September 10, 2012
Stevenson High School Social Studies teacher Andrew Conneen, who has spent nearly two decades working to reinvigorate civics education in America, today was named by the Illinois State Board of Education as one of nine finalists for the 2012-13 Illinois Teacher of the Year. The winner will be announced Saturday, October 20 at the ISBE’s annual Those Who Excel banquet in Normal.
Click here for the official Illinois State Board of Education announcement
Conneen has been a teacher for 18 years, the last 14 at Stevenson (1998-2012). The University of Illinois graduate spent his first four years at Waubonsie Valley High School in Aurora. He is the third Stevenson educator in the last seven years to be named a Teacher of the Year finalist, joining colleague Laura Brandt Stoppek (2007) and Christina Kelly (2005), who this year took the reins of the Mathematics Division.
At Stevenson, Conneen has taught primarily AP Government and AP Comparative Government, and has served as a team leader on the Government curriculum team. During his tenure, Conneen has led voter registration drives that have seen more than 6,000 students register; has coordinated the recruitment and training of more than 600 student election judges; has helped coordinate visits from more than 60 elected officials and candidates; and has overseen eight student-moderated debates for federal and local candidates. He also has taken groups of students to observe the Iowa caucuses during several presidential elections.
Last spring, one of his former students, Ilya Sheyman, was a Democratic candidate in the 10th Congressional District primary.
"I took pride hearing him deliver a rousing stump speech and remembering all of the times he eloquently challenged conventional wisdom in my political science class," said Conneen, who has served as a Republican precinct leader. "I took even more pride in seeing that his core campaign team were also my former students and that a large group of my current students made up the bulk of his volunteer staff."
Conneen is a self-described "political junkie" whose lifelong love of civics began at the age of 9 on November 4, 1980.
"That was the day that my parents flew our family from the Pacific Northwest to move to Chicago. It was also Election Day — Carter vs. Reagan," he wrote in the ISBE nomination materials. "I distinctly remember that while headed to the airport, my parents stopped to vote. That’s my first political memory. It made an impression on me, and I continue to have the overall goal in education of passing on simliar enthusiasm to participate and understand the democratic process."
His highest-profile achievements have been joint ventures with colleague Daniel Larsen. They include creating an AP Government review show that aired on Chicago radio and eventually landed on C-SPAN’s "Washington Journal," where it consistently ranks as one of the network’s top-rated education programs; developing an online website, CitizenU.org
; and writing blogs for Politico and CBS Chicago.
"I went into his class indifferent about politics, and I walked out with a newfound passion for the social sciences," said Matthew Graziano, a 2010 Stevenson graduate who is now a junior at the University of Illinois majoring in political science. "No other teacher I have had has gone to such great lengths to educate, inspire, and do what he loves to do."
SHS Director of Social Studies Brad Smith, who has taught abroad as well as in the United States, said Conneen "develops political efficacy like no other educator I have ever encountered."
"Andy has found success by keeping true to one basic principle, and that is to only pursue what genuinely motivates, engages, and effectively educates his students in his classes," Smith said. "Andy has held to that standard as he led our government teachers and curricular teams to expand our AP program from between 100-200 students a year to over 600, while increasing average AP scores. ... Our district has been lucky to be his laboratory for applying that principle of only promoting what engages, inspires, and educates our students."
Excerpts from letters of recommendation for Andrew Conneen:
Daniel Larson, colleague:
"Mr. Conneen inspires students to engage in our republic’s highest office — the office of citizen. As the crown jewel of Mr. Conneen’s efforts he oversees the voting registration of every able body in our school. Tens of thousands of Illinois youth have registered due to his efforts. Exit surveys tell us that not only have students been registered but they also vote at higher rates than would be expected after they graduate."
Wayne Silverman, former SHS parent
: "Each of my three daughters had a wonderful experience with Mr. Conneen because he challenged them to take their course studies beyond the school day and into their interactions with the community as a whole. Mr. Conneen exposes his students to a world beyond the classroom and gives them access to local and national government and politics way above and beyond anything that could be put into a textbook."
Dr. Eric Twadell, superintendent:
"While Andy is obviously concerned with the students in his own classes, he understands that it is our collective commitment to educating all kids that will have the most important and profound impact on our students’ lives. As such, Andy is frequently called upon to mentor new teachers, lead curriculum teams, and is a wonderful role model for those of us who aspire to serve as ‘learning leaders.’"
Pat Wilder, former District 125 Board of Education member and retired SHS employee:
"Andy’s official title is high school social studies teacher but his interests and accomplishments place him in an undefinable category. There are no limits in his pursuit of providing opportunities for his students to become knowledgeable about the governmental process."