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New Illinois School for the Deaf Leader Making History
It has never happened in the 174 year history of the Illinois School for the Deaf in Jacksonville, but the change is already making a big difference.
Janice Smith-Warshaw is the new head of the school. This is her first time in a superintendent position. It's also the first time the school has a deaf, female leader.
"The students need to have deaf role models," Smith-Warshaw said. "They need to be able to see how much they can achieve for the rest of their life. They need to know it's obtainable. They can reach their goals. They can pursue their own dreams."
One of Smith-Warshaw's priorities is to continue to help bridge the gap between the deaf and hard of hearing community with the hearing community.
"I am encouraging our students to participate in a variety of activities such as sports against public schools and participate in other organizations," Smith-Warshaw said.
For students at ISD, like Tracy Lavender, having Smith-Warshaw as their new leader means a lot.
"I feel like, 'Wow, we are the same,'" Lavender said. "I think other deaf kids need role models sometimes so as the first deaf, woman superintendent, I think it's perfect. There are some situations we have, she can understand."
Because of Illinois' budget crisis, closing the Illinois School for the Deaf has been considered in the past. So what's her pitch to lawmakers to make sure that is never an option?
"This school shouldn't be considered the least restrictive for our students," Smith-Warshaw said. "It should be a primary choice as least restrictive environment, where they have full access to communication, education, and sports."
Smith-Warshaw's first day was May 1. But as she walks around campus, students already know her, are comfortable with her, and interact with her in a way they understand.
Before Smith-Warshaw, the Illinois School for the Deaf had three deaf, male superintendents in its history.
Friday, ISD celebrates graduation.