Remembering Mr. Louis Kokonis
Alexandria's legendary high school mathematics teacher
A Celebration of Service
Family, friends, colleagues and current and former students of Alexandria City High School teaching legend Louis Kokonis assembled on January 17 at the ACHS King Street Campus for a Celebration of Historical Service honoring the longest-serving teacher in the history of the Alexandria City Public Schools. Mr. Kokonis, who died on January 4, began teaching mathematics in ACPS in 1959. With deep respect and affection for his reticent formality and humility, attendees at the celebration shared memories of the remarkable Mr. Kokonis and his ACPS teaching career of more than 60 years.
Mr. Kokonis at ACHS
In the 14 years I worked with him at ACHS (then, T.C. Williams High School) I had limited success getting Mr. Kokonis to address me as anything other than “Mr. Eaton,” no matter how many times I suggested, in the friendliest way possible, “Please call me ‘Mark.’”
A key word in the preceding paragraph is “with.” Any large organization, like a high school, that delivers different services to a diverse clientele necessarily has work groups in concentric circles based on work commonalities. For teachers, the innermost circle is other teachers who teach the same class, then teachers who teach related classes, then teachers in the same department, and then teachers in the school as an entirety. The sheer size of a school (the ACHS King Street building exceeds 400,000 square feet) can also limit interaction among teachers.
Even though Mr. Kokonis taught Mathematics and I taught English and Journalism, I saw him regularly in workrooms (we were on the same early morning schedule in using a second floor copying machine) and in meetings, particularly those involving professional development. He was unfailingly gracious, but he was also all business.
It is very appropriate that many of the pictures of Mr. Kokonis show him writing equations on an illuminated surface. He is working at a SMART Board, an Internet-enabled whiteboard introduced in ACPS classrooms over 10 years ago.
ACPS, and the ACHS administration, encouraged teachers to use SMART Boards but they were not immediately embraced by teachers. Like every new workplace technology, there is a learning curve and time is required for user trial-and-error exploration. Some teachers become set in their ways, but not Mr. Kokonis.
When ACPS rolled out new technology, such as laptop computers, or any other instructional theme or approach (or fad, as cynics might assert) Mr. Kokonis was in the front row at professional development sessions. His years of experience did not stop him from mastering new teaching tools and methods. Remarkably, this was true in the more than 20 years or more he taught after reaching what most people would consider a reasonable retirement age.
Memories of Mr. Kokonis
At the Celebration of Historical Service, former T.C. Williams Principal John Porter recalled his 27 years working with Mr. Kokonis. Porter calculates that Mr. Kokonis taught over 7,000 students. He also offered regular after school and Saturday tutoring sessions and volunteered willingly as a club sponsor and for other duties outside classroom teaching.
Porter remembers that in the era of chalk and blackboards, Mr. Kokonis sometimes had blackboard erasers in his pockets. Porter recalled that in those days Mr. Kokonis seemed to move through the school in a cloud of chalk dust not unlike Pigpen, a character in Charles Schultz’s long-running comic strip, Peanuts.
The paradox of teaching is that repetition—teaching the same course year after year—can help a teacher refine his or her craft, but it can also lead to staleness, or “phoning it in.” Mr. Kokonis exemplified the truism that teaching is one of the few pursuits in life in which improvement is always possible.
Some of the most heartfelt and impressive memories of Mr. Kokonis at the celebration were from three of his 2023-2024 students, Thomas Lane, Sehar Saba and Taylor Hoganson. Their respectful descriptions of being in his classes included the suggestion that the years he spent teaching at ACPS should be known as the Kokonian Era.
Mr. Kokonis and the Media
I had the interesting experience of being the adviser to the ACHS student media organization, Theogony, for 13 years. Journalism students are often talented and opinionated and the Theogony staff was no exception. First-rate high school journalism requires a limited amount of classroom teaching. The task is similar to encouraging and coordinating the diverse personalities of an opera company.
Students working on their own in groups can be nonlinear: discussions suggesting a lack of focus were part of a work style. In the chatter of Theogony’s newsroom students (forgetting that I was present, or not caring) often gave candid reviews of the school’s teachers. I never heard anything but respect for Mr. Kokonis.
As Mr. Kokonis passed remarkable teaching milestones—50, 55 and, almost incredibly, 60 years, successive Theogony staffs published affectionate tributes to him, the most recent of which can be seen
Other media organizations covered Mr. Kokonis and his extraordinary career. Here is a CBS Mornings story on him from April 2023.
So, on behalf of so many people, thank you for everything, Mr. Kokonis.
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