The Bittersweet Joy of Recognizing a Hero in Education

For only the fifth time in its 100-year history, WSSDA presented the Hero in Education Award at the 2021 Annual Conference. Leaving behind a towering legacy, WSSDA Strategic Advocacy Consultant Brian Sims received the honor shortly before passing away last month.

Brian Sims and Logan Endres at the state capitol.
Brian Sims and Logan Endres at the capitol.

Before the conference, WSSDA staff gathered Brian’s colleagues on Zoom to pay tribute and give thanks for the example he set and his impact on Washington’s 1.2 million public school students.

Russ Pfieffer-Hoyt, chair of the WSSDA Trust Lands Advisory Committee, told Brian, “a quiet hero is seldom recognized, but their work is felt by thousands who never knew what you did for them. This is the legacy you’ve built.”

The Hero in Education Award is the highest honor WSSDA can give to an individual. The award is for those who have made a significant statewide or national impact by advancing or leading an educational program or advocacy effort.

For over five years, Brian served as WSSDA’s strategic advocacy consultant. His efforts around capital facilities and school construction have been instrumental in securing financial and actual physical supports for school facilities. Brian’s contributions helped raise roofs and shelter Washington’s children in the pursuit of learning.

With all the savvy and insight afforded by his 25 years of working with the Legislature, Brian was a master of balancing the concerns of numerous stakeholders to craft testimony and suggest amendments to support WSSDA’s platform. Though he worked out of the spotlight, Brian will never be out of the hearts of those he worked with.

“Rather than just accepting the accolades of his award, Brian sought to turn the spotlight toward someone else: his fifth-grade teacher, Mr. Charles Nelson, in the Highline School District,” said Marissa Rathbone, WSSDA’s director of strategic advocacy. “That modesty is so typical of Brian. As he explained to me how Mr. Nelson inspired his curiosity, critical thinking, and desire for hands-on exploration, I couldn’t help but think that’s exactly what Brian gave me. Brian made public policy fun and his out-of-the-box thinking has inspired so many of us to be better advocates for students. Brian loved being a teacher and we loved learning from him.”