Linda Cohen is the new principal of Greenbriar East Elementary, and she is definitely enthusiastic about it.
"I am so excited and thrilled to be here," she said. "I've already rolled up my sleeves and am on my way."
Born in Buffalo and raised in western New York, Cohen came from a family of educators and always knew she wanted to be a teacher. "It's in my blood," she said. "My dad was a teacher and an administrator, and uncles and aunts were teachers, and I saw the joy they had doing it."
Besides that, Cohen loves sharing ideas. As a little girl, she said, "I used to line up my dolls or my sister and 'teach' them. I knew that, through education, the world opened up for folks and offered them much more than a narrow scope."
She, too, soaked up as much knowledge as she could and had well-rounded interests. "I loved music, reading and fine arts and played violin from third to 12th grades," she said. "And I also played on sports teams."
SINCE ALL this learning broadened her own horizons, Cohen wanted to do the same thing for others. So she attended Kent State and then graduated from Youngstown State University in Ohio in 1973 with a bachelor's in education.
She also married in 1972, and her husband Mark is an administrator at Georgetown University. In fact, the couple moved to Virginia in 1975 when he got the job there. They now live in North Arlington.
"I credit him for being my rock," said Cohen. "He's my most ardent supporter." And they both deal with educating children at both ends of the spectrum. "I start them in elementary school, and he graduates them from the university," she said.
Although they have no children of their own, Cohen says the children she taught were "her" children: "I put my efforts into trying to be a partner with other parents in the education of their children."
She began her career with Fairfax County in 1977 as a K-through-sixth-grade P.E. teacher at Marshall Road Elementary in Vienna. "It was a wonderful community," she said. "And as a specialist [in one, particular field], you're able to integrate all parts of the curriculum into your specialty."
For example, said Cohen, for students studying ancient Greece in the classroom, she'd incorporate Olympic themes into P.E. She'd teach them dances of the country and have them answer trivia questions about related topics.
"It brought to life another method for children to learn and enriched what they learned in the classroom," she explained. She stayed at Marshall Road for 22 years and, in the early 1980s, earned a master's in special education at George Washington University.
Cohen also had administrative duties at Marshall Road. For 12 years, serving as a principal-designee (now called an assistant principal) along with teaching. "I worked with a fantastic principal, Dave Meadows, who mentored me and then convinced me to make the leap into administration," she said. "So in 2000 at GMU, I got an educational leadership degree."
THAT WAS her turning point to become a full-time administrator. She then became an assistant principal at Navy Elementary and held that post, the past four years, before coming to Greenbriar East. She replaces former principal Rebecca Pearson who is now Cluster VII coordinator.
"I found that it's a wonderful school that strongly advocates for all students and would be a good fit for my style," said Cohen. "And I wanted to build on what is already a strong instructional program."
She considers herself an advocate for all children and, she added, "I'm aware of what quality teaching entails, having worn those shoes, and so I hope to carry on those traditions."
Regarding her philosophy of leadership, Cohen said, "The parents, teachers and administrators need to form a strong partnership to build a true community of learners, for the children's benefit. It's very important for all voices to be heard." She also believes in building teams. "One person can't do it all," she said. "We're all in it together."
As for the major renovation of Greenbriar East that's well underway, she said she's ready to tackle it because she's already been through the renovation process at two other schools. Said Cohen: "I've been very fortunate to work with Fairfax County's design and construction team, and the outcome will be a refreshed, renewed school for our children."
She's also delighted to be at GBE, in particular. "I love this community," she said. "The Greenbriar community has a wonderful reputation. If I could have painted a picture of a school with all the characteristics I wanted, it's this school."
Cohen was introduced to the staff on June 21 and, she said, "I received a warm welcome and so I look forward to working with everyone, this coming school year." She said Navy was also a terrific and supportive community, but she couldn't pass up the chance to be a principal.
"This was my career goal, my passion," she said. "I knew I could lead a school, and I was happy to have the opportunity. I'll see where we are and will meet with parent and teacher teams and see where we should go. I want to build the community's trust in me and in the school."
And her predecessor Pearson said she feels GBE is in good hands with Cohen. "She's compassionate and the kids come first with her," she said. "So it brings me comfort that she wants to do what's right for them."
PTA TREASURER and past president Ginny Callahan said she got a good feeling after speaking with Cohen last week. "She has a warm, positive outlook and seems very approachable — easy to be around and easy to talk to. She's very friendly and I'm sure she'll do well. Becky [Pearson] did so much for the school, so she'll build on that. I'm looking forward to working with her."
In her spare time, Cohen enjoys reading — especially autobiographies — and, she says laughing, "I make an attempt to garden." She also likes music, and she and her husband both enjoy the outdoors — hiking and sailing.
At GBE, she said, "I know I have big shoes to fill, but I hope to continue the trust and support that's been shown me already." She also welcomes the challenge of "bringing together our wonderful community of diverse learners and providing the instructional program to meet their needs."
So what gives Cohen the greatest satisfaction as an educator? That's easy, she said: "Seeing the look on a student's face when learning has taken place."