Dear fellow members of the WPSBC Alumni Association,
Welcome to the 2014 edition of the WPSBC Alumni Association’s annual bulletin. As per usual, we have lots of interesting and relevant news for you this time around, including a piece about our very own Ray Lantz, information about the school, and details about fellow students and their family members who have passed away since last year.
The rough winter is finally over, and though we may have a cooler summer this year than is typical, it’s sure wonderful that flowers are blooming, rivers are flowing free of ice, and people are finally able to enjoy being outdoors once more. So, get outside and enjoy the fresh air with family and friends if you can.
It’s time once again to discuss the biennial convention, that was originally scheduled for this coming August. However, unfortunately, the school is unable to host us this year, due to major construction during that time that they’ve planned for the second and third floor dormitories. Therefore, the 2014 alumni convention is cancelled. Repeat: THE 2014 ALUMNI CONVENTION IS CANCELLED. As of this writing, the next full convention is scheduled for the summer of 2015.
But don’t panic. Instead of the convention, we’re holding another fun day social event this year, like we normally do during the off-years. This social will be held at the school on Saturday, September 27th, 2014, from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM. The cost to register will be eight dollars ($8). As was done last year, we will serve a catered lunch, coffee, and snacks throughout the day. Please send your registration fee no later than September 20th, 2014, to Joanna Berkovic; 375 North Craig St.; Apartment 210; Pittsburgh, PA 15213. Please schedule your rides so that you have left the school NO LATER than 5:00 PM.
We would normally hold an election for a single board member this year, during the regular business meeting at the convention. However, since there will be no convention until 2015, this election will not be held during the fun day social. The member holding this board position, will continue on in it, until next year’s election.
This change in scheduling of the convention has some ripple effects on our usual election processes. Normally, we would have had the board member election THIS year, and the rest of the officer elections at the 2016 convention. But in moving the convention back to 2015, there will be no 2016 convention. So the question arises: Do we elect the full slate of officers at the 2015 or 2017 conventions? If we do all the officers whose terms would have been up in 2016, during 2015, this means that for this emergency, they will have served only three years. But if we wait until 2017 to elect them, the existing officers will serve for five years. The bylaws mandate a four-year term for the officers. However, the board has opted to waive this requirement for this emergency. However, we would like to gather input from those members attending this year’s fun day social, as to when to do the officer elections; either in 2015 or in 2017. We will take a straw poll at that time therefore.
At this time, we see no other big issues to address as a result of the convention rescheduling. However, please forward to me, any questions or concerns, and the board will address them well in time for the 2015 convention.
So, thanks for listening to this (perhaps a bit) complicated issue. But the school is a bustling and frequently changing place, and keeping the place up-to-date in terms of architecture and technology, is very important to their business. So we’re bound to experience this sort of thing from time to time. It’s truly remarkable though, that they’ve been willing to host and house us for our conventions for so long. And, they will continue to do so; just not for the originally scheduled 2014 convention.
Enjoy the rest of your newsletter then. Ted and Monica have done a terrific job bringing it all together for you. Take care, and I’ll see many of you in September.
President: WPSBC Alumni Association
Letter from Todd Reeves, School Superintendent
Thank you for picking up and reviewing this Winter 2014 edition of “Insights”! We are so glad you’ve taken the time to read our newsletter which is intended to provide you with an overview of our newly adopted strategic plan. I recognize that strategic plans don’t typically show up on anyone’s “high interest” reading list, but I’ve come to know that your collective interest in the welfare and future of our students is unparalleled. In my estimation, nowhere in the country does a community demonstrate a higher dedication to the education of very special students than here, and I trust that collective conviction will carry you through the pages that follow.
The Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children has long been a pioneer in special education. The most recent planning process served as an opportunity to identify and address our most important needs, to think creatively, and ultimately, to demonstrate our capacity for educational leadership for the benefit of our students.
The Strategic Plan (2013-2020) is a blueprint for the next level of excellence in teaching and learning both on campus and through our Outreach Programs, with a stronger-than-ever emphasis on data and student achievement. As a result of this planning process, our Mission and Vision statements have been affirmed and goals have been developed to ensure that we are meeting the current and future needs of all students. To view the Strategic Plan in its entirety, please visit our website: www.wpsbc.org.
We are also conscious that the road ahead will not be easy. But, we believe our Mission and the potential benefits of success are worth the challenges. The agenda is ambitious, to be sure. I believe in my heart, however, that through the hard work of our students, parents, staff members and community partners we can accomplish our goals.
Please keep the momentum going by supporting WPSBC and return the enclosed envelope with a contribution. As always, we depend on your generous assistance to help us realize a vision of independence for the hundreds of babies, youth and young adults from throughout western Pennsylvania we greatly serve.
Todd S. Reeves
Summing Up the School’s Funding Formula
As always, all WPSBC programs and services are available without charge for the parents of enrolled students. But the simple fact is that providing a high-quality education and enriching the school experience to multiply disabled children requires a significant financial commitment.
The School receives state and local funding that accounts for a portion of the costs associated with educating our students. For the past five years, the School has been level-funded, meaning no funding increase. The appropriation approved in the Pennsylvania State budget bill each year is essentially divided by the number of students we enroll, creating a per student tuition figure. Of the appropriated amount, 40% of the tuition cost is paid by the local school district. 60% of the tuition cost is paid by the state of PA.
Unfortunately, the public funding appropriations don’t come close to satisfying all the costs associated with operating the School. To help address the inadequacy, the Pennsylvania State Senate enacted legislation this past April to establish a 15-member commission charged with developing a special education funding formula to replace the current one that is more than two decades old.
Thus, without the unmatched philanthropic community in western Pennsylvania, the services the Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children provide to a largely medically fragile student population wouldn’t exist for them. The vital funding from foundation and corporation grants, individual and group contributions and the income from our endowment truly allows us to provide meaningful specialized education for boys and girls overcoming overwhelming odds.
Building On Progress:
Advancing Our Mission with a New Strategic Plan
The Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children (WPSBC) recently adopted its new seven-year strategic plan. Unanimously approved by the Board of Trustees on September 19th, 2013, the plan is intended to be an educational roadmap that will guide WPSBC, our region’s only school for blind children, through the year 2020.
The plan seeks to build on the progress of the School’s last 127 years and provides a vision and set of broad goals to achieve higher levels of distinction as a leading specialized school for children with sensory loss. We believe it reflects our proud tradition and guides us along our new path, which aims to further expand and deliver innovative and effective opportunities for youth with visual impairment.
Development of the School’s new strategic plan began more than a year ago with the help and input of approximately 35 staff and community members. After working throughout last school year, committees submitted reports that addressed strategic priorities in a number of areas for the plan including: student achievement, instructional and therapeutic program, staff development, family support, safety and security, facilities and outreach services.
The beauty of this plan is that it reflects the School’s core value of fostering a vision of independence for our students, and it positions the Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children to attain even higher levels of achievement by building on our legacy of compassion, collaboration and educational innovation,” said Superintendent Todd S. Reeves. “The entire School community is enthusiastic about moving forward with the plan and achieving our greatest aspirations over the next seven years and beyond.”
The Strategic Plan consists of seven different components:
During the 2012-13 school year, the School embarked on an accreditation self-study through the Middle States Association – Commissions on Elementary and Secondary Schools. This process resulted in an Action Plan that details student achievement goals and the steps required to meet these goals within the 2013-2020 timeframe. These goals were incorporated into the Strategic Plan and focus on increasing Individualized Educational Plan goal attainment by our enrolled students as well as those boys and girls served by our Outreach staff in their home school district.
“Not only do we aim to improve each of our students’ demonstrated competencies, but we are really striving to help them be better prepared for life beyond graduation,” said Rachelle Rectenwald, Secondary Department Director.
To reach these objectives, a broadly representative, school-wide curriculum committee has begun a comprehensive review of current research, best practices and other curricula models in order to further advance our students’ successes.
Their challenge is creating a framework of educational and therapeutic opportunities that increase independence in spite of the varying levels of disabilities our students confront. Documenting and analyzing our students’ development has also been modernized with the advent of a new online Progress Monitoring program utilized by our faculty. The technology allows for our educators to collect data more systematically and interpret it with greater precision. Revealing the learning patterns of the students, Progress Monitoring reports are shared quarterly with students’ parents to ensure accountability.
50 years after receiving a gift, Lantz still giving his gift — music — back to Punxsy
By Destiny Pifer
Pictured is jazz musician Ray Lantz, a Punxsy native who, despite being visually impaired, performed as a teenager in a jazz group called “Jazz from the Darkness Combo.” Groundhog Day 2013 will mark the 50th anniversary of the town of Punxsutawney gathering together and presenting Lantz with a set of drums. (Photo by Destiny Pifer of The Punxsutawney Spirit)
PUNXSUTAWNEY — Everyone has a story to tell, but for one local man, his story wouldn’t be complete without the generosity of one town — Punxsutawney.
Residing in this very town is a man who has achieved a great many goals despite being partially blind.
Ray Lantz was born on Aug. 21, 1946, to Robert and Rachel Lantz. He was born with congenital cataracts, which left him completely blind.
Taught to walk with assistance from a collie dog, he received his first operation at 2-1/2 years of age on his right eye.
The cataracts was removed, and for the first time, he could see. It wouldn’t be until 1950 that he would be able to receive surgery on his left eye. Though that, too, was successful, he was still left with only partial vision.
In 1957, Lantz was sent to the Western Pennsylvania School for the Blind. It was there that, by mere coincidence, he would become part of a young jazz band called “Jazz from the Darkness Combo.”
While performing in one of the rooms, he garnered the attention of two other students who were performing as well. Those students were Eric Kloss, who played the sax, and Lou Schreiber, who played the piano.
At the time, Lantz was 16 years old, Schreiber 14, and Kloss only 13.
What started out as an outlet for their passion turned into something much more when Kloss’ father — Superintendent Dr. Alton Kloss — heard the boys play and decided to get them gigs.
Before the boys knew it, they were performing at the Lions Club in Pittsburgh and raising money for their school.
After a few performances, word of mouth spread, and the boys found themselves performing on live television.
They gave a performance on a television show called “Daybreak” that aired on KDKA-TV channel 2. The program was hosted by the legendary Johnny Costa and Joe Negri, best known for his role on “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.“
They were soon booked on other shows as well, including WPXI Pittsburgh’s show “Dance Party” hosted by Bill Cardille and “Popeye and Knish,” a children’s program. In 1963, they performed on “The Mike Douglas Show.”
“I didn’t realize how big these shows were and how many people were watching” said Lantz.
The trio also performed at the historic Bedford Springs Hotel, which is now called The Bedford Springs Resort, the Pittsburgh International Airport and a famous restaurant in Greenville, Pa., called Schusters.
According to Lantz, though, perhaps his favorite gig was coming home to Punxsy in ‘63 and performing on Groundhog Day.
It was while performing at the Elks Club that he was presented with his own set of drums after years of having to use the school’s set.
The people of Punxsy had gathered together as a community, and for that young boy, it was a gift that forever changed his life.
“The people of Punxsutawney are second to none when it comes to helping people,” said Lantz.
Lantz resided at the school for most of the year, coming home on holidays and for the summer. When he was home for the summer, he traveled with a local band called Crimson Trio.
While performing with the Crimson Trio, he became friends with fellow drummer Chuck Ellenberger.
After graduation in 1967, Lantz, Kloss and Schreiber went their separate ways. While both Kloss and Schreiber went on to recording careers, Lantz chose a different path.
He moved to Erie, where he trained in refinishing furniture. But in his spare time, he still performed with various jazz groups. He came back to the Punxsy area and worked at a local shoe factory from 1970-1974, and from 1974-1984, he resided in DuBois, where he worked at Goodwill Industries and connected with other local musicians.
Fate once again brought him back to Punxsutawney in 1987, and that is where he resides today with his partner, Linda.
“If I would have stayed in Pittsburgh playing just jazz, then I would never have known the beauty in the different types of music,” said Lantz.
He now plays a variety of music from rock and country to polka and swing. Working at normal jobs and becoming a part of the local music industry has enabled Lantz to meet a variety of people and perform with a variety of bands.
He has performed with Johnny Sierra, considered a local icon, as well as Bobby Spicher, who currently does studio work in Nashville. Bobby’s brother, Buddy Spicher, is a famous Nashville fiddler.
Lantz’s nephew, Billy, performs in the local band Ridin’ Shotgun and is thrilled that his uncle has left such a legacy.
“You have to have a lot of drive to play” said Ray Lantz, adding, “I want to play until I’m 103, that’s my goal!”
Lantz often plays with fellow drummer Ellenberger and his band The LaVelles.
Feb. 2, 2013, will mark the 50th anniversary of his receiving the drums from the community.
As a way of expressing his thankfulness, Lantz will be performing on drums with his old friend Schreiber on keyboards, Ken Kovach on bass guitar and singer Autumn Kunselman, a Punxsy native as well.
“The people of Punxsutawney deserve to know the good that they have done,” said Lantz.
Help for Non-24 on the Way by Sharon Lovering
Do you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep? Do you wake up groggy, sluggish or forgetful? Do you find yourself napping during the day? Are your sleep patterns different from most people you know? Do you find it hard to concentrate? Do you fight to stay awake during the day? Does the time your body wants to sleep seem to shift over time? Are you frustrated by this? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, and you’re totally blind, it could be Non-24-Hour Sleep-Wake Disorder. What exactly is Non-24? It is a chronic circadian rhythm sleep disorder that affects more than 70 percent of totally blind individuals, or about 80,000 people in the United States alone. It occurs almost entirely in individuals who are totally blind and lack the light sensitivity necessary to reset the circadian clock. Without light perception, the brain’s circadian rhythms, which guide many of the body’s functions, including sleep, are not reset to a regular 24-hour cycle. Individuals with Non-24-Hour Disorder are unable to synchronize their internal clock to the 24-hour day-night cycle, which disrupts their sleep-wake cycle. The disorder was first diagnosed in 1948 by Dr. Rammler in Germany. Enter Vanda Pharmaceuticals. “About 10 years ago, when I founded Vanda, we developed an interest, among other things, in developing drugs that address circadian rhythm disorders,” stated Mihael Polymeropoulos, president and CEO of Vanda Pharmaceuticals. “We identified as the prototypical disorder, Non-24-Hour Sleep-Wake Disorder that almost exclusively occurs in the blind. With Non-24, “blind patients who no longer have the time cue to reset their body clock begin to be in a pattern in sync with their endogenous clock, which happens to be about 24 1/2 hours per day,” Polymeropoulos said. “It became apparent to us in 2004 that tasimelteon, a small-drug molecule that binds the melatonin 1 and 2 receptors in the human brain, it could act as a therapeutic for this disorder.
The hope was that tasimelteon could act as the light cue to instruct the body clock in a small group of neurons in the brain. Vanda began by studying the pharmacological properties of tasimelteon about 10 years ago. Clinical trials began in 2010. “We learned a lot about the blindness community,” Polymeropoulos said. “All of us had some preconceived notions with blind people, what they can do and cannot do, and it has been an amazing education for us as well outside of Non-24. Two key studies measured the drug’s efficacy, one in the U.S. and a second that took place in both the U.S. and Germany, he added. Two longer-term safety studies are looking at potential side effects, one in the U.S. and one in France. More than 1,300 patients were treated during the studies. There are about 70 people still in treatment in the U.S. and 40 people in France who have been treated continuously over the last three years. “The results of the studies suggested that tasimelteon, administered once a day at night, can indeed reset the body clock and give patients the ability now to rest at night,” Polymeropoulos noted. “It is very exciting, especially responding to a medical need by thousands of blind patients who actually suffered and struggled … for many, many years.
What is more troubling is that these patients did not even know what they had. Patients were treated for insomnia, depression, or dementia; others were called lazy or “bad girls. Now we know that it’s a circadian rhythm disorder that is treatable. While developing Hetlioz (TM), Vanda worked for about 16 years, 6 of them with Bristol Myers Squibb, before getting approval for the drug from the Food and Drug Administration on Jan. 31, 2014. “This was an exceptional journey because of it being the first drug for this disorder,” Polymeropoulos said. “They have never approved a drug before [for this disorder]. Hetlioz (TM) (also known as tasimelteon) can help people with Non-24 regulate their body clocks. It will soon be available at pharmacies with a prescription from your doctor. In the U.S., the bottle even has braille on it. Polymeropoulos hoped that having braille on the bottle would inspire other manufacturers to develop accessible labels for blind patients. “There’s a lot to be done … but at least it’s a step in the right direction,” he added. If you need more information about this medication, or physicians who can diagnose Non-24, call 1-844-HETLIOZ (1-844-438-5569) or visit www.hetlioz.com.
This next article from WPSBC superintendent Todd Reeves
Thanks so much for your offer to help and for passing this along to Ted Crum. Sorry for the brief delay there–we were waiting for our final research clearance. We just got it and I have attached a flyer. Please let me know if there’s anything else I can do to help out. Thanks so much for distributing this flyer. I have also pasted the raw text of our flyer below.
All the best,
Accessibility and Tiramisu
Carnegie Mellon University
As part of an ongoing research project, we have developed a mobile phone application called Tiramisu (http://www.tiramisutransit.com/) that provides arrival time information for buses.
We are looking for frequent users of public transportation try our application and share how this impacts their transit experience. We need participants who are blind or have low vision; or who use wheel chairs or other mobility support devices. In addition, participants must be between 18 and 95 years of age.
This study involves an interview, where we will ask you about your experiences using public transportation. We will then ask you to use our mobile application for three weeks. Following the three weeks of use, we will ride along with you as you use this application during one of your regular commutes.
You will receive $25 for participating in the interview. You will receive $50 for participating in the ride along.
Eugene Kimick former head of maintenance at the school died in July 2013
Recently found out Rose Matthews class of 1944 died a few years ago
iMark Grasack from class of 1974 lost his mother in July 2013
Bill Newland class of 1964 died in September 2013
Jerry Sullivan a former student died in January 2014
Bonnie Newland class of 1965 lost her mother in January 2014
Arthur Vidrich class of 1963 died in January 2014
Cindy Thomas Handl class of 1974 died in March 2014
Betsy Metzgar class of 1955 died in April 2014
CD and cassette users have received audio of the Pirates winning the 1960 World Series if you wish to hear that you may request a CD by calling Joanne at 412-683-1798 or me Ted at 412-331-3335.
For information about the fun day please refer to President Tom Hesley’s letter.
Reminder to all scheduling rides please have them scheduled before 5:00 PM.