Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of July 17, 2006
Educator wins award
Brenda Willis receives YWCA Woman of Distinction Award
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
Brenda Willis is a woman of distinction. And she has an award to prove it. On June 15, Willis received the YWCA Woman of Distinction Award in recognition of her distinguished career as a Catholic educator.
"My soul was filled with joy that evening," she said in an interview. "Receiving this award was such a privilege for me. I've been in this district all of my life.
"I went to school here as a child. I've also taught in this district for over 30 years and so for me it was a real affirmation of both Edmonton Catholic schools and Catholic education in general."
The YWCA awards, given in 12 categories, from education to community service to business management, recognize women who have left an indelible mark on the Edmonton community.
Willis, who is director of learning support services for Edmonton Catholic, received her award in front of a crowd of hundreds at the Northlands Agricom.
She was one of five women, two of them Catholic, nominated for the award in the education category. The other Catholic nominee was Anita Petrovic, a teacher at Louis St. Laurent Junior/Senior Catholic School.
Willis has been with Edmonton Catholic for 34 years and has served the district as a teacher, consultant in special education, principal and director of learning support services. At the awards presentation she was described as an educator who "has worked to create paths for student success" and who continues "to open doors so others may succeed."
A trailblazer for the education of children with special needs, Willis established the district's first integrated classroom in 1980 and first inclusive classroom in 1988.
By bringing special needs children into the regular classroom environment she brought into reality her vision to "educate for life and for all."
"Brenda really does have a special place in her heart and a very great passion for children who have special needs and wants to ensure that every special needs child is given the maximum learning opportunity possible," said superintendent Joan Carr, who nominated Willis for the award.
"She is a very strong visionary; she has moved our district in new directions with respect to special education.
"We are very proud of her work and the contributions she's made to Edmonton Catholic Schools and to the province in the area of special education."
Willis, a mother of two, began teaching with Edmonton Catholic at age 19. She moved into the special education field in 1980, serving as a consultant for the district for the next 10 years.
She then returned to the classroom as school administrator and for the next decade she served as principal first at St. Anne Elementary and then at St. Thomas More Junior High.
Six years ago, Willis became director of learning support services, a department of 68 consultants and district staff that supports the programming in Edmonton Catholic Schools.
"I have a passion in the area of serving students with special needs," she said.
"That passion comes from my Catholic faith. I believe very strongly that a Catholic education focuses on what Thomas Groome called education for life and for all."
Willis also has a personal mission statement that she lives by. "That personal mission statement says that as an educator, my role is to provide a vision so that others can see, to create paths so that others might follow, to open doors so that others might succeed.
"And I think that that's what has driven the work that I have done."