A family tradition: Son of Jackson County superintendent joins education ranks

JACKSON COUNTY MI – The Denney family tree has multiple branches of educators.

John Denney is the Hanover-Horton School District superintendent. His wife Stephanie has been a preschool teacher for decades. Both of their mothers have worked in schools around Jackson County.

On Sunday, the next branch starts his career.

Evan Denney, John and Stephanie’s son, graduates May 15 with a bachelor’s degree in education from Concordia University in Ann Arbor. He completed his degree at the Christian college in three years.

“I’ve been surrounded by so many educators since before I could remember,” said Evan, who also celebrates his 21st birthday on Sunday and recalls going from his dad to his mom to his grandmother’s classrooms all in one day when he was young.

“I’ve seen the positive impact teachers can make on students and what a difference they can make,” he said.

Evan started school in the Columbia School District and graduated from Hanover-Horton High School in his dad’s district. His interest in social studies and teaching it to others started during his K-12 days, his father said.

“Teaching is definitely in the blood,” John said. “He’s always had an interest in history and politics and geography and things like that, so I wasn’t surprised to see that’s what he ended up doing.”

Evan’s degree has a focus in social studies, and he is in the process of finding a teaching job in the Jackson County area to be close to home. He never felt pushed into the teaching profession despite the family connections, Evan said, but he strived to emulate his dad’s “level-headed” demeanor.

“He’s just a phenomenal leader and he’s done such a great job with Hanover,” Evan said. “I see that I have a lot of the same qualities that he does, so I knew I could be a good teacher, too.”

Concordia appealed to Evan due to its beautiful campus off Geddes Road in Ann Arbor, as well as a hands-on education program, he said. His father came away impressed, as well.

“I was impressed with what I saw (with) their teacher’s education program just based on how they have it set up, and how they provide opportunities for students to teach before they head out into the world,” John said. “It’s not just lectures.”

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Concordia did a good job showing how a classroom needs to be “run and managed,” Evan said. It was not just about knowing the subject matter to be taught, and the one-on-one instruction greatly helped, he said.

“You’re not going to get a great learning environment when you’re in a lecture hall with 200 or 300 kids trying to learn how to be a good teacher,” he said.

Evan graduated in three years due to dual enrollment in high school earning him almost a full year’s credits before even hitting Concordia’s campus. This is a particular point of pride of his dad’s, who also marvels at how his son seems unfazed by the more challenging aspects of a career in education.

“When he was in his freshman year, I wasn’t 100% convinced it was a good angle for him to go into,” John said. “That was around the time that pensions for teachers were getting ‘adjusted,’ to be politically correct. I would tell him, ‘You got to know what you’re getting into.’”

Despite knowing all the drawbacks, Evan told his dad teaching was his calling.

“This is what he knew he wanted to do, and there was no hesitation on his part,” John said.

For Evan, at this young stage of his career, money is not the biggest priority.

“If anybody goes into teaching for the money, they’re doing it for the wrong reasons,” Evan said. “I care more about what kind of impact I’m making on these kids and how I’m helping them learn and grow.”

Its perspective like this that makes Evan’s father beam with pride, knowing his son will take the baton of the family profession and run with it.

“He’s gonna make a hell of a teacher,” John said. “Some district is going to be lucky to be able to hire him.”

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