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Dr. Ronald J. Stern, ’73, a leader with more than 40 years of experience in deaf education, became the new vice president of the Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center at Gallaudet University in July 2016. In this position, Stern will provide leadership to Kendall Demonstration Elementary School (KDES), the Model Secondary School for the Deaf (MSSD), and research, training, and dissemination activities; oversee the continued implementation of the Clerc Center Strategic Plan 2020; expand local and national birth-grade 12 partnerships; and serve on President Cordano’s executive team.

Stern, born in Philadelphia, grew up in New York City and attended the Lexington School for the Deaf in his early years. He later attended a New York public school in high school, but a teacher strike during his senior year sent him back to Lexington. His parents expected he would return to the public school after the strike, but with a smile, Stern said, “Once I saw the opportunities at Lexington, such as communication access and athletics, there was no way I was going back to mainstreamed academia. I won that battle with my parents, stayed, and graduated from Lexington.”

Stern came to Kendall Green as an undergraduate in the fall of 1969, the year MSSD opened, and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in sociology. He received his master’s degree in deaf education from California State University, Northridge in 1975 and his doctorate in educational leadership from the University of New Mexico in 2008.

Stern taught for two years at the California School for the Deaf, Riverside. He married his wife Hedy Udkovich, G-’74, during this time, and they moved north to teach at California School for the Deaf, Berkeley.

During that time, CSD-Berkeley had a superintendent that everyone in the deaf community was talking about.

“Dr. Henry Klopping was an amazing agent of change,” Stern said. “At the time it was the school. Deaf people came from all over to work for him. Everyone was fired up.”

Stern taught both middle and high school English. During this time all three of his children, Louise, ’01, Shoshannah, ’05, and Brendan, ’06, were born. In 1980, the school relocated to Fremont, and shortly thereafter, Stern became the middle school principal.

In 1989, Gallaudet called Stern home again. His family moved to Washington, D.C., and he became athletic director at Gallaudet. Even though he loved the job, his heart remained within K-12 education. After one year, the Sterns relocated again, back to Fremont. Stern became director of Instruction, a position he would hold for the next 10 years. In 2000, he became superintendent of the New Mexico School for the Deaf (Santa Fe, New Mexico). He retired 15 years later.

Stern came out of retirement in 2015, agreeing to a year-long superintendency of the New York School for the Deaf, Fanwood. He finished the year believing he would finally retire.

However, leaders with fiery passion don’t ever truly retire.

“The position at Gallaudet popped up, and here I am,” said Stern. “It’s an exciting time to be here. The energy and vision of President Cordano and her commitment to deaf education, from infancy to the doctorate level, is amazing. She is a true visionary, an out-of-the-box thinker.”

Stern feels that the field of deaf education is at a crucial junction.

“The stakes are enormous. Gallaudet has the ability, like no other educational institution does, to create change,” said Stern. “This can be achieved by securing quality educational options for deaf children for years to come.”

Stern knows the challenges ahead are considerable. He hopes to collaborate with different departments at Gallaudet to utilize the various resources and research available. In doing so, he hopes to ensure that the Clerc Center is responsive to the needs of deaf education.

“Our ability to innovate, change, and grow will be maximized, to provide deaf children with a quality education,” said Stern. “The world is changing quickly. So will we, in necessary, important ways.”

When asked to describe the Gallaudet community in a word, he answered with a sign that could mean both everything and inclusive. “It is what Gallaudet embodies,” said Stern. “The wealth of research and resources is amazing, and so is the diversity and empowerment within the community. Never before have I been at a place where there are so many avenues and agents of change.

“Gallaudet is where I belong, and it is the place to be in deaf education.”

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