The tattooed, skater principal making education fun again

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To hear Hamish Brewer speak is to be inspired. About education. About life. About the possibilities of it all.

And for disadvantaged youths that come from poverty and broken homes, the New Zealander with an infectious energy works hard to encourage them to excel, not only in school, but in life.

About Hamish Brewer

With a shaved head, tattoos, and one of those loud, larger-than-life personalities, Hamish Brewer is hard to miss.

He yells, gestures, and can often be seen roaming the halls on a skateboard, not hidden away in some back office. And he often visits the classrooms of his pupils to interact and encourage them with positivity. It’s all part of his relentless strive for excellence.

This, he says, is key—an in-your-face kind of motivation that puts the wants and needs of the kids first.

And it seems to be working. In just five years, he turned Occoquan Elementary from a sleepy little school to one of the best in the state, winning five School of Excellence awards in the process.

The Relentless Educational Approach

A self-proclaimed educational disruptor, Hamish Brewer sees it as his mission to unlock his kids’ potential, and he weighs each decision he makes back against their interest.

“Everything I do is about kids,” he says. “Every decision I make comes back to: Was I better for kids today?”

Like the kids he looks after, Mr. Brewer comes from a separated and poor family, which he believes enables him to better understand the challenges his kids face.

But he doesn’t coddle them. He dares his kids to be great.

“Are we average?” he asks an auditorium filled with his kids, donning a character more reminiscent of a motivational speaker than a school administrator.

“No!” they emphatically yell.

“What are we?” he quickly adds.


You can tell they’ve done this before.

Brewer’s Dream to Make Education Fun Again

Recalling amazing experiences from his childhood, Mr. Brewer notes that the central element was enjoyment, and he’s trying to recreate that zest for learning by making education fun again.

He laments what he sees as an archaic educational process that is consumed with building boxes and sticking kids in them.

“The world isn’t a square box anymore,” he says. “Times have changed. Kids have changed, and we’ve got to move with that.”

Occoquan Elementary

Hamish Brewer got his start at Occoquan Elementary, a school serving a large low-income and immigrant community. His unique leadership approach turned Occoquan from a struggling school with sagging test scores into one of the best schools in the state.

His goal was to provide authentic and relevant experiences for kids and did so by making some drastic changes.

First up was unlimited field trips. He also changed all the lighting from drab fluorescents to daylight bulbs and introduced technology to classrooms to stimulate and encourage his kids.

It worked. The school is now one of the best in the state.

Fred Lynn Middle School

After five years at Occoquan Elementary, Hamish Brewer is taking his unorthodox style to Fred Lynn Middle School.

Though he’s still new to the job, teachers remark that the students are better behaved, more attentive, and have a greater interest in learning now that Mr. Brewer is at the helm.

But after his last success at Occoquan and what’s already shaping up to be his second at Fred Lynn, he has his sights set higher still.

“The ultimate goal is to help all kids,” he says. “All kids deserve this.”

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