Johnson Junior High School had never had an all-school assembly. On Monday, December 9, it had its first.
Brian Cox, the school's principal, organized the whole thing, but thought he was setting up an assembly for Wyoming's State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow. He expected her to recognize the school's initiatives to ensure that all students had access to breakfast. Little did he know that the multiple VIPs from around the state that were there, were there to recognize him.
But a few minutes into the assembly, it became clear to him there was a hidden motive. Greg Gallagher, Senior Program Director at the Milken Family Foundation, took the podium to discuss the importance of educators, and one educator in particular. Then, Cox was shocked to hear his name announced as the next Milken Educator.
"I'll be honest, it's so pretty surreal at this point. I had no idea this was coming. All I know is we had a lot of really important people who make a lot of really important decisions for our kids in our school coming," Cox said after the assembly.
In addition to being recognized as an outstanding educator, Cox was awarded $25,000 and will have the opportunity to take part in several professional development programs. The $25,000 award can be used for anything the recipient wants.
"I haven't even thought that far ahead. One of the things I probably will do is we started a scholarship fund, my wife and I did, here for students of Johnson Junior High School, and we'll probably put a little bit of that money into that scholarship fund to continue helping our kids," Cox said.
The scholarship is just one example of the hard work that Cox puts in to support his students.
"When you have the opportunity to get up a half hour early and then work that much harder for your kids, do it. I get up every morning at 2:30. And that's something that I do just specifically to make sure I can be here for kids when kids are here," Cox said. "I take care of all the paperwork at that point, just to make sure if kids and staff need me that I'm available to them."
Even after the excitement of receiving his award, Cox didn't skip a beat in his duties as principal and directed an orderly exit from the gym in between photo ops.
Gallagher said that Cox's ability as a leader is one of the reasons he was selected for the award.
"In Mr. Cox's case, he's a great leader, obviously, as a principal, but also, he's empowering these students to become leaders as well. He doesn't just lead by his words he leads by his actions," Gallagher said. "He's also a hometown hero. He helps out in the community. And he's teaching the students about the importance of civics, because they're also helping out in the community."
The Milken Award has been called the "Oscars of Teaching." Recipients are selected using a confidential selection process - they don't apply, and they're not nominated. Each award is given as a surprise.
Cox's award was given in front of over 800 students, staff, government officials, and the media. He's the only recipient from Wyoming in the 2019-2020 year, but up to 40 educators across the country will be surprised with the award.
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