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July 9, 2004

Ramos, Western States College team up

From: Twin Falls Times-News, ID - Jul 9, 2004

By Karin Kowalski Times-News writer GOODING -- Angel Ramos, former superintendent of the Idaho School for the Deaf and the Blind, announced Thursday that his foundation will work with Western States College in Gooding to develop and distribute the OptiSchool, a language program he started developing while at the Gooding school.

The program is meant to help deaf and hard-of-hearing students improve their reading and writing with lessons in American Sign Language, Signed English, and English and Spanish voices. It would be distributed for free via the Internet and on CDs, according to a news release.

Western States College's faculty and students will work with the Angel Ramos Foundation using the college's television studio, cameras, video editing equipment and facilities to put together the program.

Ramos is devoting his time to the OptiSchool after resigning in June from his position at the School for the Deaf and the Blind.

Ramos said via e-mail that the partnership is worth about $340,000 over the next five years in the form of equipment and labor the foundation will not need to buy for itself. The foundation is going to resume making lesson modules next week.

"We are so excited," Ramos wrote.

The foundation is funded by Ramos's personal money that includes a settlement he received from the State Board of Education, he wrote in an e-mail. He is not paying himself for being executive director, but he is paying two employees with settlement funds.

Ramos received $150,000 from the state, along with ownership of the OptiSchool and several other terms, in exchange for resigning from his position at the Gooding school in June. Ramos said he plans to sue the state for disclosing the "confidential" settlement this week.

Luci Willits, spokeswoman for the State Board of Education, said $40,000 of the settlement came from the state's risk management insurance funds, and the rest came from the school's contingency fund. The Gooding school has an annual budget of almost $7.5 million.

Willits said the state had concerns, while Ramos was superintendent, that the OptiSchool project was costing about $100,000 a year with few tangible results.

Ramos's departure from the Gooding school came at the end of more than a year of controversy. Ramos was the school's the first deaf and Hispanic superintendent. His approach to improving instruction and academic rigor at the school had a mixed reception from staff and parents. The school became more and more polarized during months of investigations and hearings, which culminated in the settlement with the State Board of Education after Ramos had been on paid administrative leave for almost a year.

In the meantime, Ramos is moving on to other projects, including finding more partners and grants for the OptiSchool.

Mike Clair, president of Western States College, said he has big hopes for the OptiSchool. The college will help with the technical aspects of the project. Clair said he hopes to see the program distributed all over the country to help deaf children and their families learn how to communicate.

"It's very much a humanitarian effort," Clair said. "This is really going to revolutionize how people learn to sign."

The College of Southern Idaho's president, Jerry Meyerhoeffer, said he is interested in working with Ramos to help serve deaf students. He's just not sure what form that help will take.

"What we've seen, we think has some potential," Meyerhoeffer said.

Times-News writer Karin Kowalski can be reached at 733-0931, Ext. 231, or

* Last we knew: The State Board of Education disclosed that Angel Ramos, former superintendent of the Idaho School for the Deaf and the Blind, received a settlement that included $150,000 and ownership of the OptiSchool program in exchange for his resignation.
* The latest: The Angel Ramos Foundation and Western States College announced Thursday that they are going to work together to develop and distribute the OptiSchool, which Ramos started developing while at the Gooding school.
* What's next: Ramos is pursuing grants for the project and a partnership with the College of Southern Idaho as well as several other institutions.

Copyright © 2004, Lee Publications Inc.