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O’Rourke Prize

About Bill O'Rourke

Bill O'RourkeColleagues uniformly remember Bill for his integrity, his genuineness, and his way of leading through relationship. With some people, the "task" is the first thing to address. With Bill, the relationship was the first thing to nurture. The wisdom behind this approach was the belief that "once the relationship was solid, you could tackle tough issues without fear of reprisal." You knew that you cared for each other in a very real way. In his genuineness, you always got "the real guy," no false fronts or political correctness. Perhaps this is moral leadership personified. And, so it was, when you were Bill's student, you learned first about being a person, and then about writing curriculum, designing standards and assessment, and conducting school improvement.

How did you learn about being a person from Bill? Much of it was through real dialogue - the exciting process of deep listening, probing questions, reflections, and shared ideas - the kind of exchange where you experienced the gift of Bill's full interest and attention. He was as comfortable talking with the high school Latin teacher about the "authentic" upcoming Chariot races, as he was the 1-2-2 zone that had recently been put in by the "buckets coach." He honored your world by knowing about your world, and he knew about your world by asking questions and reading voraciously. He made you feel that whatever, and whomever, you were leading, was oh, so very important. One of his students in an educational administration course, wrote about him, "If administration could be spiritual, Bill made it so."

The Storyteller

Bill understood the power of story-telling in creating understanding. In the trainings Bill conducted, you heard stories from his experiences and stories from his heart. They were all tales that we could relate to and that illuminated the understanding of key principles.
The story of buying his mother, then in her seventies, her first microwave oven, and her unanticipated defensive reaction to it. The details were both humorous and instructive, and spoke to the principle of understanding change, whether it be in the kitchen or in the context of school reform.

The story of returning to his 30th high school reunion, to recognize that fifty percent of his small graduating class returned, and fifty percent did not. What did it say about the "haves and have nots," the engaged and the unengaged in our school systems, and the necessity of quality for all students, based on educational standards?

The story of the aspiring professional cyclist, who lived with Bill and his wife, while training for his dream. The young cyclist understood the balance of building an aerobic and fitness base and then specifically tailoring his training for a given race. The same principle applies to the balance needed in curriculum development, with strong attention given to building a foundation, and yes, teaching to the test, given that the test measured that which was worthy of learning.

The Writer

Bill was a writer. He wrote about his love for Muhammed Ali and he wrote about his concerns regarding the impact of standardized tests; he wrote a bi-monthly sports column and he wrote of the difficulty of writing curriculum and assessments, designed to teach for and gain evidence of students' understanding, of important concepts and issues. Writing gave him the opportunity to think and reflect about all things important. Yes, Bill was a writer, and whatever subject he was writing about, he wrote from something deep in his heart.

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