Deaf Person of the Month
Superintendent, Rochester School for the Deaf
Starting at an early age, formal education came to me through a variety of settings. My learning occurred often in classrooms with no support, classrooms with minimal support (such as out-of-class tutoring and use of an FM system), at a school for the Deaf, and in public schools with all of the necessary supports in place (note-takers and interpreters in every corner of classrooms as well as at clubs and on sporting fields).
I believe the most important thing I had growing up, was full access to language and communication in my home with my family even though access to classroom education varied. I was born Deaf in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada due to the widespread Rubella epidemic of the ‘60s. A close family friend who was Deaf was able to convince my parents to adopt me at the age of two-and-a-half. My mother was a trained teacher for the Deaf and Blind, and my father was a recent graduate of medical school at that time.
After eight years in Nova Scotia, my family moved to Boston, Massachusetts, in order to pursue a better education for me, as well as the presentation of exciting career opportunities in the city for my parents. Moreover, our family wanted to be close to our extended family members who resided all over New England.
Growing up, I dreamed of being a doctor like my father, or lawyer like my uncles, or a professor like my mother, but the bottom line was I wanted to be in a career where I could make a difference. That career path became clear to me by the end of freshman year at Gallaudet University. It was partly due to the Deaf President Now protest in March 1988, where I was able to appreciate the depth [of influence] that education has on all of us and our trajectories. It helped me envision a future as a Deaf educator and administrator.
After graduating from Gallaudet in 1992, I went straight to Western Maryland College (now McDaniel College) and received a Master’s in Deaf Education. My teaching career started in 1993 at the Model Secondary School for the Deaf and then at Ernest C. Drury School for the Deaf-Elementary School in 1994. I completed the Ontario Principal Certificate in 2000.
I eventually took on leadership roles and started moving toward a career at the administration level. My first position as a principal was in 2001 at the Scranton State School for the Deaf in Scranton, Pennsylvania. I then returned to Ontario in 2003 and continued as an administrator at the Robarts School for the Deaf in London, and finally at Ernest C. Drury School [in Milton] for the Deaf at both Elementary and Secondary Schools.
After numerous years as principal, I wanted to pursue a career where I could contribute my educational leadership and support the school as a whole at a system level. The role of superintendent suddenly became very appealing. I completed the Superintendent certificate in 2013. At that time I was only the second Deaf person to hold a Superintendent Certificate in Ontario, Canada. Additionally, I was selected to attend an eighteen-month leadership training program provided by the Ontario Ministry of Education/Ministry of Training, Colleges & Universities.
Some of the accomplishments I am most proud of during my tenure as a school administrator are: the implementation of the ASL curriculum as a study of a language with ASL curriculum committee, coaching and coordinating the Ernest C. Drury academic-bowl team as the first non-American school to compete at the Gallaudet Academic Bowl competitions since 2012, participating in a state-of-the-art Mass Notification System for the whole campus, and assisting with the development of an entirely ASL version of the Provincial School Branch website.
Leadership in the community is something I also enjoy doing. I have had the privilege of holding many leadership roles in local Deaf club, Provincial Deaf Organizations, and I served as Vice-President for the Canadian Cultural Society of the Deaf.
On the sporting front, I grew up playing different sports and was on the 1987 Gallaudet football team that won 9 games. I played tennis for the Gallaudet Tennis team for 3 years and participated in local softball teams in Boston, New Jersey, and Ontario. Also, interestingly enough, I represented and coordinated the Canada Tennis team at the Dresse and Maere Cup (World Tennis Cup) in 1995 in Bradenton, Florida, and represented Canada at the 1997 Deaflympics in Copenhagen, Denmark.
On a personal side, I am happily married to Susan Demers-McLetchie. Together we share a lovely daughter, Rainna, who is currently preschool age. Rainna enjoys her older sisters and brothers, ranging in age from 18 to 13, who love to hang out with her.
As I see it, the challenge we have here in Deaf Education is competing interests. The proven success of Bilingual-Bicultural education along with the medical advancement of the cochlear implant has created much friction and conflict between the medical and the Deaf community. I sincerely believe both can work together to pool our collective information and data and review how acquiring American Sign Language and English can benefit children with and without implants.
I had the opportunity to meet with many stakeholders during my presentation to the Rochester community last August. People raised some valid concerns, which will become priorities for me to address as the next superintendent/CEO at RSD. As schools for the Deaf across the country face challenges associated with declining enrollment, I believe the more success stories we share with the community as well as with lawmakers, and with specific efforts made to have our school visible, we can increase enrollment. We all have the same common goal, which is to make RSD the first choice for families to send their Deaf and hard of hearing child to, and to pass on the strong passion we have for the school to future generations of students.
The status between the Rochester School for the Deaf Alumni Association and the RSD Board of Directors is an ongoing dialogue. I met with parties from both groups and I believe there is a true desire on both sides to have the relationship restored. Both groups have the same common goal: to do the best we can for our students, and both sides are equally passionate about RSD. It is now public knowledge that the Board appointed two alumni to the board and in my perspective with this move alone progress has been made.
During my entry-plan presentation, the motto I used in my presentation was “Moving RSD from great to excellent.” I have high expectations of my staff to provide a top-notch education for all students. Every individual student that enters RSD deserves a well-planned program to match their learning style and social-emotion needs. Also, I believe students should strive for higher level expectations for themselves.
I look forward to moving RSD from great to excellent in my appointment as a Superintendent/CEO and I look forward to doing that with our outstanding staff, students and community support.