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Ernest Garrett III

Superintendent, Missouri School for the Deaf

We have often noted Deaf advocates who grew up in Deaf families. But there are hearing families who are passionately committed to the well-being and success of their Deaf children, and who insist on doing the right thing: making sure they have a good education and support services, remaining actively involved. We wish to recognize these parents, too. So congratulations to Linda L. Garrett and Ernest E. Garrett Jr., and to Carliss and Tina Garrett: may they all take pride in their son's and brother's success.

Ernest Garrett III was appointed Superintendent of the Missouri School for the Deaf on March 18, 2014, assuming his duties on July 1, becoming MSD's first Deaf Superintendent since its founding in 1851. He holds several degrees, and is pursuing a doctorate.

I am from a hearing family that consists of my beloved parents (Ernest E. Garrett Jr. and Linda L. Garrett) and my two younger sisters, Carliss R. Garrett, who is an adult nurse practitioner, and Tina L. Garrett, who is a college junior majoring in social work. I became deaf at the age of 2 years due to bacterial meningitis. My dad is the one who actually noticed something was amiss when I was about to be discharged from the hospital. He dropped his keys on the floor and observed that I did not react. It comes as no surprise to me that my mother knew I had meningitis before the doctors confirmed the diagnosis and that my father knew I had lost my hearing, again, before the doctors were aware. My parents have always been attentive to me as their son, as well as my sisters. They never allowed my deafness to limit their view on what I can achieve in life and they never allowed me to succumb to a self-defeating attitude about my own abilities. It is because of their leadership as my parents that I am here today, as well as their ceaseless prayers and faith. I count myself highly favored to be their son, to carry the Garrett name, and to be a “big brother” to my dear siblings. We are a very close-knit family and have always been.

I grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, in the area that is known as “North County.” If my memory serves me correctly, we lived in the city for a few years until my parents bought a home in the suburbs. Since that time, we lived within the Riverview Gardens School District, and then when I was in high school my parents decided to move us to another home, this time, in the Ferguson-Florissant school district. They have been there ever since, and both of my sisters graduated from McCluer North High School. Carliss and I went to the same school (she is a year younger than I am) for some of our formative years and it wasn’t until just before middle school that my parents heard of an excellent deaf and hard-of-hearing program within the Brentwood School District. They decided that I should go to school there, and I remember at the IEP meeting when they were determining what services were appropriate, I was asked if I wanted a sign-language interpreter. I had a puzzled look on my face and asked what that is. When they explained, I told them “No, thanks.” My parents confidently replied, “He will have an interpreter.” For a long time, I refused to even look at or otherwise acknowledge the sign-language interpreter in the classroom. Yet looking back, it is because of my parents that I was able to not only communicate in sign language, specifically American Sign Language, but that I also developed a healthy identity as a Black and Deaf male. In essence, I grew up in a mainstreamed environment using a combination of listening with my hearing aids, reading lips, and using the FM system. Now, as a deaf professional, I still use my hearing aids and I still read lips, but I also heavily rely on sign-language interpreters!

The reason why I decided to pursue a research doctorate degree from Walden University is because, in my opinion, their Ph.D. in Management Program, Leadership and Organizational Change Specialization, will empower me to refine my systems-thinking and ecological perspectives and skills. More importantly, it will allow me to become marketable as a progressive, twenty-first-century administrator, qualified to carry out the core functions of management within a culture of diversity and change-leadership that currently characterizes the state of deaf education in America. The degree underscores my commitment to social change with and on behalf of deaf persons, particularly deaf and hard-of-hearing children. Finally yet importantly, the research doctorate degree will grant me the additional advanced training to engage in culturally competent, fiscally responsible, and ethically sound practice as a future scholar of management with a specialization in leadership and organizational change. My thoughts have always been that deaf and hard-of-hearing children and youth deserve the best that I can offer them, and I am determined to ensure that my educational attainments are commensurate with the responsibilities that I have aspired to on their behalf.

My plan at the Missouri School for the Deaf is “to lead the school through the strategic planning process so that we can achieve educational outcomes in a more strategic, data-driven manner, thereby ensuring that our deaf and hard-of-hearing children/youth graduate ready to compete and succeed in today’s rapidly changing, technologically sophisticated society. Additional goals that I have as the new superintendent are to emphasize the use of data at the school to better understand what is going well and what needs attention; to review services provided by MSD to other schools across the state and create strategies for strengthening services where needed; as well as reviewing our use of technology for teaching and assessing performance. Children are our most vulnerable population and, in my opinion, it is important that we create and sustain a supportive holding environment for them to grow and blossom and emerge ready to meet the challenges of the day as productive and contributing citizens of our society.” (I was interviewed by the Fulton Sun for a “Back-To-School” feature that was published August 6, 2014. I am quoting my comments in that interview.)

One thing that comes to mind is the following quote from the National Deaf Education Project (http://www.ndepnow.org): “The debate over deaf education has continued for decades and yet one thing remains unchanged—many of our children continue to leave school unprepared, without the communication, language, or literacy skills necessary for an individual to become a productive and happy adult.” As I work with the Missouri School for the Deaf to promote a vision for transformational whole-system learning, I acknowledge that improving the school’s relationships with the external environment is a necessary part of that process. Ultimately, MSD continues to be a viable educational option, and this is supported by continued funding for our school and its programs and services.

Photo courtesy of Dr. Garrett

My job at MSD is to supervise and provide leadership to staff in the design, development, execution and evaluation of a systemic plan to educate students and accelerate improvement of student outcomes, meet residential responsibilities, and improve outreach outcomes for deaf and hard-of-hearing students and their families. My thoughts are that MSD is uniquely situated to continue to meet the educational needs of deaf and hard-of-hearing children in the state of Missouri, as they have done since 1851. I believe that creating and implementing a strategic plan must, can, and will result in improved student, faculty/staff, and whole system learning.

I am honored to have this opportunity to return to the halls of education in a leadership capacity. This is something that I have aspired to since I was pursuing my M.S. in Administration degree from Gallaudet University, while simultaneously pursuing the M.S.W. with a School Social Work specialization. Improving organizations, in particular their core and supporting work processes, relationships with the external environment, and their internal social infrastructure, are definitely passions of mine, and I am very grateful for my educational training at Gallaudet that has prepared me for a time such as this. Just as importantly, the opportunity to serve as a role model to our deaf and hard of hearing students is a privilege that I do not take lightly. When I was coming up, I did not see people in charge who were deaf or hard-of-hearing, or at least, none that were willing to acknowledge some type of hearing loss. Certainly, the students at MSD are in a position of favor in that regard because they have a living, breathing example of a deaf person in a position of influence and for them, and others, “DEAF PEOPLE CAN” is more than a catchy phrase: It is reality.

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