Wayne Lewis: KSD making ‘positive strides forward’

Published 5:51 pm Monday, October 7, 2019

When Boyle County Magistrate Jason Cullen was speaking with Gov. Matt Bevin in Danville Friday, Kentucky Commissioner of Education Wayne Lewis was a few blocks away at the Kentucky School for the Deaf.

Cullen, whose son is deaf, was telling Bevin why he had pulled his son out of the school. Lewis said Monday he coincidentally was holding an “open discussion” with KSD staff at essentially the same time.

“Hearing what was said about the school (by Cullen) painted a completely different picture of KSD than the school I actually spent the afternoon at on Friday,” Lewis told The Advocate-Messenger. “If I only read the article and heard the comments that came, I would be left to believe this is a school that is in shambles, it’s in crisis, that immediate intervention is needed … that picture does not match in any way the school I spent Friday afternoon at. It just doesn’t.”

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Cullen told Bevin, who was visiting Boyle a month before the November election to announce discretionary road funds, that KSD has “had issues with bed bugs, lice, abuse — it just goes on and on.” And Cullen alleged people who have spoken up about problems “are actually disciplined or fired. It’s gotten to be really bad.”

“I think one of the saddest parts is that you have a school for the deaf that really has no deaf administrators helping to bridge the gap between” deaf students and hearing staff, Cullen said.

Kentucky Commissioner of Education Wayne Lewis

Lewis said Monday it’s “no secret” that prior to his time at the Kentucky Department of Education, “there were some significant challenges” at KSD, including “in the dorms, in terms of cleanliness” and “challenges in culture, with communication, openness.”

But Lewis, KDE staff and KSD staff have been working hard for a while to address those challenges, he said.

“The difference I would say now as opposed to some of the earlier conversations I’ve had at KSD is I believe they continue to make more and more positive strides forward,” Lewis said. “The culture seems to be improving.”

Lewis said he was visiting KSD Friday as he has done multiple times since becoming commissioner of education. He had just visited the Kentucky School for the Blind in Frankfort the week before.

“We just had time for open discussion. I wanted to hear how things were going at the school” and listen to any concerns, Lewis said.

He also made time after the official meeting to meet with anyone privately if they had any concerns they didn’t want to share with the rest of the staff, he added.

Lewis said there is a “continued desire on the part of staff … and I understand it completely” to want more staff members and leaders who are deaf or hard of hearing. “That makes complete sense to me.”

That is something KDE wants to accomplish, But Lewis said finding job applicants who are both deaf or hard of hearing and qualified as educators is “a huge obstacle.”

“There are very few deaf applicants who apply and for some positions there are actually no deaf applicants who apply,” he said.

One obstacle to becoming educators for people who are deaf or hard of hearing is that practice assessments, which are used for certifying teachers in Kentucky, are conducted in English. For many people who are deaf or hard of hearing, American Sign Language is their first language, Lewis said.

In order to address these obstacles, Lewis said he has asked KSD staff to come back to him with ideas on how Kentucky’s teacher certification process might be improved for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

“I’m very open to the conversation,” he said. “… I haven’t seen what the staff is going to bring me. It’s way too early to think about a timeline for change.”

Lewis said he has met with Cullen before “and I’ve heard some of his concerns and respect his opinion and the recommendations he has.”

Lewis said he remembers some of the issues raised by Cullen as being “issues that have been corrected already” over the past four or five years. He said there are also some things Cullen said that “I would disagree with.”

Lewis said one concern brought up more than any other during his meeting Friday was a problem with one of KSD’s buses. Staff wanted to make sure he would talk with state bus fleet management to make sure they understand the “severity” of KSD’s school bus challenges, he said.

Lewis noted KSD has a new assistant principal who is deaf. And he bragged on KSD’s award-winning culinary arts team, its new elementary school and a “resurgence” of its technical education program.

“Yes, there are concerns about improvement,” he said. But “… I can’t say enough how different a picture the article portrayed KSD to be than where I spent Friday afternoon.”