Pete Cookson Named 2020 Outstanding Elementary Teacher, Howard Brewer Named 2020 Outstanding Secondary Teacher
Pete Cookson, a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) teacher at Laurel Hill Elementary School, has been named Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) 2020 Outstanding Elementary Teacher, and Howard Brewer, Lead Teacher—English teacher at the Transition Support Resource Center (TSRC) at Bryant High School, an Interagency Alternative School, has been named FCPS 2020 Outstanding Secondary Teacher.
“Pete ‘gets’ kids,” says nominator and co-teacher Marissa Williamson. “He has taught over a thousand. He has four of his own. He clearly remembers being a kid.”
Cookson began his career in 1998 as a classroom teacher at Braddock Elementary and Kings Glen Elementary; he has taught general education, special education, and advanced academics. He currently is the science lab teacher at Laurel Hill.
“It’s Tuesday and my students can’t wait for science,” states Williamson. “Tuesday is our ‘Lab Day’ and our opportunity to spend time with Mr. Cookson. His lab is full of wonders: microscopes, barometers, models, robots, Legos, planets, a bearded lizard, and a true appreciation of student curiosity. Mr. Cookson has a perfect balance of teaching, hands-on and discovery. He is a veteran teacher who has in-depth knowledge of content and best practices. The students, however, do not seem to realize this. They just reap the excitement and thirst for science that he inspires. They do not always realize that they are learning by playing the many games and experiences he has developed to reinforce content. They just know it is FUN!” Williamson adds that the students code robots to demonstrate rotation and revolution, create watersheds to demonstrate impact of pollution, make puppet shows to teach primary students about science, build ocean floors, create giant creatures using features of weather, and talk with scientists across the country via video conferencing.
The relationships with kids that he builds through his position as “the science guy” has changed the culture of the school because of his caring and innovative culture, she adds. One parent said, "Mr. Cookson is a once-in-a-lifetime teacher."
Lisa Rode, the 2019 Outstanding Elementary Teacher, said in her nominating letter, “I had the absolute privilege of teaching with Pete for my first 10 years in Fairfax County Public Schools as a sixth-grade teacher at Kings Glen Elementary…He was not only welcoming but made a tremendous impact on the way I teach.” She praised Cookson for sharing lesson ideas and resources and inviting teachers into his classroom.
“Pete not only created engaging lessons during school, he also led numerous clubs and activities before and after school,” stated Rode. “These included a before-school STEM class, several years of an after-school All-Star Sports club, and before school reading-math support. Pete also led a tailgate each year at a Lake Braddock football game. Students and families from his current class would attend as well as students from previous years. One student shared that this tailgate helped with his transition from elementary school to middle school.”
Principal Janice Dalton says, “In his classroom he has created a rich, warm, welcoming and visually exciting learning space. Every student has an opportunity to participate in the science lab. Every lesson has a hands-on approach to learning an application to solving real-world problems or making real-world connections. He is also able to thread in procedures, protocols and learning tools in a fashion that is extremely impressive and motivates students to be their most creative and academic selves.”
Colleague Joshua Johnson says that Cookson’s support extends beyond the fun science lessons, “For Mr. Cookson, it is about communicating to each student that he/she has value, that he/she can achieve academic success, and that each student's observations and understanding of scientific concepts is something to be celebrated and built on in the future.”
Howard Brewer is the lead teacher at TSRC Alexandria, part of the network of Interagency Schools. “He is contracted to teach English courses but takes on many roles beyond his job description: protector, mentor, encourager, and challenger,” says nominator and colleague Jude Welling Barrows. “You see, at the Transition Support Resource Centers, we ONLY have students who have struggled in some way. Some come voluntarily to escape bullying, some seek an environment that provokes less anxiety. Others have had challenges with discipline, drugs, attendance, or community violations.”
Barrows says that Brewer, with his infectious laugh and skills at building relationships, ensures that every student has a chance to succeed by giving them a blank slate when they arrive. “Mr Brewer challenges students to think deeper, push harder, and reach further than they could have even imagined,” she adds. “It cannot be overlooked that many of our students are young men of color who may have never had a teacher who looked like them before. Mr. Brewer is the role model these teens didn't know they needed.
“He is a library of knowledge about programs that can benefit our students beyond our classrooms, such as supportive housing for students, vocational residential programs, and post-secondary education opportunities,” she adds. “Mr. Brewer makes strong relationships with parents, guardians, and social workers of kids in foster care. No student slips through the cracks on his watch…One of the leadership qualities that I admire most is that Mr. Brewer has his finger on the pulse of the neighborhoods in which our students reside. Our students deal with a great deal of chaos, violence, and instability outside of school. Mr. Brewer knows when something has happened in the community that may impact the hearts and heads of our students. He helps the staff prepare to best serve our students when they are struggling with their outside lives. Without this leadership, our side would be merely a shadow of what it is today.”
“Howard's empathy, insight, and kindness—coupled with his ability to maintain boundaries, discipline, and tough-love—is the combination of what he comes to school with on a daily basis,” says school counselor Michaelle O’Brien. “His students are Hearings Office assigned, court-appointed, receive special education, many with severe mental health issues as well as students who just can't be successful in a regular high school. He builds these students up every single day. If they don't show up for school, Howard is the first to call the parent to find out why, and then encourages them to come to school.”
Joanne Rosenthal, a veteran teacher with Interagency and former team teacher with Brewer states, “In my 30 years of working with at-risk students, I have never encountered anyone with Howard’s love of teaching and his love and respect for this population of students. After working with hundreds of students, he is still in touch with many of his students and celebrates all their accomplishments.”
Nominator and assistant administrator for Interagency schools Brandon Morehead notes that Brewer acts as a life coach for students. “He takes pride in getting to know the students and being a mentor to them, where he provides guidance in education and life,” says Morehead. “I can truly say because of Mr. Brewer many students have completed grade levels, graduated, stayed out of jail, and stayed alive.”
Interagency Schools administrator Jennifer Knox explains that Brewer’s duties “go well above those of a teacher Howard is a mentor to students and staff, protector, advocate, ‘family member’ they didn’t know they needed, and most importantly, many would say he gives those around him a purpose to be successful in life.”
Justina Copeland, current dean of students at Fairfax High School, shared, “Working with Howard Brewer is truly a one-of-a kind experience. He’s everyone’s favorite uncle. He is welcoming, sincere, down-to-earth, intelligent, and gregarious. Howard is the quintessential relationship builder, ultimately winning the hearts, minds, and interests of students and colleagues.”
Brewer served in the U.S. Navy for 10 years before earning a degree at the University of the District of Columbia. He began teaching in 1999, first as a summer school teacher then in his current position at TRSC at Bryant High. He has served as a basketball coach in the District and in Maryland schools.
Winners of 2020 Outstanding Employee Awards include:
Outstanding Elementary Teacher
- Pete Cookson, STEAM teacher, Laurel Hill Elementary School, Region 4
Outstanding Secondary Teacher
- Howard Brewer, English teacher, Transition Support Resource Center
Outstanding Elementary New Teacher
- Ayanna Bundy, fifth-grade teacher, Hollin Meadows Elementary School, Region 3
Outstanding Secondary New Teacher
- Samantha Jalajel, speech and drama teacher, Frost Middle School, Region 5
- Amy Goodloe, principal, Rocky Run Middle School, Region 5
Outstanding New Principal
- Anthony Harris, principal, Frost Middle School, Region 5
Outstanding School-Based Leader
- Jamie Gadley, assistant principal, Dogwood Elementary School, Region 1
- *since her nomination she has moved into the Principal role at Dranesville Elementary School
Outstanding Nonschool-Based Leader
- Michelle Lis, coordinator, Instructional Coach Initiative, Willow Oaks Administration Center, Chiefs Offices
Outstanding School-Based Professional Employee
- Anne Lee, school counselor, Lynbrook Elementary School, Region 3
Outstanding Nonschool-Based Professional Employee
- Matthew Norton, budget analyst, Gatehouse Administration Center, Financial Services
Outstanding School-Based Operational Employee
- Long Van, building supervisor, Camelot Elementary School, Region 2
Outstanding Nonschool-Based Operational Employee
- Patti Parisi, executive administrative assistant, Gatehouse Administration Center, Financial Services