Under McConnell, the debate club brought home first dozens of awards, then a full gross of trophies, Juan Diego's Molly Dumas says.
On one debate trip to Chicago, she took her squad to a Cubs game, then dozed through most of it. They pretended not to notice but playfully asked her questions about the game for the rest of the trip. She bluffed her way through, says Duane, who admired her moxie and her dedication to the students.
"She follows through, she knows what she's doing and she completes a job. How many people can you say that about?" he adds.
Though she now lives in California, McConnell is developing a writing program for the school and teaches students online how to write great essays. And while she's thought of teaching in California, the McConnell's are empty-nesters now — Harriet's at Harvard, finishing up. Emily is married and moving to San Diego, where she will study to be a midwife. And Sam, a baby no more, graduated from Juan Diego and is studying theology at Calvin College.
Her years in the classroom, she says, have made her "an unabashed advocate of educational choice" because different things work for different kids.
"I am a believer in dialogue, and one of the things I hope to write about is that it is interesting to have the experience of being in a home-school community and a bricks-and-mortar community. They have a lot to learn from each other," McConnell says.
It interests her that when charter schools fail, it's considered a failure of charter schools in general.
"Most new businesses do in fact fail, and it doesn't mean it was a bad idea or we don't need innovation," she says. "But innovation never means guaranteed success. We should look at why they succeed and don't."
Fun for McConnell often has an outdoor element. She loves to garden. And she keeps a toehold in Utah, spending summers just minutes from Capitol Reef.
"There's nothing like a half day on the trail to clear your head and the other half in front of the computer, writing," she says.
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