Cleary History


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 strength.

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.

In May 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.

It 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.

The 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).

The 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.

The 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 Education.

In 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.

In 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.

The 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.

In 1987, 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.

In 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 1991.

Cleary 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.

In 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 computer lab.

The 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.

In 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.

As was 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.