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City Schools of Decatur exploring ways to help dyslexic students

Decatur slideshow

City Schools of Decatur exploring ways to help dyslexic students

The Decatur School Board meets on Jan. 12, 2016. File Photo by Dan Whisenhunt

For years parents of dyslexic City Schools of Decatur students have been working behind the scenes to make changes in the classroom to help their children become better readers.

And for years, they say, CSD officials resisted change.

But there’s a renewed focus on these students following an emotional work session on Aug. 2. Superintendent David Dude said that after the work session he immediately began exploring ways to help these students. The work session drew an overflow crowd of parents of dyslexic students, and featured about three dozen parents speaking about their experiences in CSD.

“I was amazed by the turnout,” Dude said. “Some people told me it would be an extremely popular session. I didn’t realize it would be quite that big.”

Dude said he doesn’t know how many students with dyslexia currently attend CSD schools. The national average is about 20 percent of students, meaning as many as 1,000 CSD students could be affected.

Kara Campbell, who has two children with dyslexia and one with language processing issues, said in the past when she recommended CSD train teachers to use the Orton-Gillingham method to help dyslexic students, she received push back.

“I was told, ‘You are not allowed to tell us what curriculum we will use with your child,'” Campbell said.

To help her children she became an Orton-Gillingham tutor. Other parents with dyslexic students had to hire tutors or pull their kids out of CSD altogether, sending them private schools like The Schenck School in Atlanta. That’s what Jessica Wasserman had to do for one of her children, and she may be sending another child to the The Schenck School as well.

She after her daughter was diagnosed with dyslexia, CSD officials, “Wouldn’t accept it, wouldn’t do anything to help her.”

“She cried going to school every day,” Wasserman said. “We realized it wasn’t going to work.”

There’s even a Decatur Dyslexia Network, a support group of CSD parents who have struggled with instructional options CSD offers to dyslexic students. The organization put Decaturish in touch with the parents quoted in this story.

Jen Rhett, who has two children with dyslexia, founded Reading is Essential for All People, which trains teachers on how to help children who are struggling with reading.

Rhett said CSD officials in the past were slow to acknowledge the issue.

“I think there was a general consensus that really there was not an issue, our students were doing well,” Rhett said. “If you look at City Schools of Decatur we have pretty good scores across the board. I think it was not being recognized that so many parents were having to supplement their children’s education through tutoring and private schools and I think that skewed the numbers.”

Carla Stanford, a former CSD elementary school teacher, is now REAP’s director of Education. Stanford said when she was teaching at CSD, teachers and parents were in the dark about what was going on with their children.

“I was doing the best that I could for the children and all the teachers I [knew] were,” Stanford said. “There was no malice or ill-intent. You only know what you know. You don’t know what you don’t know. Now in hindsight, I know there were so many things I could’ve done. I just didn’t have the tools.”

It’s unclear what prompted CSD to hold its work session and give the issue of dyslexic students renewed attention.

Rhett thinks it’s because CSD has a new superintendent, Dude, who has put a fresh set of eyes on the problem.

“We have a new regime if you will, so it’s a new opportunity for parents,” she said.

Dude, who has been on the job since November, said he is just beginning to get familiar with the issues surrounding dyslexic students at CSD.

“It’s been an underlying topic for quite a while, from what I understand,” Dude said. “It didn’t come onto my radar until extremely recently. I think some of our board members had been hearing about it more than I had. That’s why we had this listening session.”

Campbell said after her issues with getting CSD to hear her out, she was shocked that the School Board actually set aside time to listen.

“It still feels like a dream to me, because I didn’t think that night would ever come,” she said.

School Board members plan to discuss the Aug. 2 listening session at their regular meeting on Aug. 9. The meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. and will be held at 125 Electric Avenue. All meetings are open to the public.