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March 6, 2003

Deaf school trustees begin search for new chief

From: Oregonian, OR - 06 Mar 2003


VANCOUVER -- Washington School for the Deaf trustees said the new superintendent should be the person best qualified to handle students and the community, even if the applicant doesn't understand sign language.

During their regular meeting Wednesday, the trustees voted to accept a state-run executive search agency to look for a new superintendent.

This is the first step in a long process that the trustees hope will be complete with a new full-time superintendent taking charge next fall.

The previous superintendent, Leonard E. Aron, resigned in February after 31/2 years of controversy centering on student safety.

The trustees voted to pay Executive Search Services, an independently financed branch under the state Department of Personnel, the equivalent of 15 percent of the position's salary as its fee.

Although no solid timeline was given, the trustees did discuss what they would like to see in the superintendent search committee. A list of committee members could include at least one representative of school staff, residential staff, parents, a trustee and a member of the deaf community.

Special education specialist The trustees would also like representation from Clark County public schools, preferably a special education specialist.

They also discussed what they would like to see in a new school leader.

Trustee Holly Parker-Jensen, who is deaf, said there are rumblings from the deaf community that the school needs a deaf superintendent.

"The community will demand a deaf superintendent," Parker-Jensen said through a sign language translator. "I think you need to be worried about that."

Other trustees said the search committee should keep an eye out for the best possible candidate, regardless of hearing ability or knowledge of sign language.

John Davis, the school's interim superintendent, does not know sign language. But he said his inability has not proved to be an impediment.

Many times, students have helped him by teaching certain gestures, he said.

"Human beings find ways to communicate," said Davis, who started his temporary position in February.

Instead, he said, the search committee should look for a superintendent who can work well with students as well as with parents, state legislators, the community and the news media.

Negative publicity "This school needs an educated leader who can bring all of us together as a group," Davis said.

Parker-Jensen also expressed concern that the recent negative publicity about the school could deter candidates from applying.

Allegations of sexual misconduct and abuse on the residential campus began in 1999. In November, a five-member monitoring panel sent a memo to Gov. Gary Locke, who oversees the school, questioning whether the school was able to provide a safe environment for students. At last count, about 102 students were enrolled.

Phyllis Gallegos, senior recruiter for Executive Search Services, said the school's history and the state's economic downturn could turn away some applicants. However, this situation will probably result in more dedicated applicants, she said.

"The applicants who come here better have done their research," Gallegos said. "If someone came not knowing the situation in Washington state and the school, then they are not likely the right person for this position." Jason Begay: 360-896-5719 or 503-294-5900;

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