History of Principals



In 1908, in response to parental appeal, an old, unused school building at 225 East 23rd Street in New York City was given a hurried renovation to open as one of the first public day schools for deaf children.  The school’s numerical designation of 47 quickly achieved symbolic promise of things to come: opening enrollment consisted of 47 children.


P.S. 47 School for the Deaf (1908-1940)

Margaret A. Regan (1908-1910)

Margaret A. Regan was chosen as P.S. 47’s first principal. Ms. Regan had remarkable executive abilities, and established the first training class of teachers in deaf education.  She has been aptly described as a “wonderfully dynamic and wholly magnificent person.” Teachers and pupils loved her and were happy to work with her.  She died December 24, 1910 after a few days’ illness.  A grandfather clock in the school lobby is dedicated to her.

Carrie W. Kearns (1910-1936)

Carrie W. Kearns succeeded Ms. Regan and served as principal until 1936.  She had much in common with her predecessor: she recognized that the natural strength of the school lay in its vital parent-teacher relationships.  She cultivated that into a living union of dedication.  During Ms. Kearns’ time, the present school building was erected, in 1926, and the earlier, difficult building conditions were eased. Under the guidance of Principal Kearns, the first “47” Alumni Association was formed in 1916. CLICK ME for more information.

D. Frances Kauffman (1936-1939)

D. Frances Kaufman served as interim principal from 1936 to 1939; the position was permanently filled by Harriet F. McLaughlin. In 1940, Ms. Kaufman was P.S. 47’s assistant principal; from 1943 until 1951, she was the assistant principal for Junior High School 47 School for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, during Principal Laughlin’s administration.

J.H.S. 47 School for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (1942-1972)

Harriet F. McLaughlin (1940-1960)

Ms. Harriet F. McLaughlin was the third principal, and came in at a crucial time during the school’s development.  She was confronted with many challenges, primarily the need to revise the curriculum to put it in line with the new program in force at all New York City schools. In 1941, Junior High School for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing added ninth grade to its program. Through Ms. McLaughlin’s efforts, five special education classes, particularly deaf children with disabilities such as developmental disabilities and physical disabilities, were formed. In 1953, pre-kindergarten (ages 3-5) was added.  The first graduating (from ninth grade) class was in 1942. In 1956, the deaf infant program was established. In 1984, the Alumni Association established the Harriet McLaughlin Memorial Award (1984–2001), given to the best all-around graduate of J.H.S. 47.

Catherine Wilman (1961-1966)

Catherine Wilman served as principal from 1961 until 1966. At “47” since 1929, Ms. Wilman taught various grades before becoming principal. On March 19, 1948, a special resolution was made at a Board of Education meeting to appoint Ms. Wilman assistant principal; she served in this position until 1961. She was known for her charming personality and refinement, and was an energetic, enthusiastic and empathetic principal.

Alice Rooney (1966-1972)

Alice Rooney served as principal from 1966 until 1972.  She was a delightful and dynamic principal whose goal was to have each student have outstanding speech skills. Read John P. Garbera ’53 loving memories of Alice, first as teacher and then as Principal.

J.H.S. 47 School for the Deaf (1972-1996)

Helen Page Reilly (1974-1978)

Helen Reilly succeeded Ms. Rooney, serving as principal until 1978. She came to “47” in 1945 and served for 33 years in different capacities: substitute teacher, teacher, guidance counselor, assistant principal, acting principal and principal. Other accomplishments included (1) Establishing the Total Communication Department, (2) Admitting developmentally disabled children, and (3) Forming the Continuing Assessment Rehabilitation and Evaluation (CARE) program.  Ms. Reilly had a wholesome influence, and worked actively with parent groups and alumni. In 1978, Helen wrote THIS “Togetherness” letter commemorating the school’s 70th anniversary.  In the letter, she emphasized the importance of staying together.  She had a high level of patience, skill and efficiency. During her tenure as principal, J.H.S. 47 was the largest public day school for the deaf in the world.

Joan O’Shea (1978-1993)

Joan O’Shea succeeded Ms. Reilly, and served as principal until retirement in 1993. She devoted 39 years of her time, energy, enthusiasm, talent and professionalism at J.H.S. 47 as a teacher, assistant principal and principal.

Frances Briffa (1994-1996)

Frances Briffa, who came to “47” in 1962, succeeded Ms. O’Shea as principal in 1994. Serving as an elementary teacher, special project teacher, junior high teacher, assistant principal and acting principal, she enhanced the education of deaf children.

“47” The American Sign Language and English School (2002-2005)

Martin Florsheim (1996-2005)

Martin Florsheim, Ph.D., served as interim principal from 1996 until he was formally appointed to the position in 1997. In 1996, he changed the school name from JHS 47 to J47 in order to add grades 10 through 12. In 2002, parents, staff and alumni changed the school name again to “47″ The American Sign Language and English School in order to reflect the school’s provision of grades Pre-K-12. In 1999, during Dr. Florsheim’s tenure, the general education dual language (ASL and English) program was established, open to all deaf, hard of hearing, CODA and hearing students.

“47” The American Sign Language and English Lower School (2005-Present)

Rebecca Marshall (2005 – 2010)

Rebecca Marshall served as assistant principal under Principal Florsheim from 1998 until 2005. She then became the principal for the newly formed “47″ The American Sign Language and English Lower School, and helped implement a balanced literacy program. The school expanded from Pre-K to eighth grade.

Dave Thacker Bowell (2010 – Present)

Dave Thacker Bowell was assistant principal for three years starting in 2007, and served as interim principal in January 2010 upon Ms. Marshall’s retirement.  He was officially appointed principal in December 2010.  He continued the balanced literacy program and co-hosts the daily morning announcements with a student.

“47” The American Sign Language and English Secondary School

Martin Florsheim  (2005 – 2008)

Dr. Florsheim continued to serve as principal of “47” The American Sign Language and English Secondary School, for grades 9-12, until his retirement in June 2008.


Watfa Shama (2008- Present)

Watfa Shama succeeded Dr. Florsheim and is the current principal.