February 2024

Feb 28, 2024

Founder’s Celebration

Our Founders Celebration shines a light on Cooke’s principles of community and inclusion, the ideals that shape everything we do. Before we had a board, staff, or even a first classroom, there was a group of parents who had a vision and made it their mission to realize that vision. We look back at Cooke’s community milestones through the lens of our guiding principles to celebrate the hopes, dreams, and achievements of our founding parents and this amazing community they helped to build.


Unable to find appropriate schools for their children, the seven founding parents decided to take matters into their own hands and create a school, one that would embrace their children’s strengths, nurture their curiosity, and help them learn to live as independently as possible. Cooke School was founded in 1987 in a small make-shift classroom at Sacred Heart of Jesus School.


Among these founding parents, Karen Robards, Ken Wirfel, and Roger Miller have contributed to Cooke’s legacy as board members ever since. After 37 years of leadership, Ken Wirfel and Roger Miller have stepped down from the board. How can we ever thank them? One way was by celebrating as a community at this year’s Founders Day Celebration; we also continue to nurture and grow Cooke’s programming for new generations of students. Their dedication and contributions have sustained Cooke programs since the beginning. Their leadership has shaped a new generation of education accessible to all students and families. 

We also celebrated the contributions of Katie Riordan and Vicki Doucet as founding members of the Cooke Transitions Program. Through their unwavering commitment, passion, and leadership, Kate and Vicki have touched the lives of countless individuals and families, breaking down barriers and creating new opportunities for independence, inclusion, and growth. Their impact extends far beyond the program they founded. They have been a powerful advocate and voices for change, working tirelessly to raise awareness, challenge stereotypes, and promote inclusivity and accessibility. Through their advocacy, Vicki and Katie have helped to bring about systemic change and paved the way for a more just and equitable society.

The stories of the founders serve as an inspiration for current and future generations to pursue their passions and make a difference in their own way. Founders Day is a day to come together, remember the past, and look forward to the future with renewed energy and a sense of pride in our heritage. We look forward to celebrating this Cooke tradition for many more years to come.

Francis Tabone, Head of School
Cooke School and Institute



Ken Wirfel’s touching speech revealed some surprises about Cooke’s early days, like how his wife, June, convinced Dustin Hoffman to give $25,000 to the newly-formed “school” as she tagged along with him on his morning run or how they renovated two bathrooms to make the first Cooke classroom because it was literally the only space they had. 

He spoke of the Founding Parents’ hard work and how their spirit of compassion translated into a steadfast mission to take action to make Cooke happen. In his own words:

Compassion, to me, means something more than simply having sympathy for those in need. It means sharing a passion for helping those in difficulty. And it reminds me of the passion we founders of Cooke shared for aiding those, like our own children, who weren’t receiving the education they needed to make their way through life. We set out to do something about it.”

Ken ended the speech by reminding parents to stick together as they forge the next chapter in Cooke’s history. “Your strength is in your unity, in your community. In the community that we’ve built here at Cooke.”

Cooke Institute Impact and Workshops


Cooke Institute (CI) continues to spread its mission principle by sharing its collective knowledge and commitment to improve the educational experience for all students, especially those with unique learning needs. Over the past three years, CI has provided an average of 700 days of ongoing teacher and leadership coaching for educators across New York, as well as 30 professional development sessions each year to a larger number of professionals, including educators, leaders, learning specialists, and after-school coaches. 


CI’s growing PD network stems from its partnerships with other nonprofit organizations across the city, and January was no exception! CI kicked off the new year in collaboration with Cooke School staff members Beth Sullivan and Andi Sachs presenting at the 50th annual Everyone Reading Conference held at the CUNY Graduate Center. Together they engaged participants in a thought-provoking and innovative workshop on a New Perspective of the Impacts of Executive Functioning on Student Learning. Participants left the session inspired and equipped with new teaching tools to support students as they work to strengthen their executive functioning skills for literacy.


Simultaneously, in partnership with Fordham University’s Professional Resource Center (PDRC), CI colleagues Beth Carr, Marie Stamps, and Rebecca Mason developed and facilitated a winter series that included topics from Behavior Management to the Science of Reading. Included in the winter series was a Chat and Network session, where Cooke School colleague Julie Greenberg facilitated a lively and meaningful community chat with other educational leaders on Creating a Conducive Classroom Environment. 


The Collaborative for Inclusive Education, a division of the NYC Charter School Center, sought out Cooke’s expertise around Assistive Technology in the Classroom for their annual conference. Jessie Gardner and Eliana Glatt shared their expertise with educators who expanded their knowledge of AT to include different types of AT, implementation strategies and ways to leverage AT and UDL to differentiate instruction.


Other professional development sessions this year include partnerships with Little Meadows Special Education School, Catholic Schools in the Archdiocese of NY, The Bronx Community Charter School, and the after-school organization Asphalt Green.  CI values delivering differentiated instruction to adult learners through partnerships with schools and community- based organizations to empower them to offer students accessible learning experiences.

Cooke Family Forum: Navigating the Future

Our Cooke Family Forum, led by Laura McCaffrey (the Upper School Transition Coordinator) offers a wealth of information and support to students and families. While Laura focuses on transition services for all Upper School families, 9th through 12th grade, to work on aspects of future planning, she is available, as needed, for Lower and Middle School families specific to OPWDD eligibility and services. We are delighted to welcome families to an incredible line-up of events and workshops offered throughout the school year as part of the Cooke Family Forum.

The Transition team offers workshops on everything from Care Coordination Organizations (what they are and how to register) to Supported Decision-Making, Navigating OPWDD, peer relationships, and ABLE accounts.

See below for a list of the upcoming forums. Our next meeting with be on Guardianship and Special Needs Trusts (March 14). Register below.

A wealth of information and support is here for you. We look forward to your active participation with Cooke’s Family Forum events.

Cooke Celebrates Black History Month

Transitions students Changing the World with Their Words.

During February, we spotlight the complete histories, accomplishments, creativity, and resilience of Black and African-American communities past and present. As you’ll see, students and teachers celebrated together through literacy, photography, and art activities, to name a few. To wrap up the month, Cooke staff will come together this week for a BHM Lunch and Learn and a staff potluck luncheon.

  • History: accomplishments, joys, creativity, and resiliency of Black and African-American communities from the past and today

Dates to Remember

March 1: Noon Dismissal – Staff Development

March 7: Noon Dismissal – Family Conferences – In-Person

March 8: No Students – Family Conferences – Virtual

March 15: Family Movie Night @ 1713



May 22: Cooke’s Food For Thought Gala


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