First Superintendent, Reverend J.W. Robinson
The Schools had a double reporting requirement with educational affairs being supervised by the State Board of Education and the financial affairs being supervised by the Board of Control. After 1932, there was also contact with the newly appointed Negro Board of Education. The latter agency seems to have had little involvement with the day-to-day operation of the Schools but did recommend some personnel.
The first superintendent of the Deaf and the Blind was the Reverend J.W. Robinson who was identified for the for the position on November 24, 1925 but did not actually begin his service until January 1, 1926. Holding Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Divinity degrees from Shaw University, Reverend Robinson served in ministerial and educational positions in other parts of the state before assuming the responsibilities as superintendent at the Deaf and schools. He entered upon his new work after years of public-school teaching experience in McDowell County. It was his task to equip the Schools, hire and orient the initial staff and faculty, locate the students, and convince their parents to allow them to attend the school, and do all of other things necessary for the September 14, 1926.
On June 30, 1927, after one and half years of service, Reverend Robinson resigned and took the position of Director of the Bureau of Negro Welfare and Statistics. He was replaced on July 1st of the same year by Mr. James L. Hill, a graduate of Kittrell College in North Carolina.
Second Superintendent, James Levin Hill
He was born at the old town of Reidsville, North Carolina, near the Virginia border, on February 20, 1881.
Mr. Hill came to the position after having served seven years as principal of Genoa High School in Bluefield preceded by service as Superintendent of the West Virginia Colored Children’s home in Huntington.
That year, 1927, the 11 person staff of the schools consisted of Superintendent Hill, three teachers, a supervisor for boys, a supervisor for girls, a matron, a cook and assistant cook, a general utility man, and an attending physician.
During Mr. Hill’s administration the first expansion of the physical plant of the Schools occurred with the construction of one-story brick trades and class buildings at the north side of the main building. The buildings were connected by covered walkways.
Mr. Hill’s years at the institution, 1927-1934, saw its acreage increased, new building constructed, and new vocational programs begun.
The Hill administration came to a tragic close in 1934. On April 10th of the year, Mr. Hill and eight of his staff members were asked to testify before the West Virginia Board of Control. The investigation came as a result of a report by Wayne B. Curry, traveling auditor for the state, who had informed the Board of Control that “he had made an examination of the affairs of the West Virginia Schools for the Colored Deaf and the Blind and has reason to believe that the financial affairs of that institution are in bad condition and need investigation, certain moneys not being properly accounted for to the State of West Virginia, and that certain state funds have been misappropriated or misapplied.” In particular, fees generated by the barber, tailor, shoe repair, and beauty shops could not be accounted for properly.
Two days after the hearing Mr. Hill took matters into his own hands, and at breakfast on Friday, April 13, 1934, shot and killed one staff member and wounded three others before killing himself in his locked office. He was 53 years old when he killed himself. Mr. Hill was replaced by Howard Abbott who complete the term as acting superintendent.
Third Superintendent, Howard Abbott
At the time of Howard Abbott’s appointment, he graduated of Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, was employed by the State Road Commission in Mercer County. Recommended by the Negro Board of Education, he was appointed by W.W. Trent of the State Board of Education and remained in the position until a permanent superintendent could be appointed.
Fourth Superintendent, William C. Reid
Acting in July 1934, the State Board of Education appointed William C. Reid as superintendent. Also a graduate of Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, Mr. Reid had been principal of Stratton High School in Beckley. He served as superintendent of the Deaf and Blind Schools until 1936 when he resigned and accepted of Byrd Prillerman High School in Amigo, West Virginia.
Fifth Superintendent, Edward A. Bolling, Jr.
The Board of Education appointed Edward A. Bolling, Jr. as superintendent, beginning July 1, 1936. Although some of the previous superintendents had articulated a worthy philosophy for the school and had recognized the need for up-to-date methods and equipment, it was Mr. Bolling who set the most profound changes in motion. “Mr. Bolling was remarkable,” Angie Davis remembered. “He brought the school a long way.”
Graduating from West Virginia State College and Ohio State University, Mr. Bolling had developed a successful career as teacher and principal in West Virginia public schools. He had served as principal at Bramwell, West Virginia to accept the appointment at the Deaf and Blind Schools.
Trained teachers for special populations were difficult to locate and retain, therefore the use of modern methods was difficult to institute. To address these needs, Mr. Bolling began to emphasize specialized training for all of his teachers and encouraged them to attend summer school in order to improve their skills. As an aid to planning, he also requested that a survey be conducted to determine the base line status of the institution. Commissioned to do the survey was Dr. P.C. Potts, Assistant Director of the American Foundation for the Blind in New York City, and a former superintendent of a school for the deaf. In 1939, Dr. Potts spent a week at the Schools visiting every room, observing instruction and general living conditions and taking note of the grounds on which, the institution was located. As a result of his study, he made 52 wide ranging recommendations which touched upon many aspects of the institution from the need for physical changes for improved instruction, beautification, and safety, to the need for instructional changes to address more fully the developmental needs of the blind. He felt that the preparation of the four-person faculty for the blind, composed of two college graduates and two others with some college training was comparable to that of faculties in similar state schools.
He retired in 1955 when West Virginia Schools for the Colored Deaf and the Blind closed.