eliza berkon is a features writer and jazz musician based in washington d.c. 

2018 Northern Virginian of the Year: Hamish Brewer

“I was pretty disruptive right from the beginning.”

Hamish Brewer, the newly installed principal at Fred M. Lynn Middle School in Woodbridge, describes an atypical route to his career as school administrator. After failing in high school “pretty miserably,” he says, Brewer enrolled in an instructional diploma program and taught in his native New Zealand before backpacking and rock climbing in Southeast Asia.

In 2003, he arrived in Stafford by way of a cultural exchange and taught for a few years before leading an international education organization. He also severely injured his back working for the volunteer fire department, which he’d joined to make a few friends.

The self-assured and disarmingly positive Brewer now shows no signs of injury, an energetic father of four with a penchant for tattoos, spray painting and skateboarding. (He recently added a skateboard rack to Fred Lynn’s hallway.) After improving student outcomes in his five years leading Occoquan Elementary—making the school deskless, adding 360-degree sound to classrooms and instituting a motivational “tribal” system—he joined the administration at Fred Lynn in 2017.

“I love turning schools around. I love working with the most at-risk kids. I love doing the things that people say can’t be done,” Brewer says. “I love proving everybody wrong.”

The 2017 National Distinguished Principal for Virginia has a healthy Twitter following, regular keynote engagements and is pursuing a doctorate at Virginia Tech, yet he’s also found time to bring big change to Fred Lynn, an unaccredited Title I school that opened in 1963.

Brewer has filled the school with inspirational murals, swapped out dull lightbulbs for daylight ones, revamped the school’s greenhouse and woodshop, made extracurricular event participation free and instituted unlimited field trips. And each day on the morning announcements, he tells the students he loves them.

“I want our school to be the beacon of the community again, the lighthouse for the community.”

2018 Northern Virginian of the Year: Ann Matikan

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