Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School, Iowa School for the Deaf officials meet to discuss next superintendent

Blind and deaf community: We want a 'strong leader'

Vanessa Miller
Published: January 23 2014 | 6:58 am - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 2:32 am in

The next superintendent of the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School and the Iowa School for the Deaf should have a deep understanding of what it means to be visually and hearing impaired, including how to communicate and relate culturally.

“Every single decision that the superintendent makes will hinge on his or her understanding of the special issues and needs of each disability group,” said Carolyn Hibbs, who previously worked at the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School in Vinton. “Just having a broad special education knowledge is not going to be the best way to provide excellent services to our kids.”

Clancy, 64, has been at the helm for both schools for less than two years after taking the dual role on April 1, 2012. Before that change, Clancy had been superintendent of just the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School since 2008.

Although Clancy’s appointment to lead the schools was unanimous among regents, critics expressed disappointment and even threatened legal action because Clancy didn’t know American Sign Language. Opponents also complained about the hiring process, saying the regents didn’t allow for public input.

In replacing Clancy, regents have scheduled two public hearings involving more than a dozen sites. On Wednesday, through a series of cameras and interpreters, former educators, community members and advocates for the deaf and blind stressed that their next leader needs to have more than just a basic knowledge of special needs.

“We need a strong leader,” Hibbs said. “We need someone who will really advocate for the needs of the visually impaired in our state. I would like to see someone who has a real vision for how services should best be provided.”

Hibbs said Iowa has a rich history of educating the deaf and blind, and she wants the next leader to have a keen awareness of where Iowa has been and where it should go.

“We need someone who is a trend setter and can bring Iowa back to the high level of education of the blind that it used to have,” she said.

Many of the individuals who spoke Wednesday night told the regents they want the next superintendent to have “hands-on experience” working with children, parents and staff in the visually and hearing impaired community.

“This position plays a critical role in the future of Iowa’s blind and deaf children,” Hibbs said. “It’s not something to be taken lightly.”

Bob Vizzini, chairperson of Deaf Coalition of Iowa, spoke directly about the next superintendent's knowledge of American Sign Language, and said that he or she needs to have experience in deaf and blind education.

He said the schools’ next leader should be a role model for children with vision and hearing impairments and inspire them to the potential they hold.

“We know that deaf children – their ears might not be open,” he said. “But we can help deaf children to have their eyes opened to the possibilities.”

The regents’ search process also will employ the use of a search committee and a search firm. A progress report on the search will be submitted to the board at its February meeting.

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