Special Education Awards
Bar Lev, Damgaard, Hawkinson honored
State Superintendent John T. Benson honored three Wisconsin educators this week for their ongoing efforts on behalf of special education students. Benson presented the first-ever "Friend of Special Education" awards during the state superintendent's annual Special Education/Pupil Services Leadership Personnel Conference, held Nov. 9 and 10 in Madison.
"I'm with you today to do something special to honor three people who have gone above and beyond their day-to-day jobs to support issues and initiatives that touch the lives of children all over the state," Benson said as a preface to the introduction of the recipients.
"Hubert Humphrey once said that the moral test of government is how that government treats children, especially those who are in the 'shadows of life -- the sick, the needy, and the handicapped'," Benson said. "I believe in that description of government, and it is one reason why I take such pride in Wisconsin's schools."
Benson said each of the individuals is "highly respected as a local administrator. As I said before, however, each has gone above and beyond the call of duty in their leadership roles within the Council of Administrators of Special Services. Each has met Humphrey's description of good government."
The state superintendent said that was the basis for this decision to present these new awards. "I want to recognize this trio, because I have been impressed with the extent to which they have gone beyond their local responsibilities and contributed to the overall welfare of children with disabilities and to improving special education services throughout the state."
Benson presented the first award to Nissan Bar Lev (CESA 7 pupil services director), who he said has played a key role advocating for special education legislative initiatives. "He is a tireless worker on behalf of children with disabilities and special education programs, and he is no stranger to most members of the Wisconsin Legislature." Benson said Bar Lev played a key role in facilitating the development of Wisconsin's approach to providing special education mediation (a system that is proving to be a model for the rest of the nation). Although the credit for the success of that system is attributable to several people, Benson said that Nissan Bar Lev, true to his character, has been its most consistent champion and advocate.
The second recipient was Ed Hawkinson (CESA 6 special education director), who has served on numerous state advisory committees and councils. "He has never been afraid to challenge the status quo and, consequently, is often an extremely articulate spokesperson for the minority viewpoint," Benson said. "His passion for children with disabilities and for special education services is unquestioned."
Benson said Hawkinson, a person with strong opinions and commitments, was recognized because of his significant contributions to the design of Wisconsin's revised special education statute and the development of revised teacher education licensing rules.
The final award recipient was Dave Damgaard (Wausau School District Pupil Services Director), who Benson said is successful because of his personal reputation for integrity, his leadership skills, and his recognized commitment to children with visual disabilities.
"Two years ago I made a public commitment to improve statewide services to children with visual disabilities," Benson said. "The central element of my proposal was the creation of a task force that would recommend specific ways in which educational services for visually impaired children could be improved." Benson said some parts of that proposal were met by a "firestorm of controversy" that made it extremely difficult for the task force to do its work. "Fortunately, one of your members was willing to chair and lead the group as they found consensus that was insightful, child centered, and balanced."
In closing, Benson said it was an honor to recognize people the caliber of Nissan Bar Lev, Ed Hawkinson, and Dave Damgaard. "I salute each and every one of you for your passion and work on behalf of children."
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