A Lincoln Middle School science teacher is among four finalists vying to be the 2019 Connecticut teacher of the year.
Tara O’Neill has been in city middle schools throughout her seven year career and now teaches seventh grade, life, physical and earth sciences. Her focus is on enhancing students’ educational, social and emotional outcomes, while acting as a cross-curricular teacher leader.
”I have the advanced degree but I have the most joy working with the kids,” O’Neill said. “My joy is the classroom.”
She is chairwoman of the District Leadership Team where she supervises the Systems and Operations Committee. She has also worked to develop and implement Next Generation Science Standards curriculum at the district and state levels. She also helped advance the Quinnipiac University Science Teaching and Learning Center, where she has provided professional development to teachers in 36 districts across Connecticut.
O’Neill, the Meriden Public Schools Teacher of the Year, went on to become one of 15 semi-finalists out of more than 100 applications. The 15 semi-finalists were interviewed by 20 educators on various state boards and four finalists were chosen. The contest involves interviewing former students, parents, and co-workers as well as a classroom visit, expected next week. The winner will be announced at a press conference from the winner’s school during the week of Oct. 7.
O’Neill attended UConn, University of New Haven, and Quinnipiac University. She did an internship at Washington Middle School before accepting a position at Lincoln.
Teacher of the Year means sharing her success with students and teachers, she said.
“It means that my students have succeeded or surpassed the levels I had hoped they would,” she said. “I get the rewards on a daily basis. But I’m at the point in my career where I can share my successes with other people and then those success are compounded.
“We have teachers who put students at the heart of every decision,” she added. “I have been very fortunate with the central office support.”
O’Neill is known for using technology in the classroom to teach new skills. She also has a passion for working with students who experienced trauma, teaching them focus, coping and empathy skills.
“A little empathy is the number one skill our students need,” she said. “And it is implicitly taught and needs to be praised when it happens.”
O’Neill has worked closely with Lincoln Principal John Kuckel over the years.
“Tara O'Neill represents the embodiment of a master teacher,” Kuckel said in an e-mail. “She always goes above and beyond for her students. Students who are our highest achievers and students who need extra support all find success working with Mrs. O'Neill. She shines in the classroom because of her ability to connect with students of any ability level and from any type of background.”
By Mary Ellen Godin, Record-Journal staff