New Administrators at the Hawaii School for the Deaf and the Blind
Photo: (From left to right) Mr. Steve Laracuente and Dr. Angel Ramos.
In July 2016, Dr. Angel Ramos and Mr. Steve Laracuente were introduced as the new Principal and Vice Principal of the Hawaii School for the Deaf and the Blind (HSDB), respectively. This is the first time since 1995 – over two decades – that the school is being led by administrators who are Deaf.
In Ramos and Laracuente, HSDB gets administrators who bring to the table a wealth of knowledge and experience in the field of Deaf education.
Before retiring in 2015, Ramos logged over 14 years of experience as superintendent/principal at three state schools for the Deaf and hard of hearing in Arizona, Idaho, and New Jersey. It was a short-lived retirement (one year), something he credits the Hawaii Department of Education (DOE) with.
“I must pinpoint that [DOE] truly believes in HSDB,” Ramos said. “They are committed to seeing HSDB become a top-notch school. If this weren’t the case, I wouldn’t have come out of retirement.”
Laracuente has worked in the field of Deaf education for 38 years. He was the first Deaf person to receive principal training in Hawaii. This fall will be his 22nd year at HSDB, where, among other jobs, he had been the Student Services Coordinator since 2001.
“I’ve been with HSDB so long because I’ve enjoyed seeing our students grow into successful participants of our community,” Laracuente explained. “I am excited about what this next chapter has in store for our school.”
Ramos and Laracuente have much in common. They are both Puerto Ricans who hail from inner city New York (Ramos is from Manhattan; Laracuente, the Bronx). They were both raised by single mothers, all while navigating the trials and tribulations of a public education without accommodations. They both endured their share of bullying and had to learn to stand up for themselves. Neither knew American Sign Language (ASL) until they were in their 20s. Ramos and Laracuente met for the first time in the 1970s as teammates for the same basketball team at the P.S. 47 Club.
Now, 40-plus years later, Ramos and Laracuente find themselves teaming up again. Together they will try to tackle a number of long-standing challenges the school has faced. One in particular is hiring qualified people to work at HSDB.
“The desire is there, but affordability is another story,” Ramos explained.
The school currently has a slew of position vacancies, including education assistants, house parents, staff interpreters, a speech language pathologist, a custodian, a librarian, a teacher and a pre-school teacher.
Both Ramos and Laracuente admit that the transition won’t be an easy one, but insist that it is one they intend to tackle head-first. “The transition has been overwhelming, but exciting,” Laracuente said. “While we are tired from having so much to do, we remain motivated and positive day in and day out.”
Neither Ramos nor Laracuente are shy when it comes to sharing the lofty goals they’ve set for HSDB.
“We envision a self-sustaining school where our former students come back and help us flourish,” Laracuente explained. “They have wonderful role models [at HSDB] and many wish to someday follow in their footsteps.”
“We want the school to become the best and first place for parents to go to concerning the education of their Deaf, Hard of Hearing, or Deafblind (DHHDB) child,” Ramos added. “We want our school to feature the least restrictive environment for Deaf, hard of hearing, and Deafblind students throughout Hawaii. We want our students to graduate with skills to pursue post-secondary and career opportunities.”
“Ultimately, we wish for our students to experience growth in all ways – academically, socially, and emotionally,” Ramos concluded.
According to Ramos and Laracuente, a top priority is increasing enrollment. According to their estimates, Hawaii has approximately 450 to 500 students statewide who are DHHDB. Despite this, the number of students attending HSDB has hovered around 50 for several years. However, the school has seen a spike in enrollment since the new administrators were appointed. “We’ve already added about ten students since we started and we will continue to grow,” Laracuente said.
This is in part due to partnerships established with other school districts, which will allow DHHDB students who reside outside of Honolulu County to attend HSDB. Another reason has to do with parents becoming more aware of the language and literacy needs of their DHHDB child.
“Recent state legislation stresses the importance of early language learning in children who are DHHDB,” Ramos explained. “Parents will be empowered to be more conscientious of this, and HSDB will step up to the plate with support services readily available.”
Interested parents should contact Rosalind Kia, HSDB Parent Community Network Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (808) 733-4999 (Phone) / (619) 272-4888 (VP).