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June 28, 2004

School for Deaf super to retire, but not be idle

From: Scranton Times, PA - Jun 28, 2004


It all came rushing back as Dorothy S. Bambach, Ed.D. was clearing out her office at the Scranton State School for the Deaf.

She was putting more than three decades of memories into boxes.

Those memories span her entire 34-year career at the school, where she spent the last 16 years as superintendent.

On Friday, that career came to an end with Dr. Bambach's retirement. Now she and her husband, Jack, plan to spend more time at their home in North Myrtle Beach, S.C.

But she doesn't plan to remain idle. She hopes to interpret, teach or counsel deaf people either in South Carolina or her native Scranton, and she is looking for a publisher for the biography she wrote of J.M. Koehler, who, at 20 years old, convinced the Scranton School Board to open the school in 1880.

"I'll always want to stay in touch with the deaf community," Dr. Bambach, 55, said while packing. "I have many deaf friends."

She is just trying to put some closure on her time at SSSD, though leaving is bittersweet.

"I get a lot of satisfaction from my job," she said. "It will be difficult to leave."

Not so different

She compared the job of superintendent to a plate spinner in the circus. She has to keep students, staff, budget and buildings going.

The paperwork she came across in her office cleaning brought back how well she kept those plates spinning. There was paperwork from grant proposals she helped write in one of her previous positions here.

One grant funded a camp for hearing children to learn American Sign Language from deaf students. Another, for a program through Lackawanna College's distance learning program, helped improve the signing skills of interpreters in outlying counties. Another helped teach computer skills to deaf adults.

There are photos. Her favorite is a small one of then-Gov. Tom Ridge and former Gov. William W. Scranton walking on either side of former Gov. Robert P. Casey at a campus presentation in the late 1990s. Mr. Ridge and Mr. Scranton had walked the ailing Mr. Casey from his nearby home to the campus, Dr. Bambach said. Mr. Casey had had heart and liver transplants in 1993.

"I'm a historian," Dr. Bambach said. "The aspect of having three governors here was something I'll never forget."

The historian in her is most proud of starting a museum on deafness upstairs from her office in the administration building on the 10-acre campus. The museum includes photos from various points of the school's history, old equipment, such as headsets used in the oral method of teaching and the hat, prayer books and other belongings of Mr. Koehler.

She also is proud of the respect the only state-owned school for the deaf in Pennsylvania has from the Department of Education.

Her job was much like that of other public school superintendents, Dr. Bambach said, except SSSD has a residential program for students, who come from all over eastern Pennsylvania and parts of New York and New Jersey.

Nearly 20 percent of the school's 100 current employees are deaf, compared to the three deaf employees, out of 85, when she became superintendent in 1988.

All staff must know how to sign. However, it was not always accepted at the school.

Signing was not allowed when Dr. Bambach started working at the school as a teacher fresh out of Marywood College. Although signing was taught when Mr. Koehler started the school, that changed three years later when the school became an oral school. Students were taught to communicate through lip-reading and whatever partial hearing they had.

In 1973, American Sign Language returned to the curriculum, and teachers learned signing through in-services and from the students.

Climbing the ladder

After teacher elementary students at the school during her first three years, followed by high school social studies for another three, Dr. Bambach recognized a need for a guidance program.

She pursued additional education and training in secondary school guidance, which she received a master's degree from Marywood in 1977 (she already had a master's from Ball State University in education of the hearing impaired) and her certification in secondary school guidance.

She then started the school's first counseling and guidance program. From 1983 to 1987, she wrote grants and developed programs as resource development specialist. She obtained her doctor of education in 1987 from Temple University and became lead teacher, who is responsible for coordinating admissions, in September 1987.

Dr. Bambach could not have imagined such a career when she first arrived more than three decades ago at the school, where had never even thought of applying until a friend suggested it.

"I call this career the best accident that ever happened," she said. "But they say, there are no accidents."

The school's board of directors is conducting a nationwide search for a new superintendent.

©Scranton Times Tribune 2004