As deaf people in Maine continue to struggle with the Lewiston mass shooting that killed four members of their community, they’re about to face another loss — the departure of the well-known head of the Baxter School for the Deaf.
Karen Hopkins, the executive director of The Maine Educational Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing/Governor Baxter School for the Deaf, will leave Dec. 1 to head up the Beverly School for the Deaf in Massachusetts.
Hopkins announced her resignation in August, but the news is getting renewed attention as her final day approaches. And it comes now with an entirely new context: the Lewiston shooting, and the grieving and loss felt by the Deaf community.
She has been a spokeswoman for the community, helping to explain the profound loss experienced in the deaths of Billy Brackett, Bryan MacFarlane, Joshua Seal and Stephen Vozzella. They were among 18 people killed in the Oct. 25 shootings.
In the aftermath, Hopkins called for better communication with deaf people, noting that the community struggled to get information in the hours and days after the shootings.
“It was hard to see inaccuracies shared,” Hopkins told the Portland Press Herald. “I was trying to get accurate information and get that accurate information out to the community.”
Roxanne Baker, a Baxter board member, praised Hopkins for her years of service and her work.
“Karen has worked diligently for about 30 years in the field of Deaf education in Maine, working closely with the families of Deaf, hard-of-hearing children and students,” Baker said.
“During her tenure, Karen has been instrumental in many different facets of school events on the island, and statewide for students, families and professionals and Deaf community members,” Baker added.
“She is also the most sought after for training and presentations in the country and internationally related to early intervention for the deaf and hard of hearing.”
Lisette Belanger, the chair of Baxter’s board, called Hopkins “an exceptional director for Baxter school’’ who is a “true Maine leader.’’
A Millinocket native, Hopkins was the first deaf woman to lead the Baxter school. In her resignation letter, Hopkins noted she has been involved in Deaf education in Maine since her graduation from Gallaudet University in 1991.
“This decision was far from easy for me. For more than 32 years I’ve had the privilege of working in Deaf Education in the state of Maine — the place where I was born and where I grew up as the only deaf person in my community. I’m not only leaving a job I cherish — I’m leaving home,” she said in a letter to parents and guardians of Baxter students.
She noted that she helped write a law ensuring “appropriate and evidenced-based deaf education and language acquisition for deaf children.”
At Baxter, she brought back the basketball team and graduation celebrations, among other popular community events, and advocated before the legislature for funding.
“We are on solid ground,” she wrote.
She will become the executive director of The Children’s Center for Communication/Beverly School for the Deaf. The move will also bring her closer to family members.
“The Childrens’ Center for Communication/Beverly School for the Deaf is a special place and I look forward to working with the children, staff, families and Deaf community. I am also looking forward to connecting Maine and Massachusetts to add community connections,” she said in an email.