THE HISTORY OF CLEARY SCHOOL
Located in Suffolk County, Long Island, Cleary Deaf Child
Center, Inc. had its beginning in 1925 when Rosemary Cleary opened Camp Peter
Pan. The first summer camp for the deaf
in the United States, it accepted children ages three to eight. Lessons in speech, language, and lip reading
afforded educational goals as well as camping activities and games.
In any great undertaking, there is at least one outstanding
leader. Rosemary R. Cleary, founder and the
first Director/Principal, took a bold step in the face of uncertainty and
started a school for the deaf. Rosemary
was the consummate visionary who taught at St. Joseph’s School for the Deaf, in
Bronx, New York for 20 years. To fill
the need for a specialized school on Long Island, Miss Cleary channeled her
energies to the establishment of a school at her father’s residence in
Ronkonkoma though she lived 50 miles away in Brooklyn, New York. While the facility in Ronkonkoma was being
established, Rosemary Cleary opened classrooms in her Bay Ridge, Brooklyn,
home. Children were admitted at three
years of age, forming what was probably the first nursery school in the country
for children who were deaf. It was a
united effort by the Cleary family to make this venture a success. Rosemary, Genevieve (Rosemary’s sister), and
Min Jordan held the roles of teachers and mother simultaneously. Irene and Florence Cleary (Rosemary’s sisters)
were added to the staff in 1952 and 1953 respectfully.
Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Rockville Centre
legally assumed the sponsorship and ownership of Cleary Deaf Child Center, Inc.
in 1960 upon the request of Rosemary Cleary.
Concurrently, it was decided that the Sisters of St. Joseph of
Brentwood, New York, would join the school staff and eventually assume
administrative responsibility. Catholic
Charities continues to support the goals and objectives of Cleary to establish
and maintain a school and center to serve the needs of the deaf. The constant support and oversight from
Catholic Charities and the Diocese of Rockville Centre has been a tower of
From 1960 through 1970, Catholic Charities supplemented
state funds and provided for capital improvements in the school. The first school
building was renovated in the summer of 1967. The rubella epidemic of
1964 resulted in an influx of students, requiring further expansion. In
1969, the major body of the school was added to the original building.
Eight new classrooms, additional media space, and speech booths were provided
between 1972 and 1974.
1970, Cleary School was written into Public Law 4201 as a private
State-supported school for the deaf in New York State. Sister Loyola
Marie Curtin, C.S.J. became the first superintendent. The Board of Trustees
was revitalized and maintains attentive oversight. In September 1973, Sister Doris Batt, C.S.J.
became the second superintendent and Sister Virginia Barry, C.S.J. became the
principal of the school. The enrollment increased each year and new staff
members were added.
became evident that children who are deaf learn concepts and acquire
educational knowledge much faster through visual cues. Therefore, in
September 1974, the school began researching the philosophy of Total
Communication. Acknowledging that the students were able to grasp and
retain information at a faster pace when using a program adhering to this
philosophy, the school adopted it in 1975. The Total Communication
Philosophy consists of sign language, speech, speech reading, auditory
training, mime, fingerspelling, and gestures.
establishment of the New York State Association of Educators of the Deaf in
1955 created many advantages for all teachers and professionals at the
school. Cleary hosted the annual NYSAED Convention in the fall of
1976. It was attended by more than eight hundred teachers and other
interested people. Speakers from all over the country were invited to
share their knowledge with the educators of New York. Today’s teachers
also are encouraged to become members of the Convention of American Instructors
of the Deaf (CAID).
school expanded in 1979 to include students from both ends of the school
spectrum. The Infant Program, which services children from birth to
three, involves both parents and children in a center-based program that offers
a nurturing, family focused environment.
The three-way partnership between family, child, and teacher fosters the
overall development of the child. A secondary program, initiated by
Sister Doris Batt, C.S.J. and approved by the New York State Education
Department, began at Mercy High School in Riverhead, New York.
Secondary Program offers a variety of options for middle and high school
students. Depending on the child’s
individual needs, students have access to self-contained classes, combination
of self-contained and mainstream classes, and/or mainstream classes at East
Islip Middle and High School. The
students have access to all academic classes, afterschool programs, and
internship programs. A student’s
coursework and diploma (Regents or IEP) are determined by the Individualized
Education Plan (IEP) developed by the student’s district Committee of Special
July 1983, Sister Catherine Fitzgibbon, C.S.J. was named superintendent and
Sister Eileen Kelly, C.S.J. became the principal of the school. This
administration has encouraged the advancement of the Total Communication
Philosophy, computer education, and remedial work for those with learning
disabilities, occupational and physical therapy, and the establishment of a diagnostic
center. After some years of steady enrollment, a gradual increase of
students was noted.
1985 Genevieve, the last of the Cleary sisters, died and the entire Cleary home
became available for school use. Major portions of the house were renovated,
and space adapted to meet the existing and emerging needs of the school.
This additional space, as well as the establishment in 1984 of the art studio,
assisted the school in meeting State mandates. A three bay vehicle area,
built in 1987, provided additional storage space for the expanding
school. January 1989 saw the opening of yet another addition to the
school, a long overdue faculty room and a motor development room. In
January 1990, the creation of a dance room completed the renovations.
increase of students with additional handicaps necessitated the addition of
more therapeutic outdoor play equipment. Thus, in 1987, “Big Toys”
equipment playgrounds, designed by the staff, were installed in the preschool
and elementary play areas.
the superintendent was notified that the secondary program was required to move
to a non-sectarian school. This came as a result of the Aguilar versus
Felton decision, which stated that a publicly funded student could not attend a
sectarian school. After search and negotiation, the secondary program
moved to the East Islip School beginning in the school year 1988-89.
1990, the school began a self-study program toward certification by the Middle
States Association of Colleges and Elementary School. As a result of this
process, Cleary School became the first school for the deaf to become certified
by the Middle States Association. Cleary School was certified for twenty
years by Middle States Association CES from 1991 through December 2011. This process of certification was directly
responsible for Cleary’s acceptance of a Bi-Lingual, Bi-Cultural philosophy in
School became the first “Bi-Bi” school in New York State, the only school to
accept American Sign Language (ASL) as the language of instruction.
During this period, much time and resources were put toward increasing knowledge
of ASL and Deaf Culture. Numerous persons, famous in the deaf community,
came to Cleary to teach, entertain and enrich the student’s sense of belonging
in the world of the deaf. Persons famous in the deaf community such as
Clayton Valli, Ella Mae Lenz, Alan Barwiolek, J. Charlie McKinney and Mary Beth
Miller came to Cleary School during this time.
order to both expand and modernize our facilities, Cleary School undertook a
major construction project. Under the guidance of Sister Catherine
Fitzgibbon, C.S.J., the superintendent, and Sister Eileen Kelly, C.S.J., the
principal, and with tremendous support from Ronald Parr, CEO of Parr
Development Company, the school added a full size assembly hall/gymnasium
(named Parr Hall) along with a large modern kitchen and dining hall. In
addition, the entire interior of the existing building was gutted and
renovated, allowing for much larger classrooms, a new library and a modern
improvement in technology, which provided greater access to sound for deaf
children, offered the next major change. The increased use of cochlear
implants created a need for a preschool program to meet the needs of these children.
Cleary School opened an Auditory-Oral Pre School Program in September
2002. With support from Pamela Talbot, a certified auditory-verbal
therapist, who serves as a consultant, this program grew and continues to grow
as it meets the needs of preschool students. The goal of this program is
to have students ready to enter district-based programs when they become school
age. Technology, in particular Cochlear Implants, continues to rapidly improve,
and, to meet its demand, Cleary consistently successfully adapts in order to prepare
students through the Listening and Spoken Language Preschool Program. In the 2014-2015 school year, Cleary opened
its first State-approved integrated class with two teachers, an assistant, and
twelve students. This co-teaching model
ensures students master concepts in the general education curriculum while
auditory needs are being addressed by specialists in the field.
2004, Sister Eileen Kelly, C.S.J. resigned as principal of Cleary School.
Ken Morseon, the former elementary supervisor, was promoted to the position of
principal. In October of 2005, Sister
Catherine Fitzgibbon, C.S.J. retired, ending her 36 year tenure with
Cleary. Mr. Morseon assumed the
Superintendent's position. In January of
2006, Ellen McCarthy became the new principal. In September of 2013,
Jacqueline Simms assumed the responsibilities as Executive Director. After 34 years of service to Cleary, Ken
Morseon retired in December 2013.
implied in the beginning of this history, buildings and curriculum exist only
for the benefit of the students. To this end, the school consistently
strives to provide the most current required and relevant information for the
students. By establishing itself as a primary resource on deafness for
the school districts in Suffolk County, the school also maintains its policy of
assisting all those who inquire about deafness and its implications.