By William “Bill” Daugherty, Superintendent, Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired
Abstract: Superintendent Daugherty describes his first year back in Texas.
Key Words: Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, TSBVI, Superintendent Bill Daugherty, blindness, visual impairment, News & Views, Texas Focus
I have been back in Texas and TSBVI for over a year now after a 14 year stint in the Midwest, and much like Dorothy—or Ashley for fans of our school’s hit production of Oz—I know I’m not in Kansas anymore. It seems I’ve experienced more in the past months than I did in all my time up I-35 North. Much of this has to do with my adjustment to a new organization that is undergoing a lot of changes, but also to the extremely dynamic and diverse nature of our state’s many early intervention, K-12, higher education, and adult services shareholders in Blindness and Visual Impairment. Simply put, Texas has got it going on like no place else in the country, and I have to run hard to keep up.
Attendance at this past summer’s Texas Focus conference of over 300 parents and professionals would be more than Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota and North Dakota combined. That’s the pasture from the Red River all the way to Manitoba. But it was the quality of the presentations as much as the size that was impressive. There were great opportunities to hear from out-of-state guests like Tanni Anthony and Barbara Miles—the two I was able to catch—and our homegrown leaders with so much knowledge to share that showcased how lucky we are and how hard we have worked to get our state to this state of excellence and promise. Walk out in the hotel lobby and advocates like Marty Murrell were organizing legislative efforts that benefit us all. Yes, the place was hopping.
As a returnee to Texas it is clearly visible that there is a solid and growing network of families, educators, consumers and service providers who are meeting together with the goal of ensuring that visual impairments and blindness, and disability in general, not be barriers to the good life. I point out this observation as a one-time Texas itinerant TVI/COMS working in relative isolation in the late 70’s and 80’s, and as a person who has had the chance to visit many other states, as a reminder and encouragement to the many of you who have been or will be instrumental in the uncommon success our field enjoys here at home. Progress over the past 30 years has been remarkable, and a child with a visual impairment born today, or a professional just now entering the field, will have many opportunities that developed from the daydreams and discussions and efforts of past decades.
An educational and medical mission to Nigeria in March—my first real trip out of the USA—was a jolting reminder of how good we have it here and how important it is to protect and grow what has been built. With all that we have, there are still individuals with visual impairments and blindness who will be needlessly burdened by institutional and societal barriers, and many educators and service providers who will not enjoy the professional development and sense of community that comes through opportunities like the TAER and Texas Focus gatherings.
One of the primary keys to our common success is coming on strong and with increased clarity: families. No one and no group can advocate for the achievement of our common goals quite like parents can. Have the TSBVI Superintendent go before the legislature to push for this or that to improve our statewide situation, and there will be polite interest; have a parent tell their story and suddenly there is the type of empathy and connection that leads to results. I encourage all of us promote the power of parent partnerships as the Way to raise all boats.
To end on a personal note, it is so great to be home. The food, the music, the Hill Country, and just the style of the place is scratching an unconscious itch I’ve had for the past 14 years. People have been so kind and welcoming, including the legions of folks who have made it their personal mission to get me some company in the form of a dog. TSBVI is rebuilding its campus, developing many fine new initiatives, and improving on what is in place. Our state system as a whole is in its best shape ever, and I couldn’t be more pleased to be working with all of you to move the agenda forward.