Future Reflections         Winter 2010

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Blind Educator of the Year Award

presented by David Ticchi

From the Editor: Each year the National Federation of the Blind gives a series of awards at its annual convention. At the 2009 convention David Ticchi of Massachusetts presented the Blind Educator of the Year Award at the meeting of the NFB Board of Directors.

Good morning, everyone. It is indeed a pleasure and a privilege to chair this award committee. I want to thank the committee members who served this year: Sheila Koenig and Judy Sanders of Minnesota, Ramona Walhof of Idaho, and Adelmo Vigil of New Mexico. Thank you very much.

The Blind Educator of the Year Award was instituted by the National Organization of Blind Educators (NOBE) to pay tribute to an outstanding teacher for excellent classroom performance, uncommon community service, and outstanding commitment to the Federation. Because of the importance of classroom teaching and education and the impact they have on students, faculty, the community, and in fact on all Americans, it became a national award in 1991. It is presented in the spirit of our founders, themselves educators who nurtured our movement - leaders such as Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, and now President Marc Maurer. The award includes a plaque and a check for $1,000. Without further ado I want to tell you about this year's winner.

The winner of this year's award is a gentleman named William Henderson. He is the principal of the O'Hearn Elementary School in Boston, Massachusetts. I want to ask Bill Henderson to come forward, and I want to tell you something about this impressive gentleman.

Bill holds a doctorate in instructional leadership from the University of Massachusetts, a master's in community development from Gordon College, and an undergraduate degree in Latin American studies from Yale University. He has served for over thirty-six years in the Boston public schools. He began his career as a middle-school teacher at the McCormick School, became a staff trainer, and in 1981 became assistant principal at Hernandez Elementary School. From 1989 to the present he has been the principal of the O'Hearn School.

Dr. Henderson's professional experience is outstanding. He has conducted seminars at colleges and universities, including Roxbury Community College and the Harvard School of Education. He has consulted with school systems and has written articles. I am proud to say he is a committed member of our Cambridge Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind and the NFB of Massachusetts. Over the years he has helped out with many seminars for parents of blind children.

Bill has received numerous awards over the years. Through the Department of Health and Human Services he received the Outstanding American Award. He has received the Community Hero Award from the Boston Celtics and has been the Milken Outstanding Educator of the Year. He has also received outstanding achievement awards from the Federation for Children with Special Needs. He has been on national TV with Katie Couric and in Time magazine.

In this presentation I want to focus on the O'Hearn School, a school that has been recognized for its inclusiveness. Bill Henderson is a champion of inclusion. He recognizes the benefits of a school that exhibits high expectations for students and welcomes all. It raises the comfort level. It increases respect for human differences. It maximizes opportunities and it minimizes disabilities. The O'Hearn School has been recognized in the city of Boston, in the state of Massachusetts, and nationally.

I do things in advance. I had my notes on Bill's background all researched and ready in Braille for this presentation. Then on Sunday, June 21, Father's Day, I had to change them a bit. I got a call in the afternoon from Bill. He said, "David, I just want to give you a heads up. This was supposed to be a secret, but I've gotten wind of it, and I'd like you to be present when it happens." On Tuesday, June 23, the city of Boston, the Boston School Committee, and the O'Hearn School decided to rename the school after Bill Henderson. It is now the William Henderson Inclusive Elementary School. [Applause.]

I was proud to attend that ceremony. It was very moving. Every grade level was represented, poems were read, and songs were sung. All of this spoke to the inclusiveness of the school, the community feeling, and the love that people have for this man. How rare is it, how extraordinarily rare, that a building or facility or institution is named after a person who is still living! What a tribute!

Bill, congratulations on the National Blind Educator of the Year Award. I'd like to read what this award says.

"The Blind Educator of the Year Award
Presented to Bill Henderson
In recognition of outstanding accomplishments in the teaching profession.
You enhance the present,
You inspire your colleagues,
You build the future.
July 5, 2009."

Bill, congratulations. [Applause.]

Dr. Bill Henderson: Thank you. David, thank you very much for those wonderful words, and thank you, NFB leaders, for this tremendous honor. When I started as a middle-school teacher in the Boston public schools in the 1970s, I also started to lose my vision. I went for some advice. The first person I saw was a retina specialist. He suggested that I get out of education. The next person I saw was an assistant school superintendent. He told me not to worry because I qualified for disability retirement. These highly skilled professionals were obviously not very enlightened.

I clearly recognized the importance of this organization and its leaders, past and present. It has created opportunities for blind folks and changed people's images and perceptions about what we can do. I have benefited tremendously from this organization and from its leadership.

There are so many people, past and present, whom I could acknowledge. I want to say here that David Ticchi was the trailblazer. He was the Jackie Robinson. He was the first blind teacher in Massachusetts. David, you do an excellent job. Your success has made it easier for many of us who followed you.

I also want to recognize the current president of the Massachusetts affiliate of the NFB, Mika Pyyhkala. When I was going through the transition from sighted to blind, he helped me learn some new skills and encouraged me to connect with others to become better prepared. And Dr. Maurer, you might not know it, but you've inspired me for many years with your speeches and your tenacity. Recently you spoke to us in Massachusetts at our state convention. You shared a message in which you asked all of us not only to participate and to contribute, but also to be joyful. That message is something that I think is part of the philosophy at the O'Hearn Inclusive School. We want all of our students from diverse ethnic, linguistic, and ability backgrounds to participate in rigorous academic classes. Whether they see or not, whether they use wheelchairs or not, whether they have autism or not, we want them to participate in rich arts experiences and extracurricular activities. We want all of our children to figure out how they can best contribute, starting out in their homes and in their schools. Ultimately the goal of education is to contribute in our communities and in the greater world. We also want all of our children to be successful and to be joyful. That's critical for us.

In this organization we talk about changing attitudes toward blind folks. Because we are an inclusive school, our students see folks with a wide range of abilities all the time. Let me tell you a little story.

While I was at work I began learning Braille. Once a month the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind used to send somebody out at four o'clock, the end of the school day, to help me with my Braille skills. A young man came to our school using the white cane. He would come into our school at the end of the day when most of the students had gone home, but some were still there. The students were used to a blind principal. What do you think they asked this young man who came into our school? Were they like that eye specialist who said, "You need to get out of education"? Were they like the administrator saying, "Disability retirement"? No. The question these young people asked him was, "Sir, in what school are you the principal?"

Thank you for creating opportunities. Thank you for this award. Keep shining.

[Applause.]

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