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Published December 10, 2019
Brian Cox, the principal of Cheyenne’s Johnson Junior High School who is pursuing a doctorate in educational leadership at the University of Wyoming, is the recipient of the 2019-2020 Wyoming Milken Educator of the Year Award.
Cox, who also earned his master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from UW in 2006, received the honor at a surprise school assembly from Milken Educator Awards Senior Program Director Greg Gallagher and Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow.
The award comes with an unrestricted $25,000 cash prize.
The Milken Educator Awards, hailed by Teacher magazine as the “Oscars of Teaching,” have been handed out for over 30 years. The initiative not only aims to reward great teachers, but also to celebrate, elevate and activate those innovators in the classroom who are guiding America's next generation of leaders.
For Cox, tough love and pragmatic positivity go hand in hand. He is all about opening the doors of opportunity, sometimes literally: When a student was troubled by a break-in at home, Cox took a hands-on approach and installed a new door for the family. Cox prioritizes student individuality as a proponent of the Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) framework, a college readiness program that promotes critical thinking, writing skills and teamwork.
As a data-driven former science teacher, Cox is dedicated to creating great educational outcomes for each individual student in a safe environment with zero tolerance for bullying. Focused on keeping the peace in the hallways by keeping students’ eyes on the prize of higher education, Cox engaged with families, teachers and students to ban cellphone use during school hours. One less distraction for students, many of whom have challenging home lives, is a big win for students’ educational goals, he says.
Additionally, Cox mentors new principals and strives to boost the professional development of each of the nearly 100 teachers he oversees.
Transitioning fluidly from individualized learning advocate to big-picture administrator, Cox sits on the board of the Wyoming Association of Secondary School Principals and has lobbied Congress for Title 1 funding for disadvantaged students.
“I've had the opportunity to visit Johnson Junior High and watch Brian interact with teachers and students in such an engaging and positive manner,” Balow says. “Brian’s enthusiasm is infectious, and he's a champion for students. As a proponent of the AVID program, Brian challenges his students to set goals and thus focus on achievement. Brian also is insistent that each student is guided toward some form of postsecondary training -- whether that be military service, a career or college.”
“Brian Cox is seen as an educational leader at Johnson Junior High School, Laramie County School District 1 and the state of Wyoming,” says Laramie County School District 1 Superintendent Boyd Brown. “Mr. Cox is up early daily and completes a full day of work. I can’t think of another person who works harder than he does to have a great educational environment for students.”