Region Teacher of the Year Honored

Cedar Valley teacher receives honors
By: Todd Martin
The joke around Cedar Valley Elementary School was how to keep their award-winning fifth-grade teacher humble in the midst of the celebratory sign, banner, and gifts.
The reality is that everyone knows that James Cook is all about service to students, which is why he is the Region 12 Elementary Teacher of the Year, which a pair of new banners proclaim outside the school and the Killeen ISD Administration Building.
“It was an easy decision to pick him,” said Cedar Valley Principal Jessica Napolez.
School staff members choose their annual teacher of the year and Cook was Cedar Valley’s pick in 2020-2021. Napolez was an assistant principal at the school at that time.
“I think with the COVID year, he was a really strong leader,” she said, pointing out that Cook extended care and compassion to students and staff members, often reaching out to families in need.
“I’ve seen his growth now for five years and he is a lifelong learner,” said Napolez. “He is teachable. He listens and is always willing to make changes that lead to success.”
On Wednesday, Superintendent John Craft joined district elementary administrators and Cedar Valley leaders in surprising Cook – again – with a gift card and signage from the Region 12 Education Service Center.
The Cedar Valley Elementary School, Killeen ISD and Region 12 teacher of the year will be a guest of honor at the Baylor University football game Saturday.
As a high school sophomore, Cook said he began losing interest in school and it was an English teacher who saw his literary skills and encouraged him.
He served in the U.S. Army 22 years. Upon retirement, he watched his wife, Killeen High School teacher Keina Cook head off to school along with their school-aged children.
The retired soldier also noticed the young, smiling children in their neighborhood going to school and wanted to be a part of making children like that happy.
The fifth-grade teacher is known for incorporating financial literacy into his class and also for attending students’ outside events.
“My students are walking the journey with me,” he said. “They work hard. They help me. We build a family bond early. They inspire me to keep going, to keep making a difference.”
“He has the biggest heart for kids academically and socially,” his principal said.