Principal Brian Cox always puts students first at Johnson Junior High School in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Using the AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) framework, which Cox researched, advocated for and implemented at Johnson, students focus not only on taking tests but on leadership skills. AVID helps Cox and his staff guide students who need extra support toward academic success. When Cox talks with students, he asks them how they picture their lives in 20 years—home, job, family—and then works backward to help them connect those dreams to studying hard and getting good grades. Cox often reminds teachers that students are not little adults, and that teaching the whole child means understanding not just what is happening, but why. When a student acted out at school, Cox worked to gain the student’s trust and learned that the child felt unsafe at home after someone pushed in the family’s front door. Cox bought a new door from the lumber yard, went to the house and installed it himself.
Cox leads a staff of 100, challenging Johnson’s educators daily to consider what they can do to make a positive impact on the seventh- and eighth-graders they teach. Cox personalizes professional development for each teacher, seeking resources to address the specific skills and challenges they want to address. A former science teacher and assistant principal, Cox pores over student data. Convinced that cell phones at school have a negative effect on student learning, he brought students, families and the community together, made his case, and led the effort to remove them from campus. Cox sits on the board of the Wyoming Association of Secondary School Principals and has lobbied Congress for Title I funding in Washington, D.C. He has mentored many new principals and worked with the Laramie and Uinta County school districts to develop a comparative salary schedule matrix for rural schools.
Many of Johnson’s students experience challenges at home, just as Cox did growing up. Empathy is a core value for Cox: When a racially charged incident happened at another middle school in the district, Cox stepped up to organize the district’s first youth equality symposium, a weeklong event that led to several ongoing tolerance and diversity initiatives. An avid runner who has done several 100+-mile ultra-marathons, Cox sits on the board of the local Boys & Girls Club and raises money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. He has helped students organize clothing drives for classmates who need winter coats and worked with another student to plan a dance to raise money for the community. Cox has developed anti-bullying programs and added restorative justice to the school’s discipline matrix.
Cox earned a bachelor’s in biology and chemistry in 2002 from the University of Wyoming and a master’s in curriculum and instruction in 2006 from the University of Colorado. He is pursuing a doctorate in educational leadership.
"There is nothing more powerful in this world than a person willing to rise. Life will inevitably punch each of us in the gut. It may..." (read more)
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