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Columbia

John Serrano named 12th superintendent of Maryland School for the Deaf at Columbia Campus ceremony

After a process that took more than two years, Maryland School for the Deaf’s board of trustees on Monday unanimously approved John A. Serrano as the institution’s 12th superintendent.

“Ever since I first visited, I’ve been touched by the warmth here,” Serrano said through an interpreter. “I know what it takes to lead. It takes an entire community, the teachers, staff and administrators and community members, to support this generation of students for today and tomorrow.”

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Serrano was joined by his wife, Melly, and children Natalia, AJ and Matthew at MSD’s Columbia Campus for the announcement.

Serrano most recently served as executive director of undergraduate admissions at Gallaudet University, a private research university for the deaf in Washington, D.C., after previous stints at the Texas School for the Deaf and the Atlanta Area School for the Deaf. Serrano, who identifies as Latinx, is the first person of color to lead MSD.

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“We’ve all been waiting patiently for this and it’s really hard to put in words,” MSD board president Corey Burton said through an interpreter. “The bottom line is, I am thrilled from the bottom of my heart because we finally have our next superintendent.”

Serrano takes over during a pivotal time in the school’s history, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and the September 2020 resignation of James Tucker, the first deaf superintendent in MSD’s history, who stepped down after a wave of protests and allegations that the school had harbored a racist and elitist culture.

Parents and alumni, including a group calling themselves MSD Survivors, described discriminatory housing and discipline practices on campus and called for Tucker’s dismissal.

“There was a lot of racism that I felt needed to be addressed,” 2014 MSD graduate Rhyshem Bagley said in a 2020 Baltimore Sun interview. “I was told that the issue at the time was not valid.”

Founded in 1868, MSD is a public educational institution with campuses in Frederick and Columbia that serves more than 450 deaf and hard-of-hearing students from birth through age 21. The school helps students obtain American Sign Language and English language fluency across a range of learning environments.

“Maryland School for the Deaf is a critical part of the state [and] it’s the crown jewel of the deaf education system all over the United States,” Kelby Brick, director of the governor’s Office of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, said through an interpreter. “I’m looking forward to Superintendent Serrano taking MSD to the next level.”

Newly announced superintendent of the Maryland School for the Deaf, John A. Serrano, right, acknowledges the applause as he concludes his remarks after the board's unanimous approval at the Board of Trustees special meeting at its Columbia Campus, Monday January 9, 2023.

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The search for Tucker’s replacement was suspended in May 2021 after three candidates identified by MSD’s search committee withdrew from consideration.

After a year-long hiatus, the process resumed in August after MSD made “some critical strides that better position the school to bring on a new leader,” according to a letter by search committee co-chairs and trustees Akilah English and Krista Leitch Walker. These strides, the letter said, included raising the pay level for the superintendent position, implementing new diversity, equity and inclusion programming and successful navigation of the pandemic.

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In November, trustees announced that Serrano and Taiyabah Naeem, director of diversity, equity, and inclusion at the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf, were the finalists.

Before the final selection, both candidates visited MSD’s campuses, interviewed with the board and met with community members during public forums in December.

“Some great things are worth waiting for,” said Leitch Walker, a parent, daughter and granddaughter of MSD graduates. “[Serrano] is a well-established leader in the field. I think MSD is in good shape, I just wish it could have happened sooner.”

Serrano begins on Jan. 25.

“Coming in mid-school year, where we are now, there’s no time to wait,” Serrano said. “I’m going to hit the ground running.”


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