Nancylynn Ward

Superintendent of Tennessee School for the Deaf

Nancylynn Ward, the new Superintendent of Tennessee School for the Deaf, was first featured in DEAF LIFE (October 1990 issue) when she was Miss Deaf America 1990-92. (Seems like just yesterday, too . . .) We did an update in our 10th-anniversary issue (July 1998). Since then, she's put in considerable traveling, earned a doctorate, raised three sons, and had the pleasure of working with a fine team at the Clerc Center.

Background: I will just pick up where we left off (Texas 1998 right?). While living in Texas, I started my private practice (1997) called Creative Solutions Consulting while working on the 0-5 bilingual daycare program designed for deaf and CODA children whose primary language was in ASL (American Sign Language). At the completion of that project, I left for Maryland in 1999. IN the intervening years since I raised my sons as a single parent. I started my doctorate in summer of 2000, at Gallaudet, when I was home in Maryland, to care for my father for the last 18 months of his life, He died in March of 2001. I came home to Maryland late in 1999 and left Maryland in 2002, a year after my father died. I had completed most of my coursework except for five courses, before I decided to sell my home in Maryland and headed out to California. I bought my home in Sacramento and settled into the daily routine of raising my sons and running my private business until the economy bottomed out in California in 2007, forcing me to seek employment, which then led to my stint at California Department of Education as a Special Education Consultant where I worked for seven years prior to my departure to the Clerc Center.

From “habitual offenders” to full compliance: Prior to my arrival to the Clerc Center, I was living in Sacramento, California. I had been working at the California Department of Education (CDE) as a Special Education Compliance enforcement officer. The focus of my job was to make sure schools within my region were in compliance with part B and part C (in some cases) of the IDEA. I would investigate schools after receiving complaints of non-compliance. If there were evidence of compliance, we would do a write up and then close the case. If there were evidence of non-compliance, we would do a write up ordering corrective actions to be instituted and give X amount of time the school would need to be brought back into compliance.

I also served as the liaison officer of Office of admnistrative hearings. This was an in-house judicial office that would make determination whether schools violated the law and if the Judge found the schools to be in violation, they would order reparation and relief to the families. It would be my job to follow up and enforce the judge's orders and once all the conditions were met, I would close the case. I was also responsible to monitor schools who were “habitual offenders” by entering a two-year monitoring plan with schools in need of systemic change and intervention. This required me to withhold 15% of their entire special education budget and force the schools to make the needed systemic changes that would hopefully help them remove their “habitual offender status” and be in continued compliance. I oversaw approximately 40-50 million dollars in corrective action enforcement funding and had 2,130 schools under my oversight in five counties in southern California.

Making ends meet: I also continued to provide consultative services to entities outside of California as a private practitioner while working full-time at CDE as well as being a doctoral student and a single parent. The economic crisis that shook our country from 2007-2010 made it virtually impossible to make enough income as a private practitioner which made me grateful for the job I had at CDE during this period.

The doctoral journey’s end: During this time, CDE was a partner in my completing my doctorate. While employed at CDE, I was able to use my educational leave (similar to sabbatical) to finally complete the last five classes (I had been in LOA status all this time) and begin writing my dissertation proposal and defending my dissertation. It was done during daytime hours, which was crucial due to my being a single parent—this allowed me to do all my school work during the hours my kids were in school. I finally completed my doctoral journey on March of 2012. In all, it took me a little more than 10 years to complete my doctorate, but it got done. I was determined not to be a part of the PHD mortality statistic—which amounted to something like 85% when I was in school. am not sure what it is like now—and I didn't want to be paying for student loans without a Ph.D. to show for it so I gritted my teeth and got it done.

Looking back, I have no clue how I did it other than having the determination and faith especially as a single parent during the time my boys were teenagers, to get it done.

On the wing: When I completed my doctorate, I took two years to try to forget the life of a student and focus on being a mom again. Eventually my boys grew up and left California for a bit before coming back to California to settle . . . I decided the time had come for me to spread my wings. At that time, I had made the boys my focus for 20 years and I wanted to see what was out there and do something different. so when the job opportunity came up at the Clerc Center, I applied and got the position as the Assistant Director of Planning, Development and Dissemination unit.


Working with a great team at the Clerc Center: This is the unit that focuses on providing support to programs that serve deaf and hard-of-hearing students around the country and their families by developing and disseminating educational resources and information. Our work ties into the idea of producing and getting educational resources that are of high quality, and deeply rooted in best evidence-based practices of how to work with deaf and hard-of-hearing students enrolled in a variety of educational placements (residential, mainstreaming, private school, charter school, regional day programs, to name a few).

At the Clerc Center, I focused on developing resources, revamping and refining our marketing strategies and publications and developing a look that is highly identifiable and uniquely for Clerc Center. In three short years, I was able to do all that.  I also got to really know the populations we serve on a national level, the repertoire of services and how to work with our stakeholders to develop resources that they want and will use and  and get those resources out into the field. It was a great experience working with like minded professionals who are passionate about Deaf Education. The Clerc Center's national outreach center is comprised of 23 dedicated professionals who bring unique skills to the table and along with partners around the country we develop best possible resources tailored to deaf education needs. It was a honor to be in company with such professionals day in and day out.

I intend to bring what I learned from the Clerc Center and utilizing all the resources that they have developed when I arrive to Tennessee and start thinking about how we want to build and develop our outreach programming which will be designed to meet the needs of deaf and hard of hearing children within the State of Tennessee. What the Clerc Center does not have, I think I have become pretty well versed in the founding principles, as developed by the Clerc Center, to create our own resource that will fill the gaps designed to serve ALL stakeholders and partners in Deaf Education within the State of Tennessee.

Making history at TSD: They had a woman superintendent, Dr. Ethel Poore, in the early 1900's (1920's or thereabouts). I saw her portrait and remember thinking how impressed I was that Tennessee had the foresight to hire a woman superintendent that early in American history. She was not deaf. However, as I learned later, she had deaf members in her family. She was the great-aunt of Andy and Camy Lange of the Lange dynasty in our community. I, however, will be the first-ever Deaf Superintendent, which is why people of Tennessee were celebrating with passion when my appointment was announced.

For “leisure time”: I love to travel.  I love to read, I love to garden, I love hiking, biking, swimming, and camping. I am trying to get into kayaking. I am also terribly addicted to Grey's Anatomy and cop/legal shows and movies. I also adore playing NANA whenever the opportunity arises.

Summing up: I adore my boys and am a proud NANA!  Her name is Rylynn and was born last November 2016 and I was home in California to help welcome her to the world. She was a surprise that I had not anticipate having to happen this quickly, but I adore her and am glad she is here with us! I fly back to California as often as I can so I can play NANA with Rylynn. What they say about being a NANA is true, nothing else compares. I also love watching my boys navigating their own life journeys and careers.  They are amazing human beings and I am terribly proud of them and their successes.  It is so hard for me to step back and say.... wow! They are doing it! I did it! They are amazing people. Funny, kind, considerate human beings.

Parenting is not for the faint-hearted, because this is where you need to learn how to step back and let your adult children be the adults they envision to be for themselves and that they all are on their individual journeys through life. Regardless of that, they are my proudest achievements to date.

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