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April 30, 2003

State superintendent visits school for deaf

From: Riverside Press Enterprise, CA - Apr 30, 2003

EDUCATION: Jack O'Connell says the Riverside facility needs budget-cut protection.



RIVERSIDE - On his first visit to the California School for the Deaf, Riverside, state schools chief Jack O'Connell posed for photos, shook tiny hands and toured the 70-acre campus.

He also vowed to do whatever he could to help the school thrive in uncertain economic times.

O'Connell said that specialized programs, such as those offered at the state's two schools for deaf students, rank among the most important in the public school system.

"I have a commitment to help all our students, in particular those who need the most help," O'Connell said. "We need to keep whatever cuts may occur as far away from these (programs) as possible."

The visit, he said, had "been a priority for me for a lot of reasons. We need to make decisions in Sacramento that will affect this site. The best way to make decisions is to be as familiar as possible" with the school, he said. O'Connell plans to tour the state's other school for the deaf, which is in Fremont, next month.

For Tuesday's visit, O'Connell was accompanied by State Special Schools Director Ronald Kadish. Kadish was acting superintendent of the Riverside school after former superintendent Rachel Stone was fired in 2001.

During his brief tour of the school, O'Connell visited classrooms, a science lab, the gym, a dormitory, and other facilities.

Middle School Principal Brad Haskell beamed as he showed the schools chief a wall of windows in what soon will be his new office. The school's new middle school is set to open in the fall.

"Take a picture of us looking out over here," Haskell called to a photographer, putting his arm around O'Connell as the pair stood in front of the windows.

During a stop in a preschool classroom, O'Connell bent down on one knee to watch youngsters glue cutout spots on construction paper lady bugs.

"This is Mr. Jack O'Connell," Laurie Pietro, the school's director of outreach, told the children in sign language. "He is our state superintendent."

At that, 3-year-old Dylan Williams gave a shy grin, then went back to work on his bug.

O'Connell also met members of the school's championship cheerleading squad. The team won first place last fall in the Varsity Division of the Aloha International Spirit Championships, held in Hawaii.

O'Connell said he was happy with what he saw Tuesday and vowed to come back.

"You should really feel good about this," O'Connell told the school's superintendent, Harold Kund, during the tour. "It really energizes me even more to try to help students with special needs. This facility is making a difference."

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