NASHUA TEACHER FINISHES BOSTON AT THE HEAD OF THE CLASS

by Skip Cleaver

marathoner Jim Hansen
Marathoner Jim Hansen
photo Dave Camire

Jim Hansen is a Nashua, New Hampshire elementary school teacher, and a qualified Boston Marathoner. However, his school department denied him the day off from his third grade teaching duties to run the Boston Marathon after several appeals. After qualifying for Boston for a fifth consecutive year, however, Hansen was not about to give up on his 2000 Millenium Marathon, so he worked out a plan to complete his teaching duties, and then drive 50 minutes to Hopkinton, Massachusetts for a 4:00 PM start. With the typical determination of a marathon runner, Hansen arranged to team up with Boston Marathon Technical Director Dave McGillivary, who begins his Boston run about the same time.

"Within 5 minutes of arriving, I was off running with race (Technical) Director Dave McGillivray and two of his friends. We started at 4:00 PM. A police cruiser drove behind us the entire way and went ahead of us to block traffic at all intersections," stated Hansen. Of course, by the time they started off, most of the Boston Marathon field of 17,400 had crossed the finish line. Hopkinton was eerily empty, and quiet. "The course was pretty much cleaned up, at least of official race debris. The roads were quiet compared to the normal start, and there was some traffic on the course," recounted Hansen.

A MARATHON DAY AT SCHOOL

Before leaving New Hampshire for the start, just getting through the day with his third grade class was a "marathon" in itself. In addition to being a very good master's marathon runner, Hansen is a teacher-a very, very effective and dedicated teacher. His class at Mt. Pleasant Elementary School in North Nashua had hopes of tracking their teacher by computer during the "real" marathon. And they looked forward to learning more about other runners and other countries by following his progress. Instead their teacher was in front of his class, and using the marathon as a teaching vehicle while it was in progress. It would have been a much more enjoyable and effective device had they actually been able to relate to it in real time through his involvement. Perhaps he would have been more of a hero and a role model as a participant in the drama on television. Instead Hansen was determined to use this experience to the class's best possible learning advantage, and to turn his own unique experience to a positive if possible. He proceeded to move some of the Tuesday post race teaching methods to Marathon Monday.

"Throughout the day in school, my class did marathon related activities. We had a one-mile relay race (Physical Education). The kids completed the course in just less than 9 minutes. We projected that time to be a 3:55:58 marathon (Math): when I finished the race later in the day I stopped my watch at 3:56:06 (Time and Date, Math). The class's projected time beat my time by 8 seconds! We also practiced drinking water from a cup while running (Physical Education, Health, Nutrition). This was a favorite with the kids! Every student was given an elite runner to 'be' for the day. They learned information about their runner and the country they came from; and learned about the past record of success that their runner had achieved (Geography, History)," stated the teacher.

"The kids then each made a race number that included the number of 'their' runner, and they tried to make their work look like my official number, which I wore throughout the day (Art lessons). And they made signs, which included the country, and the athlete's name. We all wore our numbers throughout the school day. The students tried to predict the winning times for both the men's and women's races (Math again).

By the way, Hansen's official marathon number was autographed at the Marathon Expo by, Frank Shorter (his hero as a kid), Joseph Chebet (last years champion), Moses Tanui (the champion in 1998), and--as good fortune would have it--by eventual 2000 winner Elijah Lagat (History, Social Studies). Hansen also had the good luck at the expo to receive an autographed photo of surprise men's winner, Elijah Lagat. He decided to give it to the student who "won" as Lagat. Both the "winners" were given prizes. Prizes were also given to the students who predicted the winning men's and women's race times. The closest predictions came within 30 seconds of the winning times (More Math). The class watched the dramatic finish on TV as Hansen described the scene and the feeling of coming down Boylston Street.

NOW ON TO HOPKINTON-AND THE (LATE) COURSE TO BOSTON

When school ended for the day, two carloads of teachers from Mt. Pleasant School accompanied Hansen to the starting line in Hopkinton. There were others there to see Hansen off, and to see McGillivary. A woman from Derry, New Hampshire was typical. She had heard that a teacher was running the course at 4:00, and she wanted to show her support. "I was here at noon for the start, and I just came back to make sure that someone was here to see you off," she said.

"That was a really nice gesture," said the runner-teacher. He would see many more gestures along the way to Boston. "There were small pockets of people along the course that cheered, honked, or waved their encouragement -- all along the way. Others laughed, joked, or just stared at a bunch of guys so far behind in the race. At one point a car with an older couple in it drove up and the woman asked if I was the teacher from Nashua. I said 'Yes'. And she yelled back, 'That is stupid what they are doing to you!' and they drove off. We passed Wellesley and there was only one girl walking on the sidewalk and she politely clapped as we went by. That was it for Wellesley! What a change in four hours," recalled Hansen.

"I felt honored that the race director was gracious enough to let me run with him. We ran comfortably. I was in shape for a three-hour run, but we were all pretty tired. We were pretty much conversing the whole way. There weren't many quiet moments except near the end. The other guys were great company," stated the exhausted teacher.

At Kenmore Square, near the famous Citgo sign, it began to rain with a little sleet mixed in, and it was very dark. "At that point we got the loudest cheer of the day, except for the finish," enthused Hansen. "We passed the Gate City Striders (Hansen's Nashua based running club) just outside their hotel, packing for the bus ride back to New Hampshire. Some got off the bus to cheer, and that was fantastic," he stated.

FINISHING LAST BUT NOT THE LEAST BIT SORRY

Hansen, McGillivray and friends enjoyed a dramatic finish, despite the lateness of the hour.

"Nearing the finish a bunch of police motorcycles joined our procession. As we made the turn at Hereford Street flanked by the police with their lights flashing, it was like we were the winners of the race," Hansen said in awe. "As we made the last turn onto Boylston Street, I expected to see the finish line, but they had already taken it down," he remarked. No worries! The fantastic cheers remained, although a little subdued compared with the afternoon crowd. Cheers were echoing up and down the famous finishing blocks.

"People were still lining the streets, emptying out of restaurants and stores, and cheering like crazy. It was loud," said the tired but appreciative runner.

"My wife said that it was surreal watching the police lights turn the corner, and then seeing 4 runners emerge from the darkness running side by side towards the finish," recalled the teacher.

There were news crews with lights and cameras at the finish line. They had heard about this run, and the mix of marathoners, family, friend, fellow teachers made for quite a celebration. Of course, Mr. McGillivray always draws quite a crowd anyway. All in all, it didn't seem so dark and soggy as it was just before on Commonwealth Avenue.

"My wife and children, the in-laws, and many teachers from my school were there to celebrate. What a show of support they gave me. My fellow teachers had been wearing signs with my race number on it all day, and then many made a tremendous effort to come out to actually see our finish. What tremendous enthusiasm," said the happy marathoner.

THE LESSON

Despite the disappointment of not being allowed to run the Boston Marathon with all the other runners, Hansen said, "I hadn't given up on my goals and dreams, and was able to turn a negative situation into something quite joyous and certainly memorable. I never dreamed that such a thing would ever happen." And Hansen concluded, "Of course I never considered that something like this would prevent my participation in this race, but I certainly received a unique, once-in-a-lifetime perspective on the Boston Marathon. Not many can say that they were a last place finisher at this race, and few would admit to it. I also made many new friends through the process."

Yes, it was a unique view of a world-famous event. Instead of finishing at 3:00 PM, Hansen and friends crossed the painted stripe at close to 8:00 PM, and everything along the course changed in those hours. Everything changed, except the determination and dedication to complete the course.

Perhaps most importantly, some of the students in Mount Pleasant Elementary school will realize their own dreams and aspirations because of something they saw and heard-something about a teacher-athlete-role model willing to go the extra mile-26.22 of them, in fact. Perhaps one of his students will run a marathon someday. They certainly learned a lot about persistence and hard work, as well as overcoming obstacles that stand in their way. Meanwhile, at least one of the other teachers was heard remarking that perhaps she would like to run the Boston Marathon herself someday! It seems Mr. Hansen finished last, but he also won. So did the kids at Mount Pleasant.

THE BACKGROUND

Nashua, New Hampshire, School Superintendent Joseph Giuliano interpreted the new Nashua Teachers' contract, signed in September, 1999, in such a way as to deny Jim Hansen's appeal to get a personal day for the purpose of running the Boston Marathon.

The Nashua Teachers' Union signed up to this new contract and the Nashua Teachers' Union must shoulder some of the blame for this debacle. Their agreeing to the language of the contract gave the administration the ability to deny teachers the chance to participate in the Boston Marathon or any similar activities during the school week. The portion of the contract which defines personal leave, Section 6.3, Personal Leave, reads as follows:

"A. Teachers shall be granted a leave of absence with full pay, by the Director of Human Resources or her/his designee, for the following reasons up to a maximum of three (3) days in any contract year:

  1. Marriage of the teacher's mother, father, sister, brother, father-in-law, mother-in-law, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, grandparents, grandchildren, or child(ren).
  2. Graduation exercise of the employee, the employee's spouse, or the employee's children.
  3. Required appearance in court.
  4. Observance of a nationally recognized religious holiday of the religion practiced by the teacher.
  5. Personal business that cannot be accomplished outside of the school day.

Personal Leave Days are not to be used for shopping, leisure activities or recreation."

The contract goes on to describe how the School District may disallow a personal day after the fact and turn it into an unpaid day if they believe the day has been abused. A "review 'Personal Leave Committee', consisting of two members of the Nashua Teachers' Union and two members of the Administration" would have the right to reverse the paid day to an unpaid day.

Mr. Giuliano explained that this meant, " Suppose a teacher took a personal day to attend a wedding and was seen at the mall shopping for a long period-that would be reversible."

Obviously Giuliano interprets this contract as a denial of personal days for the purpose of participating in an athletic event, no matter how internationally famous or prestigious that event might be. However, it is clear that he could interpret the contract as allowing the day off for the Boston Marathon run. Simply put, this could be interpreted as, "Personal business that cannot be accomplished outside the school day."

It is also clear that Giuliano intends to interpret this contract as strictly as possible, this time and in future years. And he got the language from the union that allows him to do just that. Why a union would agree to a contract with such narrow limits of interpretation is beyond our understanding. A "Personal Day" should be exactly that--how it is used should be nobody's business. Certainly, one of the most admirable ways to use a "Personal Day" would be to run the Boston Marathon, and then teach your class about it with pride.

Superintendent Giuliano did meet with Hansen on one occasion to try to resolve the matter, and recommended that Hansen take an unpaid day (which would cost him about $260 dollars after also paying the non-refundable $75 Boston entry fee). However, the Superintendent did not meet for a follow-up, after agreeing to do so. And Hansen was only informed through the union that the scheduled meeting would not take place, and he would not be given the personal day for Boston.

Superintendent Giuliano seemed almost apologetic. "I personally feel very badly about this situation," said Giuliano. "Jim Hansen is a great teacher and a fine person--a real asset to our school district. Sometimes the contract works for you, and sometimes it works against you. In this case for Jim it is working against him," stated the Superintendent.

"Where do you draw the line? Suppose someone wanted to take a day off for a golf tournament, or for another sport. They could look to this as precedent," he said.

When it was pointed out that as long as the terms of this contract are in effect, no Nashua teacher could ever take the day to run the marathon, Giuliano stated that this was disturbing but essentially correct. "That is how we interpret it, although I know that marathoners do not feel that it is a 'leisure' activity," he stated.

There are over 1000 people (843 full time teachers) employed by the Nashua School Department, and many of them run. When asked if community service would qualify a teacher for a personal day, the Superintendent agreed that such service should be considered as cause for a personal day. "In other words, a teacher could volunteer for the Boston Marathon and that would be okay?" he was asked. "I guess that's right--ironic isn't it," he said. He further stated that it would be possible if a Nashua teacher made the US Olympic team that she or he would be allowed leave. "But that achievement requires a higher standard than qualifying for Boston," he pointed out.

When asked, he also discussed the importance of teachers as role models in the classroom, and agreed that a teacher-athlete can be a tremendous asset. This should be especially important when these same teachers can participate in internationally known and respected athletic events such as the Boston Marathon. It is known even by elementary school aged children, especially those in southern New Hampshire. As the famous or infamous team athletes continue to disappoint everyone, teachers and coaches become even more important in influencing kids. It seems that the Nashua School District Gave up a great chance to have excellent athlete role model right in their own schools. Only the inventiveness and determination of teacher-athlete Hansen turned this into a positive model-hopefully without bitterness.

Health and fitness has always been part of the curriculum at most schools, and what better way to demonstrate it. Clarence Demar was a teacher and a coach. He won Boston seven times, and I don't think days off for the purpose were ever a problem.

When the gun goes off in Hopkinton on Patriots Day 2001, Jim Hansen should be toeing the line and heading for Boston, beginning at noon.