A Visionary Leader Set To Retire
by Suzie Rosser
A Drama and Debate major, Anne Sullivan was placed at Magnolia Speech School for student teaching practicum in 1972. Entering the halls of that school for the first time, her only thought was there has been some mistake; this is not where I am supposed to be. All of that changed after meeting the force behind the creation of Magnolia Speech School, Elizabeth Matthews. In that first meeting Anne told Elizabeth that she didn’t know what she was doing there. Elizabeth’s response was little comfort to a bright and head strong girl with different ideas for her future, “Don’t worry, before you leave here you will know exactly what you are doing.” Deciding to give it her best and stay with this placement until it was complete her great epiphany came while walking into the school one morning. Watching the interactions of the children in the hallway Anne realized how all of our lives are influenced by communication. That semester Anne learned as much about herself as she did teaching young children with hearing impairments.
From 1972 through 1986 Anne served as a teacher, a supervisor and finally Assistant Director of Magnolia Speech School. She earned her Master’s Degree in Communication with an emphasis in Deaf Education along the way. After a brief time as an Instructor in the Communication Department at Mississippi College, she returned to the school in 1994 as the Director.
Her first step as director was to give the parents a sense of ownership in the school, using their hopes and dreams for their children to develop the goals for the school. With parents as partners, she pursued hiring personnel critical to making Magnolia Speech School a program that ensures success for children. She admits there have been many challenges through the years; managing personnel, providing direct instruction to children, fund raising and donor solicitation. Through Anne’s vision, 10 to 12 hour workdays, grant writing and fund raising, the school’s budget has grown from $600,000 in 1994 to $2.4 million in 2011. There are public-private partnerships developing programs for toddlers with autism, specialized instruction for school-age children with dyslexia, and occupational therapy, physical education and computer instruction programs that all incorporate language into basic instruction. With her leadership, the staff of Magnolia Speech School has developed a curriculum with a focus on language development for all subject areas. The curriculum includes MDE Benchmarks which support successful transition of children into the public schools.
If you ask Anne the secret to Magnolia Speech School’s success, she will tell you it has always been the level of expectation…for the children, for the parents and for the staff; expectations that can only be communicated through a leader with true vision. Anne Sullivan will retire as director of Magnolia Speech School at the end of 2012. She feels her leaving will benefit the school by bringing in new leadership with fresh ideas and a willingness to continue to raise the bar.
Realizing the importance of communication in every aspect of a person’s life changed Anne Sullivan’s direction, and for that we are all grateful.