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posted: 2/15/2013 7:59 PM

Colleagues remember trailblazer for special education

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  • Richard Kirstein

    Richard Kirstein

By Eileen O. Daday
Daily Herald correspondent

One of the first special education teachers at Hersey High School in Arlington Heights, who helped pioneer individualized education plans in the school, has died.

Richard "Dick" Kirstein died on Jan. 29 from injuries sustained in an auto accident in Galena. The former Arlington Heights resident and teacher for more than 30 years in Northwest Suburban High School District 214 was 82.

Robert Cudney, formerly District 214 assistant superintendent and director of personnel, said in the early years when Kirstein started at Hersey, there were only three special education teachers in the building.

They worked with students in small classes and as resource teachers, following them through their schedules and helping them with other academic areas.

By the time Kirstein retired in the early 1990s, there were four times as many special education teachers working in each District 214 school.

"There was a real proliferation of special education services during those years," Cudney says, "and Dick was at the threshold of that."

Tom O'Driscoll, former principal at Hersey, said Kirstein not only worked with students in the classroom, but he also looked for ways to expand their learning outside school.

"He looked for vocational experiences for students in special education, especially those in our hearing-impaired program," O'Driscoll said of Hersey's regional program that provides comprehensive educational services for students who are deaf or hard of hearing.

"Dick was a very well respected faculty member," O'Driscoll added, "and he worked well with the kids."

Building a career in education did not come easily for Kirstein. He was working as an athletic trainer at Glenbrook North High School and was already married with two children when he decided to earn his degree.

According to family members, Kirstein attended Illinois State University during summers and eventually got an undergraduate degree in education and a master's in special education.

"It took him eight years, but he did it," says his daughter, Donna Hourigan of Galena.

Kirstein accepted his first teaching job at Hersey and stayed until retirement.

"His years at Hersey and in Arlington Heights were very happy ones," Donna Hourigan said. "He loved his students and especially those with special needs and learning disabilities. They had a special place in his heart."

Besides his daughter, Kirstein is survived by his wife, Dorothy, son Rick Kirstein, and four grandchildren, Allison, Matthew and Danny Hourigan and Gregory Kirstein.

Services have been held.

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