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McConnaughay spotlights everyday hero, Jim McCullough, celebrated Choral Conductor at St. Charles East High School

This week, Senator McConnaughay spotlights Jim McCullough, St. Charles East High School’s celebrated and recently-retired choral conductor.

McCullough taught at St. Charles East for 24 years, where he inspired thousands of students to appreciate and pursue music in their college years and onward. In May, the month of his retirement, 100 of his alumni and a full audience—including his family—gathered at the high school’s year-end concert to honor his life’s work and bid him a proper musical farewell. For the final number, the alumni got up onstage with his current students to join together for the choir classic, “When the Saints Go Marching In.”

Since his beginning at St. Charles East, he has gone to lengths to expand the music program and extracurricular activities to cast more light on music education in the community. His accomplishments include expanding the high school’s chorale program to six choirs; founding a musical group for sophomore through senior women; and introducing two new jazz choir classes. The response and engagement from students has been exponential. In his final year of teaching, 180 students enrolled in his choir program.

In his previous role, he served as the choral director at Everett High School in Everett, Washington, until 1994 when he moved his talents to St. Charles. He has received tremendous praise from the parent, teacher and student community at St. Charles East High School. Alumni students who have gone on to pursue music have said McCullough’s passion and high expectations were and continue to be driving factors in their blossoming music careers.

“He demanded excellence from us on a daily basis, but he maintained his goofy sense of humor. It was a good balance,” said Devin Dunn, his former jazz piano and choir student.

To continue his legacy, the school announced a new Jim McCullough Scholarship in his name, which will be awarded annually to a St. Charles East senior choir student. The recipient is chosen based on their passion for choir or jazz choir, and his/her belief in the power of music and how it shapes the community. McCullough was overjoyed about the scholarship fund, and even more by the kind words of his students.

“I love these kids. We have fun working together,” said McCullough. “Their energy feeds my energy and makes me a better teacher. Their ability to sing emotionally and meaningfully really moves me.”

While he is sad to retire from his decades-long teaching career, he says that he plans to continue pursuing music and wants to become more active in composing jazz choir music.

“It is so touching to see hundreds of students gather to celebrate Jim’s abundant teaching career,” said McConnaughay. “His passion for music really transcends through his instruction, and he has inspired decades of alumni to enjoy music. The St. Charles East community will certainly miss him, but I wish him the best of luck in his retirement!”

McConnaughay is honored to recognize Jim McCullough for his contributions and the talents he brought to St. Charles East music program and his lasting impact on the community. For more information about the Jim McCullough Scholarship Fund, please email mcculloughscholarship@gmail.com.

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