Making a Difference in the Schools—and the State Senate Hanna Gallo has never been one to sit back and complain. As a young mother, she became a proactive parent in the public schools, and she also helped fight a major corporation that was polluting the area. In those years, Gallo most fully expressed her values and commitment in her ... Features
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Features  |   December 01, 2002
Making a Difference in the Schools—and the State Senate
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Features   |   December 01, 2002
Making a Difference in the Schools—and the State Senate
The ASHA Leader, December 2002, Vol. 7, 24. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR3.07122002.24
The ASHA Leader, December 2002, Vol. 7, 24. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR3.07122002.24
Hanna Gallo has never been one to sit back and complain. As a young mother, she became a proactive parent in the public schools, and she also helped fight a major corporation that was polluting the area.
In those years, Gallo most fully expressed her values and commitment in her private life. But that changed five years ago, when she stepped into the public arena to take on both a professional and political role.
“When my youngest child entered kindergarten, I decided to get a master’s in speech-language pathology,” she says. Her interest in communication disorders came from one of her daughters’ hearing problems and her own desire to “work on” her unique Rhode Island accent.
“You may not have noticed, but we drop our r’s,” she says with a laugh. “So, because of my daughter’s audiology needs and my accent, I decided that’s what I wanted to do.” Gallo became an SLP at Peace Dale Elementary School in South Kingston, RI, where she still works.
Just a year later, a state senator from her district decided to run for mayor of Cranston. Gallo campaigned for the empty Senate seat and won.
Serving in the Senate put her time management skills to the test. Although it’s considered part-time, Gallo says, “it’s a full-time job.”
“We have to meet Tuesday through Thursday from 4 p.m. until whenever we finish the work. Depending on what committees and subcommittees you’re on, it can take most days and nights.”
Of the four senators in her district, she is the only one who also holds down a regular job. She works three days a week in the schools and three in the Senate. On Wednesdays, when she juggles both, her principal has allowed her to work flexible hours.
Gallo’s dual service as a clinician and as a political leader has brought tangible benefits both to the children she serves and to her constituents and colleagues in the Senate. She sits on the state Board of Regents, which oversees all elementary and secondary schools in Rhode Island—and when SLPs began to lobby for a caseload cap, her political instincts paid off.
“As a legislator, I knew we had to find the funding or the bill would go nowhere,” she says. The search for funding led to hearings in which Gallo—as a member of the Board of Regents—was able to correct misperceptions and educate her colleagues about speech-language pathology services in the schools.
Recently, Gallo spoke to state association leaders gathered at ASHA’s state policy workshop in Providence, RI, about how to influence state legislation.
Gallo faces a tough re-election battle this year because her district has been redrawn and her opponent is a millionaire.
“Instead of 20,000 constituents, I have close to 30,000,” she says. “I need to go door to door and convince people to vote for me. People don’t want to donate to PACs, and many don’t vote. But in this tiny state, one vote could decide a race.”
But the challenges are worth it, she says, recalling the day she went to five schools during “Reading Week.”
“At several schools, young girls came up to me and said, ‘I didn’t know a woman could be a senator.’ They’re growing up with a limited sense of possibility.
“I was glad to be able to say, ‘Oh yes, they can. Women can be anything they want to be.’”
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FROM THIS ISSUE
December 2002
Volume 7, Issue 12