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Big Dreams and Smart Discipline Propel Principal Brian Cox to $25,000 Milken Educator Award

Wyoming educator promotes student leadership and academic success at Johnson Junior High in Cheyenne  

December 09, 2019

SANTA MONICA, Calif.,  Making brighter futures for all students is the primary goal of Principal Brian Cox at Johnson Junior High in Cheyenne, WY, where tough love and pragmatic positivity go hand in hand. Cox 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, Principal 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, faculty and students to ban cell phone use during school hours. One less distraction for students, many of whom have challenging home lives, is a big win for students' educational goals. 

But it was Cox celebrating a big win this morning at a surprise school assembly where he was presented with a Milken Educator Award by Milken Educator Awards Senior Program Director Greg Gallagher and Wyoming Superintendent of Instruction Jillian Balow. Cox was named a 2019-20 recipient of the national recognition, which comes with an unrestricted $25,000 cash prize. He is the only Milken Educator Award winner from Wyoming this year, and is among up to 40 honorees for 2019-20. 

The Milken Educator Awards, hailed by Teacher magazine as the "Oscars of Teaching" has been opening minds and shaping futures for over 30 years. Research shows teacher quality is the driving in-school factor behind student growth and achievement. The initiative not only aims to reward great teachers, but to celebrate, elevate and activate those innovators in the classroom who are guiding America's next generation of leaders. Milken Educators believe, "The future belongs to the educated." 

Cox is bringing that future closer for all of his students, regardless of the challenges they may face in school or at home. An ultra-marathoner who goes the extra mile for students as well as staff, Cox mentors new principals and strives to boost the professional development of each teacher he oversees. Transitioning fluidly from individualized learning advocate to big-picture administrative warrior, Cox sits on the board of the Wyoming Association of Secondary School Principals (WASSP) and has lobbied congress for Title 1 funding for disadvantaged students. 

"A savvy and committed principal like Brian Cox can have a profound effect on so many lives," said Gallagher. "Through personal commitment to individual students, dedicated community outreach and staff development initiatives, Principal Cox is creating a better future for all. We're proud to welcome him as a Milken Educator." 

"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," said Balow. "Brian's enthusiasm is infectious, and he's a champion for students. As a proponent of the Advancement Via Individual Determination (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 post-secondary 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," said District 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." 

About Milken Educator Brian Cox

Principal Brian Cox always puts students first at Johnson Junior High School in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Using the Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) framework, which Cox researched, advocated for and implemented at Johnson, students focus not only on taking tests but also 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 lumberyard, 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 an 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 degree in biology and chemistry in 2002 from the University of Wyoming and a master's degree in curriculum and instruction in 2006 from the University of Colorado. He is pursuing a doctorate in educational leadership. 

More information about Cox, plus links to photos and a video from today's assembly, can be found on the Milken Educator Awards website at https://www.milkeneducatorawards.org/educators/view/Brian-Cox. 

Milken Educators are selected in early to mid-career for what they have achieved and for the promise of what they will accomplish. In addition to the $25,000 prize and public recognition, the honor includes membership in the National Milken Educator Network, a group of more than 2,800 top teachers, principals, and specialists dedicated to strengthening education. 

In addition to participation in the Milken Educator Network, 2019-20 recipients will attend a Milken Educator Forum in Indianapolis from March 26-28, 2020 where they will network with their new colleagues and exchange ideas with state and federal leaders on the future of education. In addition, the Milken Educator Awards' "Why Not Us" program will pair each 2019-20 recipient with a veteran Milken Educator mentor to explore and prepare for expanded leadership roles that strengthen education practice and policy. 

More than $140 million in funding, including $70 million in individual $25,000 awards, has been devoted to the overall Awards initiative, which includes powerful professional development opportunities throughout recipients' careers. Many have gone on to earn advanced degrees and be placed in prominent posts and on state and national education committees.

The Awards alternate yearly between elementary and secondary educators. Unlike most teacher recognition programs, the Milken Educator Award is completely unique: Educators cannot apply for this recognition and do not even know they are under consideration. Candidates are sourced through a confidential selection process and then are reviewed by blue ribbon panels appointed by state departments of education. Those most exceptional are recommended for the Award, with final selection made by the Milken Family Foundation.

The cash award is unrestricted. Recipients have used the money in diverse ways; for instance, on their children's or their own continuing education, financing dream field trips, establishing scholarships, and even on the adoption of children.

To get regular updates on the surprise Milken Educator Award events, follow and use the #MilkenAward hashtag on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Everyone is encouraged to watch the tour at www.facebook.com/milkeneducatorawards, www.twitter.com/milken, www.youtube.com/milkenaward and www.instagram.com/milkenfamilyfdn.

For more information, visit www.MilkenEducatorAwards.org or call MFF at (310) 570-4772.

About the Milken Educator Awards

The very first Milken Educator Awards were presented by the Milken Family Foundation in 1987. The Awards provide public recognition and individual financial rewards of $25,000 to elementary and secondary school teachers, principals and specialists from around the country who are furthering excellence in education. Recipients are heralded in early to mid-career for what they have achieved and for the promise of what they will accomplish.

Lynne Russo 
(818) 903-6079 cell; 
lynneerusso@gmail.com


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