John Brewer started his day early Monday. He arrived at Dominion High School just after 7 a.m. And even before he could reach the front door, he was talking with students.
Football players at an early-morning practice took a break to applaud their principal as he walked into the school. It was his first day back on the job after his three-and-a-half-month suspension.
“He hugged and greeted every player by name,” junior Jackson Steele said. “We were really happy to see him.”
Brewer, named Loudoun County Principal of the Year in 2010, was nearly fired last month. He was placed on leave Dec. 2, and Superintendent Eric Williams moved to terminate him. The superintendent’s decision followed a Florida news article that stated Brewer had written a letter of recommendation for former Dominion band teacher Brian Damron. Damron was later accused of making sexual advances toward a 15-year-old student there, although no criminal charges have been filed.
In a split vote on March 20, the School Board technically terminated Brewer’s previous contract and, a minute later, re-hired him as Dominion’s principal on a probationary period, with contracts to be renewed annually, for three years.
Monday was the first day of his new contract.
It’s as if the principal picked up where he left off, said students and teachers who threw their principal a “welcome back” party at a Mexican restaurant Monday evening.
Brewer observed a few classes, monitored the hallways, greeted students during their lunch break, and gave the morning announcements just as he always does, except he ended the announcements with a particularly loud and drawn out, “Goooo Titans!”
“That was the first ‘go titans’ we’d heard in awhile. A lot of students smiled and cheered,” Jackson said.
“He was everywhere today—I don’t know how he did it,” Dominion English teacher Karrie Rinder said. It wasn’t just a business-as-usual thing, she added. “It was more like full speed ahead.”
Brewer declined to comment to the press; likely being careful to not upset school system administration on his first day back.
But the dozens of Brewer supporters who gathered for his “welcome back” party talked over one another as they described what the principal means to the Dominion community.
Wonman Joseph Williams, now 25, said his path crossed Brewer’s when he was a teen in trouble with the law. “I was always in trouble, always in detention,” he said. “Dr. Brewer gave me a number of chances and supported me when others would have said it’s too much work. He changed the direction of my life. It sounds cheesy, but it’s true.”
Williams now lives in California, but with some financial help from Dominion teachers and parents, he flew back in December to speak at a School Board meeting. He joined hundreds of others at the microphone to urge the board to reinstate their principal. His visit home for Easter also happened to coincide with Brewer’s return to Dominion.
Kim Winters, now an English teacher at Park View High School, also lined up to welcome Brewer back. She was in Dominion’s first graduating class in 2005. Attendance boundary changes are always emotional, but Dominion’s were outright tense. The lines were drawn so that the new school would enroll students from some of the county’s wealthiest and poorest neighborhoods.
Winters said, as a junior, she was given the option to attend Dominion or continue on at Park View. Just as he does for every incoming student, Brewer visited Winters’ home over the summer. He asked her what type of classes she wanted the school to offer and what type of atmosphere she’d like to see take shape at the school.
“That was a turning point for me,” she said. “He took the time to listen to me even before I decided I was going there.”
Winters went on to graduate from Dominion and return after college to teach there for four years. “The reason I’m still teaching today is because of him,” Winters said. “It’s so important that his legacy continues. It’s so important to support people who go out of their way to improve the lives of those around them. He does that every day.”
Parents, teachers and students said the past few months, although stressful and contentious, came with a bit of a silver lining. Families with different backgrounds and living in very different neighborhoods got to know one another as they found unity in their support for their principal.
Sue Kysela, vice president of Dominion’s PTO, noticed that many families who speak English as a second language came forward to talk in front of hundreds of their neighbors at School Board meetings. “These are families who usually hesitate to get involved because maybe they’re intimidated,” she said. “That really says a lot.”
“We’re an even stronger community now. I mean look at this place,” PTO president Amy Curran said, scanning the restaurant, noisy with Dominion families chatting with one another and, of course, their principal making his rounds to each of the tables. “It’s like a wedding reception.”