When the Board of Education of West Virginia selected Scott Cochran to be the next Superintendent of West Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind [WVSDB], there was a range of reactions from community members. The outcry occurred after The Charleston Gazette-Mail published a July 31, 2020 article disclosing that the newest appointee had no experience working with Deaf or blind children.

One of Cochran’s previous positions was a director of special education and that was the extent of his experience. Board President Miller Hall mentioned that all Board members knew this of Cochran when they voted to hire him, and no member was opposed to it. The Board also reported that Cochran came with “exceptional experience, expertise, and insight to the position” (WOWK TV).

Although a range of reactions happened, most of the respondents posted comments on their displeasure that the Board of Trustees kept emphasizing that he was a special education director. Some felt it was a key concern because special education is such a wide spectrum, having that expertise is not necessarily a qualification for the role as a superintendent at a school for the Deaf and Blind. Some of the comments included this question: why not find someone who is Deaf or Blind to run the school, maybe because the person would understand the students better? 

When selecting someone for the position of Superintendent, it is necessary to assess their experience and knowledge. If the candidate is an expert in working with the state of West Virginia and navigating their K-12 education system, the candidate would look rather desirable to the West Virginia State Department of Education. Cochran beat out nine other candidates. It is unclear how many of the candidates have had any previous experience as a Superintendent and if so, how many of those who did have the experience were blind or Deaf?

Although Cochran cited family reasons for turning down the job, it is also believed that he turned it down because of the negative reaction reverberating throughout the community. Cochran did not fit what the community wanted, which is different than what the board wants.

The Deaf* communities have long asked for superintendent search committees to keep their hiring process as transparent as possible for state schools for the Deaf. The possibility that some are looking for or expecting a “unicorn” candidate has been pointed out. In this context, the meaning of a “unicorn” is that rare candidate who checks off everyone’s boxes in what the ideal superintendent would be, someone who is so rare, it is almost mythical.

A great example is someone like Annette Reichman, who is the current Superintendent of Arizona School for the Deaf and Blind (ASDB Website). Reichman was the first appointed Deaf and Blind superintendent in the school’s 104-year history. Reichman devoted 30+ years of her career to supporting children and adults of the Deaf community, and she also had 11 years of experience working with blind children.

Reichman fits what people want to see in candidates for the superintendent position of a Deaf and Blind school. In some states, the Deaf school is separate from the Blind school and each school has its own superintendent. Not only did she have years of experience in the Deaf and Blind communities, but Reichman also had the know-how of how to navigate the Department of Education from her previous positions as the Director of the Office of Special Institutions under the U.S. Department of Education (2005-2016) and as the Chief of the Deafness & Communicative Disorders Branch of the U.S. Department of Education (1999-2005).

Does this mean that the school should continue to search for a new superintendent and comply with the expectations of the Deaf* community and/or the Blind community? It is important to remember that Deaf, DeafBlind, DeafDisabled, hard-of-hearing, and late-deafened community members have different desires, ideas, and/or expectations of what the qualifications of the next Superintendent of West Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind should be.

When Martin Keller Jr. was relieved of his duties as Superintendent for WVSVB two years ago in 2018, the community requested that the Board of Trustees include them in the hiring process for the next Superintendent. It is unclear to Deaf Vee Journal whether the State of West Virginia Board of Education honored the community’s request.

If the community wants to be involved in the next round of selections for the Superintendent position at the West Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind, check out the next Board meeting. The West Virginia Board of Education stated that they will discuss the vacancy at the August meeting.