Shawn Sheehan’s passion for teaching math took him from Lewisville, Texas, to Washington D.C., this past year as one of 14 Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellows. A ninth-grade algebra teacher at Lewisville High School Harmon (and the 2016 Oklahoma Teacher of the Year and National Teacher of the Year Finalist), Sheehan is wrapping up the year-long fellowship designed to give accomplished K-12 STEM educators the opportunity to inform federal STEM education efforts. Before heading back to the Lewisville Independent School District, Sheehan spoke to ASBJ’s
Michelle Healy about his insider’s view of education politics in the nation’s capital.
How was your adventure in the federal government?
It’s been eye-opening. I have a newfound perspective on the work that happens there, but in a good way. I work in the office of Congressman Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) who is on the Education and Labor Committee, assisting him with his K-12 education portfolio, including STEM and the Success in the Middle Act (designed to help middle schools develop an academically rigorous curriculum and support struggling students). But I wasn’t limited to education issues. I will leave with a stronger sense of hope because I have met the people who work here, and I know they are committed to making things better. And that’s folks on both sides of the aisle.
What did you learn that will impact your thinking about education?
I have a much better sense of the interconnectedness of federal programs and public policy. Among the issues in my portfolio has been housing, and I can see how our school’s student population demographics are comprised pretty specifically by zoning. It’s not a coincidence that in my district, my students who are largely minority populations live in neighborhoods that include pawn shops and smoke shops. Go a mile down the road where the grocery stores and the half-million dollar homes are, and they feed into a different high school within the same school district.
Shawn Sheehan, top left, with the other Einstein Fellows
What message about STEM education needs to be emphasized?
It’s important that we label pro- grams and practices correctly. If the coursework is STEM, it should include all four components. Too often, I’m seeing programs labeled as STEM that are science or math but overlook technology and engineering. Why is that important? Because there is a lot of funding being funneled into STEM education initiatives, but we must make sure that we really are eligible to access those funds. I would hate to see anyone miss an opportunity.
Any plans to use your new legislative skills?
I pitched a new hybrid teacher-leader position to my superintendent, and he gave the green light. Having been gone for a year, I know that I belong in front of kids, so I will teach math in the mornings and in the afternoons serve as the district’s Community and Government Relations Liaison. I anticipate working with businesses and organizations in North Texas to create more opportunities that focus on STEM and CTE. I also want to help research programs that can benefit the district as well as engage in legislation primarily at the state level. I can go and advocate for issues and say: This is how it’s going to impact our school district from the perspective of someone who took attendance this morning. It’s kind of the best of both worlds.