The History of Cleary School
Located in Suffolk County, Long Island, Cleary Deaf Child Center, Inc. had its beginning
in 1925 when Rosemary Cleary opened Camp Peter Pan. As the first summer camp for
the deaf in the United States, it accepted children ages three through eight. Lessons in
speech, language, and lip reading afforded educational goals as well as camping
activities and games.
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, Ms. 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, Ms. 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, served as the staff. Irene and Florence Cleary (Rosemary’s sisters)
were added to the staff in 1952 and 1953 respectively.
In 1960, Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Rockville Centre legally assumed the
sponsorship and ownership of Cleary Deaf Child Center, Inc., 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 support and oversight from Catholic Charities and the Diocese of Rockville Centre
has been a great strength for the school. From 1960 through 1970, Catholic Charities
supplemented State funds and provided for capital improvements at 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 added 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.
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.
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 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. Student enrollment continued to grow.
In 1985 Genevieve, the last of the Cleary sisters, passed away and the entire Cleary
home became available for school use. Portions of the house were renovated, and
space was adapted to meet the existing and emerging needs of the school. This
additional space, as well as the establishment of the art studio, in 1984, 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
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 discussion and exploration, , the secondary program moved to the East
Islip High 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 the 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
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
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
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 PreSchool 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.
Cleary School for the Deaf 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. The school
continues to thrive and grow under the leadership of Dr. Jacqueline Simms. Due to the
vision of Dr. Simms, Cleary School for the Deaf now has students at 5 campuses,
Nesconset as well as 4 schools currently within the East Islip School District.