Monday, January 22, 2001

Principal who assists disabled among honorees




By Cindy Kranz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Taylor Hlebak, a second-grader at St. Ignatius School in Monfort Heights, uses a wheelchair, but you wouldn't know it from looking at her desk.

        As she moves up a grade each year, new desks are ordered at wheelchair height so they all look the same.

        It's one of the many little things that her school principal, Tim Reilly, does for students with disabilities. And those little things add up to a school that's committed to all children.

        Mr. Reilly will receive an Inclusion Network Leadership Award for Education Inclusion tonight at the Hyatt Regency downtown. The network is a volunteer group committed to inclusion of people with disabilities in all aspects of community life.

        “He's so modest about getting this award, but as a parent of a child with disabilities, obviously inclusion is at the forefront of what we want for her,“ said Taylor's mother, Kara Hlebak of College Hill.

        “It's all the little things that make Taylor fit in. She fits in seamlessly. She's just one of the kids there. It doesn't matter to him she's in a wheelchair.”

        Other Inclusion Leadership Award honorees are: Procter & Gamble Co., Workplace Inclusion; Madison Avenue Christian Church, Covington, Religious Inclusion; Covington Millennium Mosaic Project at the Covington Community Center, Community Inclusion; and Dixie Harmon (posthumously), Outstanding Achievement.

        At St. Ignatius, there are 142 students with physical, speech or learning disabilities in support programs — an unusually high number for a private school whose inclusion practices are not required by law.

        “He chooses to do all these things,“ said Terry Davis, the school's speech/language pathologist who nominated Mr. Reilly. “He is not legally required to do any of this.”

        But morally, Mr. Reilly said, the school is responsible for doing whatever it can so all students can succeed. “It really isn't about kids with disabilities. It's about treating all kids with dignity and respect.”

        Mr. Reilly has been principal for six years at St. Ignatius, a K-8 school with an enrollment of 803 students this year.

        He does what he can to remove barriers — physical or otherwise. One student with attention deficit disorder kept forgetting his textbooks at school and couldn't do homework. Mr. Reilly solved the problem by buying another set of textbooks for the child to keep at home.

        Mr. Reilly relies on teamwork among parents and staff. He's assembled a support staff that ranges from learning disability tutors and instructional specialists to aides who escort students to support services. Team members consult one another on a student's progress.

        “Tim Reilly has been a very big influence,” Mrs. Davis said. “It's a very child-centered approach. Everybody is working to help kids succeed.”

        “I'll take some credit for this, but when you're surrounded by such good people, you've got all of the ingredients to make it work,” Mr. Reilly said.

        He praised his staff and the parish for its commitment to inclusion.

        “Inclusion is a lot more than special desks, power doors or special toilets. It's an attitude of respect,” Mr. Reilly said. “God made everybody a little different. Taylor and any of the 142 kids teach us things. They are great additions to our school.”

        Taylor was born with a spinal cord injury that left her with phys ical and learning disabilities. Any barriers she faces at school are removed, Mrs. Hlebak said. Automatic doors were installed, and a remote control button was added to Taylor's wheelchair.

        Educational barriers are removed, as well. Taylor has trouble writing for long periods of time, so Mr. Reilly has discussed buying a computer she can use at her desk next year. Mrs. Hlebak said: “People tell me, "You mean they're willing to give you a computer at (the) desk? You don't understand how lucky you are.'”

       



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