my parents had only a sixth-grade education," he said. "They were bright but they never had a chance, so they pushed education. Go to school. Learn. Do what the teacher says."
And when a teacher told Koeppe he should go to college and become a teacher, he did.
"When you have a teacher you admire, who could see me as being an educator — which I could only dream about — I thought maybe, I can," he said.
Koeppe came to Cherry Creek Schools in 1972 from the Denver Public Schools. It was a time of enor-mous growth and change. By the time Koeppe left in 1987, enrollment had tripled and the district had built and opened 23 schools with funds from nine bond and budget elections.
"There was a constant reminder that if we were going to grow and keep a high quality program we had to have both budget and bonds go-ing along with it," he said. To ensure that he knew how every aspect of the district was run, Koeppe spent time in every department. He droves buses, served lunches and taught in classrooms. From that, he learned that the excellence of a school district depended on the excellence of the people who worked in it.
"My memories of the Cherry Creek Schools are memories of people — board members, teachers administrators, parents, bus drivers, cooks," he said. "We are an organization of really good people who care."
Tschirki came to Cherry Creek Schools in February of 1990 at a time when the economy was suffering, but the district was continuing to grow. In the decade he served as superintendent enroll-ment grew by more than 40%.
"When I sat down that first day I think I had the feeling of mystique and the sense of being in Cherry Creek and all the things I heard and read about," he said.
That mystique changed quickly to reality at his first board meeting where he learned the district would be holding a bond election that May, and would be making the transition from the junior high school model to the middle school model it uses today.
Despite budget cuts of about $34 million in his first three years as superintendent, Tschirki never lost sight of the district’s mission. "When I first came, the goal was to have kids read at grade level by the end of the third grade," he said. "Why do we say third grade? Why don’t we say first grade? Eventually that standard became a part of us."
Like Koeppe, Tschirki credits the district’s high academic achievement to the people who work with students. "We just had great people," he said. Cherry Creek is known for its great board members over the years, and I think over the years the district has hired great people."
Both men say they have seen enormous changes in public education over their combined 89 years of service. They fear that many people may have forgotten its roots and purpose.
"We forget that when the American experiment started after the Revolutionary War, the idea of hav-ing a public school system, supported by taxes, was the first time that anybody in the history of the world proposed that," Koeppe said.
Tschirki noted that public education in America has grown and adapted to new and changing demands. He watched while public education took on more responsibility.
"When I first started teaching, we had one mission and that was academics," he said. "We went into special interest activities, we went into health, and we went into safety education. The public expected us to take on all these things that family used to be concerned about and responsible for."
Despite the increased pressures and challenges facing public schools today, both men agree that the American education system is one the nation’s greatest sources of pride.
"Today I read about the concern regarding dropouts. Actually the dropout rates today are relatively low," Tschirki said. "When I first started teaching in the ‘50s, it was about 50%."
In 2001, the most current year for which statistics are available, the national dropout rate was 5%. In Cherry Creek Schools, the 2003 rate is 1.2%
Tschirki remains committed to the mission of public education and now serves as Executive Director of the Colo-rado Association of School Executives. He is the recipient of the Governor’s Award for Excellence, Colorado Superintendent of the Year, the Phi Delta Kappa Award for Leadership in Education, the Colbert Cushing Award and a Danforth/NASE Fellow.
Koeppe returned to Denver Public Schools as an interim superintendent after leaving Cherry Creek Schools. He now serves as a senior consultant for SchoolMatch, a major relocation firm, He also has acted as a legislative liaison for the Colorado State Board of Educa-tion/State Commissioner and the Colorado General Assembly, is the recipient of the American Association of School Administrators Professional Development Award, and the Leadership Award from the University of Denver Chapter of Phi Delta Kappa.
"I’d go back and do it again," Koeppe said. "To be able to say that, I’m pretty blessed."