Franklin County Schools and a state professional organization honored two local educators this month. Benjamin Franklin Middle School principal Bernice Cobbs is this year’s Virginia Outstanding Middle School Principal of the Year as named by the Virginia Association of Secondary School Principals.
Lee M. Waid instructional coach Brenda Weeks is this year’s Teacher of the Year for Franklin County. Weeks is eligible for regional Teacher of the Year, and upon receiving that honor, Virginia teacher of the year. Those awards are announced in the fall.
Cobbs has been nominated three times for Outstanding Middle School Principal during her 10-years at Benjamin Franklin. This June, she will receive the state’s top honor at the 92nd annual Virginia Middle and High School Principals Conference and Exposition in Portsmouth. She’ll also receive a principal’s ring at a dinner in September.
“I know that I was given the award, however, the award came to me not just because of Bernice,” Cobbs said. “It was because of the willingness of the staff [at Benjamin Franklin] to be collaborative and to work as a team. Because of all that, the middle school is doing well.
“Nothing great ever happens in isolation,” Cobbs continued. “It is because of those individuals who are willing to step out in faith with you and work as a team.”
Cobbs also credits her husband, her fellow church members, and her family and colleagues, all of whom have all supported her professional journey. Her academic path began with an associate’s degree from Virginia Western Community College. From there, she earned a Bachelor of Arts from Ferrum College, master’s degrees from University of Virginia and Radford, and her doctorate in educational leadership and policy studies from Virginia Tech.
Cobbs first wanted to go into education when she was working for the Franklin County General District Courts in 1994. Her children were young – her son in sixth grade and daughter in second – but her husband encouraged her to pursue her dream of becoming an educator.
“My husband was very instrumental and encouraging,” Cobbs said. “It was tough being a mother and a wife, raising our children, but beyond that there were various community members who were very supportive like [former assistant superintendent] Ms. Florella Johnson and [K-12 Director of Instruction] Brenda Muse.”
She also credits her faith and the supportive community at both churches she’s attended, Truevine Baptist and Faith Fellowship.
“My belief in God is important and He has helped me and put people on my path. I would not be where I am today if it were not for that.” She tells others to trust in their faith and know that when they make a change that leads them in a new direction, things will work out. She said prayer led her to a system of support at every step in pursuing academic degrees and in her career.
“You’ve got to have someone in your corner to cheer you on when you’re down on your knees. You have got to have someone to help you back up. I had a lot of people. My husband has been my greatest cheerleader, but there have been so many people along the way,” Cobbs said.
Cobbs’ administrative career began in 2005 as principal of Snow Creek Elementary School. From 2007 to 2009, she served as principal of Boones Mill Elementary School. In 2009-2010, she was Director of K-5 Curriculum and Instruction for the school division. Through 2015, she was superintendent of instruction for Benjamin Franklin’s sixth-grade. She became the middle school’s principal in 2015. As a teacher, she was named Boones Mill’s Teacher of the Year in 2003 and 2004. In 2004, she was Franklin County Teacher of the Year and Region VI Teacher of the Year.
This fall, she’ll move to Franklin County High School as the school’s new buildings administrator. Current principal of Wyatt Middle School in Greenville County Jami Clements will start July 1 as Benjamin Franklin’s new principal. Clements is a U.S. Army veteran and doctoral candidate at the College of William & Mary.
“I’ve enjoyed my time there but 10 years is long time,” Cobbs said. “It’s time for someone else to come to the middle-school campus and Gereau [Center for Applied Technology]. The staff there has been really wonderful to me … When they come to me with ideas, we work together and I step aside to let those ideas flourish and bloom into what they need to be. It’s been a great partnership and I’m very happy about that.”
Cobbs said her favorite thing about being an educator has been the ability to make a difference in the lives of students and the community at large.
“I really mean this. I’m not just saying it because it might be a cliché … That difference some days is very small, but I have found that what might be a small difference to me may be really big for that student or adult.”
That desire comes from those who made a difference in her life growing up in the Trueville hamlet of Franklin County as the daughter of sharecroppers and factory workers. She wants to pay it forward.
“People made a difference for me. The church I went to, they loved us and encouraged us. They thought I was very smart, and people helped me along the way so that has been a premise for my whole life. If I can help others, that’s what I’ll do,” Cobbs said.
A second educator to win accolades this year, Brenda Weeks, instructional assistant at Lee M. Waid Elementary, was named Franklin County Teacher of the Year. She received a cash prize of $1,200 from the Franklin County Public Schools Education Foundation.
In writing a recommendation for weeks, Lee M. Waid principal Anitra Holland said Weeks is a champion for every student and every teacher, serving as a resource for students, teachers and families on a daily basis in a variety of roles.
“A lifelong educator once stated, ‘Every child needs a champion — an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection, and insists that they become the best that they can possibly be.’ This is a true statement for adults as well,” Holland shared.
“Through modeling best practices in teaching, she helps teachers develop their skills in instructional planning and delivery incorporating research-based teaching strategies in their daily routines. She builds trusting relationships with teachers, and they welcome her to collaborate and co-teach with them to better serve their students and achieve higher learning outcomes,” she continued.
Holland shared that Weeks has a positive impact on students and the community through her dedication to the success of everyone at Lee M. Waid.
“We are proud to have Mrs. Brenda Weeks, a lifelong educator of over 26 years, as our 2019 Franklin County Public Schools Teacher of the Year. As one student simply stated, ‘Every school needs a Mrs. Weeks!’” Holland wrote.
Weeks has been an instructional coach at Lee M. Waid for three years, serving as a mentor for new teachers, helping with classroom strategies, facilitating parent involvement, coordinating SOL testing, and administering a teacher enrichment program.
She has a Master of Arts in Education in Curriculum and Instruction from Virginia Tech, and a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education from what is now Longwood University.
Most of her classroom teaching career has been in Lee M. Waid’s third-grade classes, where she spent 15 years. She’s also taught first, second and fourth grades. Weeks’ leadership experience includes serving as a crisis team member at Lee M. Waid, training classroom teachers in MAP testing, and serving as third-grade division leader for the school system.