BATON ROUGE, La. — Following a national search, State Superintendent of Education John White today announced Ernest E. Garrett III will serve as the new Superintendent of the Louisiana Special School District (SSD), guiding the implementation of the SSD’s new three-year strategic plan and overseeing all operations of its special schools and programs. Garrett will take the helm Sept.3.
The SSD was established by the Louisiana State Legislature to provide education to students housed in state or privatized facilities and hospitals. The SSD oversees Louisiana’s two special schools: the Louisiana School for the Deaf (LSD) and the Louisiana School for the Visually Impaired (LSVI). It also manages educational programs for eligible students enrolled in the Office of Youth Development, Office of Behavioral Health, Office of Developmental Disabilities, Department of Public Safety, and Corrections, and privatized facilities across the state.
“Ernest is a strong leader and passionate advocate whose extensive experience, as a school administrator, as an advocate of students with low-incidence disabilities and as a social worker in both the school and clinical settings, will bring a unique perspective to the SSD and to the state education department’s executive team,” White said during a press conference at the joint campus of LSD and LSVI. “We look forward to watching the SSD redefine itself as a statewide model of excellence under his guidance.”
Garrett, a native of Missouri, is the former executive director and chief executive officer of Deaf Empowerment Awareness Foundation, Inc., an organization designed to empower, raise awareness, and bridge a sustainable foundation of communication and equal access to both the deaf and hard of hearing and the hearing communities in the St. Louis metro area.
Garrett previously served as the first deaf and first African-American superintendent of the Missouri School for the Deaf. In that role, he championed the idea of “education without limits” and was instrumental in leading the school through a change management process that resulted in a new mission, vision, motto, and strategic plan that drew unanimous approval from the school’s advisory board. Garrett has also acted as the executive director of the Missouri Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, and worked as a licensed social worker in both school and clinical settings.
Garrett holds bachelor’s degrees in history and in professional and technical writing from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, and master’s degrees in social work and administration from Gallaudet University, a federally chartered private university for the education of the deaf and hard of hearing.
He also holds an advanced research qualification in management, specializing in leadership and organizational change, from Walden University, the same institution at which he is currently a doctoral candidate in the final stages of his dissertation, which examines hiring and retaining persons with disabilities for leadership positions. His anticipated completion date is December 2019.
“I am delighted at this opportunity to return to my first passion, which is the education of students with disabilities, and do not take lightly my selection for this role at such a critical time in the SSD’s history,” Garrett said. “The education of children with disabilities is an issue that resonates with me both personally and professionally. I believe that all children can learn and that it is our responsibility as leaders, educators, policymakers, advocates, and stakeholders to ensure that students with disabilities receive the best quality education and are thus prepared for college and the workforce upon graduation. Settling for anything less than high expectations for all students–regardless of disability–is not an option.”
The announcement of a new SSD Superintendent comes more than a year after the state education department launched a search to find new, permanent leadership. The search for new leadership was among the lengthy list of recommendations put forth by a group of national experts contracted to conduct a comprehensive review of the SSD’s special schools and to outline what improvements could lead the SSD to become a model of excellence in meeting the unique needs of the communities it serves.
“The state has searched long and hard to fill this role,” said Kathy Edmonston, a member of the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. “This process has led us to the right person, a leader capable of guiding the district–and more importantly, the students it serves–toward a brighter future.”
“It has been a long journey to get to this place. I wholeheartedly welcome the new SSD Superintendent, Mr. Ernest Garrett,” said Rep. Pat Smith, D-Baton Rouge. “The special populations that are in the SSD need a person who can relate to the needs of the students. His appointment is a milestone for these schools, and I know the LSD students will be extremely elated to have a person that they can embrace and who knows their plight and who will provide the pathway toward their success.”