I experienced something unique as I waited to meet Dr. Jeanne Prickett in the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind Police Station. It was intangible, unspoken and yet an evident impression – these people loved her. With forty-seven years experience as an educator, she’s brilliant and exceptionally passionate about her work; yet Dr. Prickett remains approachable and humble. Demonstrating genuine personal interest in every individual that steps foot on the 80+ acre campus, she makes a difference both in small and large ways. “I like to know and talk to teachers, administrators, grounds people, everybody.”
Despite her demanding daily schedule, she pauses to speak and sign to students of all ages, answering their questions and listening to their concerns. She even aims to call each blind student by name, “because they can walk by and not even know you’re talking to them.” Interacting makes an impact. “For years,” she says, “I have stood at the bus area on Friday afternoons speaking with students as they leave.” This has made a significant difference in the lives of some students, even bringing them out of their shell. “If my being there inspires them to do their best in school, that’s what matters.”
As a high school junior, Dr. Prickett attended a field trip introducing students to Special Education. Admittedly, she just wanted to get out of school for the day, but she unexpectedly realized, “I could do this!” Soon she earned her BS and MS in Education, concentrating on Visual Impairment and Deaf Education. Then, she completed her EdD in Administration, all at Illinois State University. Her career skyrocketed.
While working as Superintendent of the Iowa School for the Deaf, she heard about the opportunity at FSDB, where her husband Hugh worked in the Deaf Department from 1968-70. When Dr. Prickett learned that the previous President might retire, Hugh said, “You need to apply!” It was a months-long public process amidst intense competition. She felt honored to be offered the position of President and become the first woman to lead FSDB.
Since 2012, safety and student achievement have been her top priority. She has increased safety features like electronic keys, nightly dorm checks, and lockdown protocols. She has ensured that reading levels appear on each student’s Individual Education Plan. She values empowering administrators rather than micromanaging, so each department can utilize its own expertise. “I hesitate to say it’s me making an impact,” she says. “It’s the team making an impact.”
Braille, ASL, and English are taught by multiple-certified teachers to ensure all students are fully literate. Life skills prepare students for college or careers. “My biggest vision is to make sure that everybody on campus understands their obligation to have solid sign language skills, even in the blind department,” says Dr. Prickett. “Human beings want to communicate. Helen Keller was expressing her frustration with bad behavior until the key came at the pump with her teacher.”