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June 17, 2003

Board picks 3 finalists for deaf school

From: Oregonian, OR - Jun 17, 2003


VANCOUVER -- The Washington School for the Deaf board has selected three finalists to recommend as the new superintendent, but their names won't be released until extensive background checks have been completed.

The board interviewed five candidates Friday before whittling the names it likely will recommend to Gov. Gary Locke, who will appoint the superintendent.

The checks could be completed within the week, said Phyllis Gallegos, senior recruitment consultant with the State Department of Personnel.

The board hopes to have a new superintendent when school starts in the fall. The contract of interim Superintendent John Davis expires at the end of July. The school's previous superintendent, Leonard E. Aron, stepped down in February after more than three years of controversy concerning student safety.

Four of the five candidates who visited the campus last week are deaf or hard of hearing. All are fluent in American Sign Language and have extensive experience working with deaf children.

Friday, the candidates shared their history in working with children, each saying that providing role models to deaf children should be part of the school's mission. They also agreed that the next superintendent will have to work closely with parents and the board to overcome recent turmoil at the school.

Here are excerpts from candidate interviews:

Michael Finneran The 54-year-old director of outreach for the Vermont Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing was born deaf to hearing parents. He was inspired to work with children after attending a residential deaf school in New York, where he found many role models, he said.

"They made life a wonderful thing," Finneran said through an American Sign Language interpreter.

Finneran, like the other candidates, said the school's new leader will have to deal carefully with the institution's past.

The new superintendent should "come here with an open mind," Finneran said. Before making changes, the superintendent must listen to staff and students to gauge what is needed, he said.

"I believe in seeing that children, when they come here, don't feel handicapped," he said. "They should feel like everyone else."

Monita Hara The 57-year-old regional director of the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind has been working with deaf students for about 25 years. Although she can hear, Hara learned sign language while growing up with two friends who were deaf.

The experience inspired Hara to work with deaf children and their families. "It was like an epiphany," she said.

The Alabama school's enrollment has decreased, but Hara said it remains entrenched in the region's deaf community.

"You have to look at the individual needs of each child and each family," Hara said. Some students may need the environment of a residential deaf school, while others don't, she said.

Hara agreed that the superintendent must thoroughly observe and build on progress.

"You can't ignore what happened before you arrived anywhere," Hara said.

Joe McLaughlin The 51-year-old is the administrative officer at the Provincial School for the Deaf in Burnaby, B.C. A native of Vancouver, B.C., he has been deaf since birth and has worked with deaf students for 24 years.

As an integrated school, the Washington School for the Deaf allows children to fully participate in class and extracurricular activities, McLaughlin said.

"Deaf education is a shared responsibility of the parents, students, staff and the community," McLaughlin said through a sign language interpreter. "It's not only the school's responsibility; we all have to work together for the students."

While public schools are required by law to provide for all students, "here they have full access to all the services," McLaughlin said.

The school allows students to learn in their "native language" from staff members who are likely to become role models, McLaughlin said.

"A person is able to become more of a part of a community by being a part of the school," McLaughlin said.

Angel Ramos The 53-year-old superintendent of the Idaho School for the Deaf and Blind lost his hearing when he was 9. He attended high school reading lips and learned sign language when he was 22.

He is drawn to the Vancouver school because of the success of its programs, he said. In his current position, Ramos said he has tried to emulate the cottage-style living quarters at the Washington School for the Deaf.

Ramos said the mission of the school should be to educate deaf and hard-of-hearing children throughout the state by working with other school districts.

"It's not always necessary, but sometimes a deaf school is the best place for deaf and hard-of-hearing students," Ramos said.

Ramos said he'd like to see the Washington school develop a closer relationship with parents to keep students safe. He has set up a parent advisory board at the Idaho school.

Todd Reeves The 42-year-old is director of special education for Tacoma Public Schools; he has been a board member and speech therapist for Washington School for the Deaf.

The Portland native decided to work in deaf education when he started to lose his hearing in college.

"I thought it would serve me well," said Reeves, who communicates with sign language but can hear enough to hold a conversation.

Reeves said public schools cannot provide the full educational experience to deaf students.

"We don't live in that perfect world," Reeves said. "As much as the public schools can try, there are still hurdles and battles that we have to overcome. The true mission of this school is to prepare the students for a world that sometimes isn't fair."

The school's staff should review and create safety procedures to deal with any scenario, Reeves said. "We have to be unrelenting when it comes to student's safety," he said. Jason Begay: 360-896-5719 or 503-294-5900;

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