The conscience of the quest for inclusive education recognized
CACL inclusive education award officially bestowed upon pioneer Wednesday April 6, 2011 — Kristian Partington
When it comes to inclusive education, the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board (HWCDSB) can be considered a global leader.
Delegations representing educators from the United States, Asia, Europe and Australia have at one time or another visited Hamilton and the surrounding area to see first-hand what true inclusion looks like.
The origins of this deserved reputation can be traced back to the passion for equality and inclusion that fuelled Jim Hansen throughout his long career with the board.
Hansen is a retired superintendent whose legacy can be seen in the natural way students of all abilities are given equal opportunity for success.
For pupils and educators in schools represented by the board, inclusivity today is a given — a fact of life.
The Canadian Association for Community Living (CACL) has honoured Hansen with the 2010 CACL inclusive education award for his dedication to the vision of a society free of barriers and segregation.
HWCDSB chairperson Pat Daly has known Hansen for a number of years, and says he can think of no other person as deserving of the recognition.
“His understanding that every child is created in the image of God and ensuring as a school system we not only believe that but we actually live it — Jim’s vision and leadership many decades ago really pushed the board in that right direction,” says Daly.
For more than 40 years inclusivity has been ingrained in the board’s approach to education, thanks to Hansen’s work.
“Now it’s just part of the fabric of our system and we understand very clearly that special needs students benefit greatly from being part of an inclusive education system,” says Daly.
“And there’s no question in my mind that the other students benefit in many, many ways.”
There were challenges and obstacles but based on the example Hansen set, people rarely focused on these.
“We focused on solutions and realized that this was better for everyone, and found ways to ensure it worked,” says Daly.
He remembers his first years as a trustee were during a time of great economic stress. The board heard numerous external arguments favouring segregation of students who had a disability as a more economical approach, rather than inclusion.
“Jim’s leadership at that time proved first of all that that wasn’t true but secondly, and more importantly by far, that if we truly call ourselves a Catholic school system then we have to ensure that despite — even if there are, which there aren’t — any additional costs, this is just too much a part of our mission and who we are to allow those detractors to win out,” says Daly.
“In difficult times, Jim has served as a conscience when it comes to our ‘each belongs’ philosophy,” he adds.