School for the Deaf and the Blind president retiring

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Charlotte Observer | 12/25/2007 | School for the Deaf and the Blind president retiring

The president of the South Carolina School for the Deaf and the Blind is receiving accolades from colleagues, students and others as she prepares to retire next week.

Sheila Breitweiser plans to spend more time with her family.

"She said she would like to make the school the best of its kind in the country, and she's done that," said Norman Pulliam, the former board member who hired Breitweiser in 1996. The school "under 11 years of her leadership is pretty much considered the top school of its kind in this country."

Breitweiser, 65, will be replaced by Pamela Shaw from the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and the Blind.

She plans to retire to a new farmhouse she had built with her husband in Landrum.

"I think it's really good to leave at a good point for the agency," Breitweiser, said, noting with a smile that she'll miss the students more than anything else. "From my own perspective, I like to think I'm leaving while people are still applauding."

The School for the Deaf and Blind has seen a lot of changes under Breitweiser. Student dormitories have been updated and classrooms have been renovated. The school has a new housing program where deaf and blind high school students learn living skills.

"She's helped improve our campus here, the buildings and our academics," said Lance Hall, a senior in the School for the Deaf. "She's been able to get money for school supplies that we needed. I will miss her presence."

Breitweiser grew up in northeastern Pennsylvania. She was the first woman in her family to go to college, earning a degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

She taught special education in Durham. N.C., before taking 11 years off to raise her family. After completing her master's degree, she returned to education, eventually leading The Gov. Morehead School for blind students in North Carolina.

The South Carolina School for the Deaf and the Blind hired her in 1996.

"I came because I was so touched by the warmth of people here and the devotion to the kids," Breitweiser said. "There was a connection to students and staff that was unique."

Breitweiser is a tireless advocate for her school, lobbying lawmakers even as she brings her students to the Statehouse every year to sing.

"No question their performance made a difference," Rep. Bob Walker, R-Landrum, said of the children's pilgrimage. "No one in that House could sit there and not be touched by what those children can do and what we can do to make it better."

Breitweiser plans to spend more time with her husband, three grown children and her grandchildren. But the self-described "workaholic" said she also will offer her services as a consultant to other states.
 
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