Our Hero: Dr. David P. Riley
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This year, the Inclusive Schools Week theme focuses on the concept of being a HERO. This is particularly fitting because a hero is a person noted for courageous acts of character and nobility. We are proud to name:
Dr. David P. Riley
Founder of The Inclusive Schools Week and Network
as our Hero for 2016
Dr. Riley, who passed away May of this year, served as an educator, friend, advocate, and trailblazer for individuals with disabilities throughout his lifetime. First as a brother, then as a widely acclaimed educational leader and finally as Executive Director of the Urban Collaborative for Special Education Leaders. The Inclusive Schools Week was a brainchild of David’s in 2001. The concept occurred to him as he drove home one weekend from his workplace in Boston to his favorite family weekend/vacation spot on Pratt’s Island, Southport, Maine. As David would tell it, he was driving along listening to NPR radio and an interview with a guest who was expounding on the value of ‘Take your Daughter to Work Day’. His creative mind leapt from that idea to another one: “Wouldn’t it be great if we had an entire week to celebrate inclusive practices!
The idea grew quickly and created a lot of excitement in David’s place of employment, the Education Development Center in Waltham, MA. With a small amount of staff time and the full support of the EDC, Dr. Riley received a White House Proclamation Letter designating the first full week of December each year as Inclusive Schools Week! The staff developed ideas for schools and teachers to use in creating innovative and meaningful ways to engage students, faculty, parents and communities in recognizing the values of inclusive education for that special week. A Celebration Kit was designed, posters were made, city, county, and state offices were contacted for letters of recognition and press kits were prepared.
Kristen Layton, working with David to develop the ISW in 2001, remembers how their offices quickly became overrun with boxes for mailing out ISW celebration supplies, purchase orders for as little as $1.00, and all of the trapping of a fledgling new business. Suddenly a small group of dedicated educators became an overwhelmed team of quasi-business people with a mighty mission! – to spread the word about equity and inclusive practices for all school children!
By 2005, David Riley recognized that the Inclusive Schools Week had grown to a year-round commitment. Educators and parents were sending comments and questions every day and countries outside the US were contacting the small staff – clearly, ISN needed to be expanded to a year-round effort and it should no longer be limited to the United States but should reach world-wide! ISW was re-conceptualized as the Inclusive Schools Network. In 2011, it was determined that it was necessary to relocate the ISN to another organization with the time and capacity to support its growing needs. In Dr. Riley’s own words, “In Stetson & Associates, we have found a home that is as passionate about the inclusive schools’ message as we are and a home that is capable of building upon our vision for the network.” Although the ISN was transferred to another home and caretaker, Dr. Riley was a constant source of inspiration and support.
David had many characteristics that have been remarked upon by his friends, family and colleagues. The comments heard most often include:
- His love for his wife and family and his ability to navigate through life in ways that demonstrated a true ability to balance his enjoyment of loved ones and beloved places with the rigors of a busy and responsible work life;
- His strong feeling that children with disabilities should have the opportunity to receive a good education with their non-disabled peers, free of limiting prejudices;
- His commitment to the Urban Collaborative and to its members in their search to find solutions to the most challenging of problems that face educators of students with disabilities;
- His frequent reference to himself as a ‘benevolent dictator’ with a soft chuckle and no apology when something important was at stake;
- His trust in young professionals and their contributions to the field of education – listening to and respecting the opinions of a young leader as well as the seasoned one; and
- His strict sense of ethics, fairness and equity that he applied to his relationships and to his work.
This is but a small example of the heroic characteristics of Dr. David Riley. We miss him and we miss his guidance. The world is a better and more humane place because he was with us. The Inclusive Schools Network, in its tenth year, is a testament to the man and his mission. To our hero for 2016 and beyond!
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