M.S. grad to be first deaf woman superintendent of Ill. School for the Deaf

Janice Smith-Warshaw.
March 12, 2013

Janice Smith-Warshaw, a 1996 graduate of McDaniel’s Deaf Education graduate program, will become the first deaf woman to be superintendent of the Illinois School for the Deaf (ISD) since the school opened in 1839.

In distinguishing herself as an educator, she joins 1996 Deaf Education classmates Michelle Shearer, National Teacher of the Year, and David Martin, American Sign Language Teachers Association Teacher of the Year, both in 2011.

“I’ve learned tremendously from the Bilingual Deaf Education program at McDaniel College, which shaped my success in teaching and approach to curriculum,” Smith-Warshaw writes in an e-mail from the West Coast, where she is curriculum supervisor at the California School for the Deaf, Riverside (CSDR). 

Smith-Warshaw is a strong supporter of the philosophy of bilingualism as a means to help Deaf and hard-of-hearing (D/HH) students develop bilingual proficiency through American Sign Language (ASL) and written English.

“Since ASL is the primary language, known as the ‘mother tongue,’ I strongly believe that ASL should be used as the language of instruction for our D/HH students,” she says, explaining that the critical years of language competence among D/HH students is from birth to third grade when they develop many cognitive skills and are able to transfer those skills as they learn to write in English. “The bilingual programs promote D/HH students to use their first language to excel in their second language literacy skills.”

Smith-Warshaw has served at the California School for the Deaf, Riverside since 2000, and is currently a curriculum supervisor there. She has been a principal of several different programs over the years in early childhood education, high school, 5th-year post-HS program, and physical education, before becoming the supervisor of the curriculum department in 2009-2010. She earned a B.S. degree from the University of South Carolina in 1986, an M.S. degree from McDaniel College (formerly Western Maryland College) in 1996, and Ed.S. degree from Gallaudet University in 2009. In April, she will receive her Ed.D. degree in Leadership for Educational Justice at the University of Redlands in Redlands, Calif.

She already knows her top priorities when she assumes her role as superintendent of the Illinois School for the Deaf (ISD) on May 1: to promote a healthy and positive learning environment for the development of positive self-esteem for all D/HH students and to welcome teachers, Deaf and hearing parents, and the Deaf community as invested members of the school. Among her goals is closing the achievement gap between Deaf and hearing students by continuing to provide 21st-century skills for all D/HH students to succeed in college and the workforce.

Among the McDaniel professors who had an impact on her life is Dr. Janet Conley, associate coordinator of the Deaf Education program.

“Janice was an enthusiastic student and a concerned teacher; her interest in literacy development was especially evident in her creative and relevant instruction,” Conley says. “She is a positive reflection on our program and will make significant contributions to her new position as the superintendent of the Illinois School for the Deaf.”

Smith-Warshaw is looking forward to her new opportunity, where she will no doubt apply the professional philosophy she expresses with the acronym WHOLE:

  • W for whole language. Learning goes from whole to part – and is easier when students get a big picture, the whole, at first. The whole gives students a framework with borders like a puzzle.
  • H for holistic literacy. Researchers have shown that Deaf and hard of hearing students learn more when being exposed early to signed and written language. Students’ language knowledge increases along with their literacy. Learning becomes easier when signed and written language are equally accepted for use.
  • O for overall, the importance of my teaching role was facilitating student learning.
  • L for language of instruction. D/HH students will be able to build important background knowledge and concepts in ASL. Then, these concepts are transferred into written English.
  • E for empowerment. D/HH students need to feel empowered by using both languages (ASL and English). It will provide them many opportunities to improve the quality of language competency in order to motivate students to use both languages as tools for learning.