New Mexico School Superintendent for the Deaf crowns long career | Education
It’s hard for Rosemary Gallegos to talk about New Mexico School for the Deaf without tearing it up a bit.
A portrait of Gallegos, painted by one of the school’s kindergarten students, rests behind a desk in his home.
For Gallegos, school has been like a home from home for decades. But after working there since 1984 and having been the school superintendent since 2015, she is retiring.
It’s a bittersweet feeling, as her roots in school and her love of education and the Deaf community are evident.
Gallegos, 62, is not a native American Sign Language speaker, nor is she deaf. She is adamant: she does not speak for the deaf, only for school.
âWhat I know is what I have known from 36 years of immersion, or 40 years really, of immersion in deaf education and daily interactions with deaf people,â she said. in a recent interview.
Gallegos said she sees her job as superintendent as a privilege that would never have come about without the approval of the deaf community.
In the fall, Jennifer Herbold, the school’s director of education, will become the superintendent.
âIt will be really good for the school to have a deaf superintendent who can really understand and speak from a deaf point of view because that is really important,â said Gallegos.
“I have every confidence that she will continue the excellent work of the school,” she added.
The School for the Deaf is the oldest public school in the state. It operates on a bilingual and bimodal model, which means students are immersed in English and American Sign Language, which has its own rules for pronunciation, word formation, and word order.
The school’s main campus on Cerrillos Road near the Railyard District is home to nearly 145 K-12 students, with on-site cabins for children to fully immerse themselves in the language and social beliefs , traditions and arts of the deaf community.
But its reach extends far beyond.
As soon as hearing loss is diagnosed, babies in New Mexico are referred to school and families are offered home visits to begin language learning at 3 months of age. During the 2019-2020 school year, the School for the Deaf orchestrated more than 4,600 home visits. During the pandemic, the visits were virtual.
The school also hosts preschools across the state and an outreach program for deaf or hard of hearing students who take classes elsewhere. During the 2019-2020 school year, the school conducted 270 consultations with more than 40 districts statewide.
The school accommodates approximately 700 children in New Mexico.
âThere is a feeling that the School for the Deaf has really become the center of the state’s culture and expertise over the years,â said Gallegos. “And I’m really proud of it because I think I helped make it happen.”
In the school’s 135-year history, Gallegos is only its ninth superintendent. She is also the first woman – and the first Hispanic woman – to serve as superintendent. When she started school as a member of the early intervention team doing home visits, she never thought she would one day take the helm.
âI had a lot of opportunities growing up, but being a Hispanic woman, I think there have always been [that] pushing, I had to do better and be better to move forward, “she said.” I think more and more women are taking on leadership roles. “
A mountain-loving flutist, Gallegos was raised in Taos by parents whose lineage runs deep in New Mexico history. His father, a banker Eloy Jeantete, was mayor of the city in the early 1990s. She credits the stability of her formative years to giving her the confidence to take the lead and to introduce her to the language she loves to be surrounded by.
His godmother’s daughter was the first deaf person Gallegos met. She then studied special education in school and became interested in American Sign Language.
Gallegos eventually taught deaf children in Anthony, NM, on the Texas border. She loved it and went on to pursue a Masters in Deaf Education at the University of Arizona.
Gallegos said she sees communicating the needs and achievements of deaf and hard of hearing children as one of the biggest challenges in running the school for the deaf.
âBecause it’s not that common, sometimes helping the community as a whole understand the impact – and what is needed and necessary for a deaf student to have fluent and full access to [an] education system – requires a lot of explanation, “she said.” We are constantly explaining this and helping people understand. “
Under Gallegos’ leadership, she helped raise learning standards and saw more deaf staff join the school. She is especially happy to see earlier interventions for children diagnosed with learning loss, as early childhood is a crucial time for children to be immersed in American Sign Language so that they can communicate and learn. connect with the deaf community.
Keri-Lynn McBride, director of development and community relations at the school, has worked with Gallegos for almost three decades. She praised Gallegos’ abilities as a mentor.
âDr. Gallegos has done an amazing job leading the way,â said McBride, âand his long-standing commitment, passion and love for our infants, toddlers, students, families, staff and the entire state of New Mexico is obvious. ”
During the pandemic, the School for the Deaf, like others in the state, had to switch to virtual learning. Gallegos marveled at the way elementary students helped teachers navigate Zoom.
Gallegos pointed out that for deaf people in a society designed for hearing people, lack of access to language can be isolating. And for deaf children at home with hearing parents, the pandemic has been difficult.
âFor our deaf children it has been doubly impacting, I think, as they are brought together by the common denominator of language and communication and deaf culture,â she said. “What the school provides is so unique in this way, in that we have critical mass.”
The school reopened in April, to the delight of students and staff. Gallegos said she felt she was leaving at the right time. She still plans to attend school games and events.
âSchool is so important to the state.â¦ I just want to make sure this school is there for the kids in New Mexico,â Gallegos said, choking back tears again.
“See, I told you I was crying.”