Editorial: A strong voice for inclusion

  • Former Concord High School principal Gene Connolly attends a panel discussion following the premiere of “Mr. Connolly Has ALS” at Red River Theatres in Concord on Tuesday. Elizabeth Frantz / Monitor staff

Friday, May 26, 2017

When the Monitor began writing about Gene Connolly and his battle with ALS, we asked one of his many longtime friends whether the Concord High principal (now retired) was as wonderful as the stories made him seem. The friend said: That’s Gene. All of the great things – all of them – are true.

A new film by Dan Habib titled Mr. Connolly Has ALS, which premiered at Red River Theatres this week, is further proof of that fact. The documentary follows Connolly during his final year at CHS and reveals a dedicated educator with a deep affection for life and the people who populate it. For those who know Connolly best, the film serves as a monument to a special man. For everyone else, it is the source of a lament like the one uttered by CHS student David Milliken after he saw the film: “I wish I had known him better.”

Of all the ways Connolly continues to inspire the Concord community and beyond – and there are many – it’s been his push for inclusion in schools that we believe could have the greatest long-term impact. This is the message he gave during a panel discussion of the film: “I truly believe that our public schools are the spaces where we have to be pushing for inclusion. That by pushing for inclusion in this space, it ripples out into our communities and into our world.” He’s right, of course. And so was his daughter, Ally Davis, a teacher at Christa McAuliffe School, when she said: “The compassion, understanding and empathy that they learned through inclusion will be something that lives on forever. The impact of this will reach students far beyond our time at school.”

An inclusive classroom is one that recognizes that all students are unique learners, that every child deserves an educational experience that is the right fit. If a school truly wants to nurture the sense of community among its students, and is sincere in its mission to prepare them for adulthood in the wide world, it hardly makes sense to separate some students from their peers merely because they have different requirements. To do so is to rob the entire student body of a full and meaningful educational experience that not only embraces diversity but celebrates it.

ALS may have taken Gene Connolly’s voice, but his words have never been more powerful: “This experience has only made me more sure that inclusion is an essential part of education and life.”