Tuesday, February 7, 2023 Feb 7, 2023
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More and more children are being diagnosed with learning disabilities, unable to handle conventional schools. Here are 15 schools in the Dallas area where help is at hand.
By Mary Candace Evans |

DR. AND MRS. GARY DUNCAN SAT down to confer with their daughter’s first-grade teacher in the Piano ISD.

“Danielle hides her homework.” Why, they asked?

“Well, actually I think she’s a bit lazy,” said the teacher.

But Danielle, it turned out, was not lazy. She was working as hard as she could and desperately wanted to do well, but could not. At least not in this educational world.

After extensive testing, the Duncans learned their daughter was very bright with an above-average IQ. But she was severely dyslexic. Because of the way Danielle was wired, she couldn’t recognize simple words and phonetic patterns. No wonder she avoided reading and writing at all costs, and hid her homework.

Educators estimate that 10 to 15 percent of all American schoolchildren suffer from learning disabilities or learning differences that will impair their futures unless someone intervenes, And the earlier the intervention, they say, the better.

But if your child has difficulty learning, be glad you live in the Dallas area, home to more than a dozen schools that are members of COPSES (the Dallas area Council for Private Specialized Schools), many alternative private schools and numerous teacher-training programs devoted to helping children with learning disabilities, or LDs, absorb knowledge and develop language skills.

“We have some of the best LD schools in the country.” says Jim Richardson, executive director of Dallas Academy, an LD school, and accreditor and board member of the Association for Specialized Elementary School Accreditation. “Denver only has two schools; Boston has one.”

Much of this is directly attributable, say LD educators, to Texas Scottish Rile Hospital and its Luke Waites Child Development Center, home to one of the nation’s most active medical learning-disability evaluation units and dyslexia laboratories, Research into learning disabilities at the Waites Center has changed the lives of thousands of LD teachers and students across the country-

“You can almost draw a line from Scottish Rite to all the LD schools that have sprung up,” say Gladys Kolenovsky. administrative director of the center.

MOST LD SCHOOLS IN THE DALLAS AREA FOCUS ON TEACHING REMEdial skills in very small classes, so children can learn to compensate for gaps in their skills. The remedial approach means repetition, drilling the child until information is deeply inscribed in the brain. A handful emphasize the child’s talents and minimize the deficit caused by the learning disability. Different ways are found to input information. For instance, if a child has auditory processing problems-he can’t mentally digest information he hears-switch senses to visual instruction. If the problem is dys-graphia (handwriting), give the child a keyboard or a Dictaphone. For dyscalculia (math), get the child a calculator.

Most schools seek to “mainstream” students back into public or private schools after their skills have been beefed up to grade level. Some retain students through 12th grade because, say LD educators, there are some children whose disabilities are discovered and diagnosed later in life or who just cannot function in a regular school environment.

Special-needs schools in the Dallas area vary in size and educational philosophy. All are co-ed. All accept children from across the area. Most will accept children diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder, or ADD, and Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD, and those with a combination of disabilities or a higher degree of disability. Children with behavior or defiance problems are typically screened out of most LD schools.

All the schools are filled to capacity. Many have waiting lists. The best time to apply is the first week of January for the next school year. Tuition ranges from $625 per month to $ 10,900 a year.

Almost all LD schools require testing as proof that a learning disability exists. Testing may come from an outside source, or it may be done at the school’s own diagnostic center (with costs ranging from $200 to $600).

Generally, LD schools do not accept children with below-average IQ scores (average is 90 to 110). But young children of normal intelligence with learning disabilities may end up with low IQ scores because of skills gaps. Many dyslexic children, in fact, have superior IQs and abundant creativity.

Which is exactly what the Duncans discovered when they enrolled Danielle at The Fairhill School. Now in fifth grade, Danielle is reading only one grade level behind. Her work in math is fair, her vocabulary and intuitive skills excellent. She no longer hides homework. Even more, she has gained high self-esteem from her artwork and those courses where she can excel-and does.

The Shelton School and Evaluation Center

SHELTON IS PROBABLY ONE OF THE MOST CHERISHED SCHOOLS IN Dallas, with a national reputation as a leader in LD education. It was opened in 1976 by June Shelton, Ph.D., when a group of parents asked her to form a school to teach their LD children, children she had helped as director of the now-defunct Dean Learning Center. Shelton has grown from 30 students to 405 and is still growing; last year, the school expanded to a second campus on Midway Road, where the lower school is housed. The Lovers Lane location (original site of Lovers Lane United Methodist Church) now houses the middle school, fifth through 10th grades. Shelton will add 11th and 12lh grades as well and is seeking a third campus for its high school, which will be geared toward those students with later-diagnosed LDs.

Shelton’s education theories are similar to those of the Waites Center, with mainstreaming the goal. Wherever a child has difficulty, Shelton rebuilds skills. If reading is a problem, the child is taught to decode words phonetically and spend more time reading aloud.

The bulk of students at Shelton have language learning disabilities-dyslexia or problems decoding words and symbols. Some also have ADD/ADHD.

The school requires a normal/ above-normal IQ and proof that a processing problem exists through testing. A three-day visit with each prospective student also is required. Shelton screens out kids with emotional or behavioral problems, unless those problems are caused by learning frustration.

One mother, whose Shelton alum is now a 10lh-graderatHocka-day, was impressed by the help the school continued to provide after her daughter left.

Shelton retrains so positively that it’s nearly impossible to find anyone with anything negative to say about the school. Most parents say there is a good balance of academics, structure, discipline and loving remediation. Joyce Pickering, executive director;5002 W. Lovers Ln. (9407 Midway Rd.), Dallas, 214-352-1772.

Dallas Academy

THIRTY-YEAR-OLD DALLAS ACADEMY ENROLLS 110 STUDENTS IN seventh through 12th grades who have been tested and diagnosed with ADD/ADHD, dyslexia and auditory processing problems. This is not a school for defiant behavior problems, although parents say that in the past. Dallas Academy has worked with many such children. Director Jim Richardson, whom parents adore, screens out many of those children with his positive, no-nonsense approach. The school focuses on remedial help, building self-esteem and moving children forward.

The school was founded in 1966 by Wallace Savage, a former Dallas mayor who had a severely handicapped daughter. Today, it has evolved into a softer, Lakewood version of Shelton, although some say Dallas Academy is not quite as academic.

The school offers football, tennis and track; arts: music; and more than 25 électives. Seniors (class size: 24) have traveled to Greece to study art and to Mexico to study Mayan ruins. The atmos-phere is small, kind and nurturing but definitely structured. Dallas Academy likes to mainstream students but some, pleased with their academic and artistic success, choose to stay. This year’s valedictorian pulled a 1300 SAT score. The school hosts a college night once a year for the entire LD community; it also administers the non-timed LD SAT. Many Dallas Academy graduates are extremely creative and find success in the arts; one is an artist with the Walt Disney Institute. Jim Richardson, director; 950 Tiffany Way. Dallas, 214-324-1481,

The Winston School

TWENTY-TWO YEARS AGO. THE WINSTON SCHOOL HAD THE GUTS TO open in the same city as Scottish Rite Hospital with a different way to educate LD children. Remedial training was put on the back burner; a developmental model, building self-esteem and finding the LD child’s strengths was paramount.

Three years after building temporary quarters on the campus of The Greenhill School, Winston found space at Royal Lane and the Dallas North Tollway. Many renovations and several million dollars later, Winston has a host of gleaming new facilities: an enormous gymnasium dedicated last fall, the Sony Language Lab. 75 Pentium computers and Internet connections, a science lab complete with geology wall-all the trappings of a well-endowed, blossoming school. Next year’s enrollment will be 200.

Winston is for children with ADD, ADHD.dyslex-ia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia or any combination thereof. But instead of tilling LD children’s gaps with thick slices of remedial work and constant drill. Winston tries to build on the child’s individual strengths. “We do not buy into any single program,” says Rita J. Sherbenou, director of The Winston School.

The Winston student will not only get remedial reading time. but also a well-rounded program of athletics, arts, drama and science as well as reading, writing and math. And if promise is shown in, say, sketching, encouragement floods in. The positive strokes received will help soothe any old self-esteem deficit wounds.

At Winston, there are second chances. If a child blows a test, the teacher will spend more time explaining the material and offer a retake. In English class, instead of a paper-pencil test on mythology, each student becomes a god-for-a-day. Not only do the children dress and talk like gods, they give oral presentations on them.

Critics say Winston does not mainstream as much as Sheiton or other LD schools do. While some students transfer, many stay and graduate. Ninety percent of Winston’s graduates enroll in college; a sprinkling have ended up with Phi Beta Kappa keys. One student who could not add writes beautifully; another was an international skateboard champion who was severely dyslexic but later went on to start his own skateboard manufacturing company.

“I knew we were winning the battle.” says the school’s director, “when I heard the sibling of one student say. ’I wish I could go to Winston.’ And the mother said, ’But honey, you can’t; you don’t have a learning disability.’ ” Rita J. Sherbenou, director; 5707 Royal Ln., Dallas, 214-691-6950.

The Fairhill School

THIS SCHOOL WAS FOUNDED 25 YEARS AGO AS PART OF THE LTV Corporation, with a mission to create a private school for children with learning disabilities. Soon the school extricated itself from the high-tech corporation and went nonprofit. It prospered and outgrew its second home on Churchill Way. Today, home is a gigantic office building on a 16-acre meadow in North Dallas.

Ninety-five percent of Fairhill’s students in first through 12th grades have ADD, ADHD or dyslexia. The school works with remedial training, small classes and multisensory teaching. The atmosphere is very structured, say parents. Excellent art, music, and drama classes are offered. A sophisticated computer lab and a new science lab could hold their own with most of the larger private schools.

Enrollment is 185 and growing. After three years at Fairhill, about half the students mainstream into public or private schools. Of students who stay and graduate, 70 percent go on to college (20 percent of those attending out-of-state universities).

Fairhill parents are very involved with this small school; most would deplete their IRAs to support it because they love the individualized pace. One father says that before he enrolled his son at Fairhill. teachers were telephoning him every 10 minutes because his ADHD child kept getting into minor trouble, Jane Scgo. director; 16150 Preston Rd., Dallas, 972-233-1026.

The Millier School

FOR 30 YEARS, PARENTS OF LD YOUNGSTERS HAVE KNOWN ABOUT a great little Park Cities treasure; the Hillier School at Highland Park Presbyterian Church. Fifty-five students in first through seventh grades work in an individual, specialized curriculum focusing on remedial basics designed to mainstream them by eighth grade.

Hillier grew up as a virtual lab for educators in training at Texas Scottish Rite Hospital. It accepts diagnosed dyslexic students with language difficulties; the school has some children with ADD and ADHD, but attention disorders are a secondary specialty.

Unlike many other LD schools, Hillier students change classes every 50 minutes, starting in the first grade. Some educators say this is a great way for restless children with short attention spans to remain interested. Others say frequent changes mean less educational continuity. Some parents feel Hillier is loving and nurturing, but much less academic than other LD schools in the area.

Most teachers have master’s degrees or special language-development training from Scottish Rite Hospital. The school offers scholarship programs, and it recently received a grant from The Meadows Foundation to implement a state-of-the-art language lab called “the talking comput-er.” Larry Evans, principal; 3821 University Dr., Dallas, 214-559-5363.

The Highland Academy

HIGHLAND ACADEMY SPECIALizes in solving remedial language problems for children in kindergarten through eighth grades. Founded in 1981 by Paye Handlogten (mother of current director Lynda Handlogten), the school was one of the first small private schools created exclusively for the needs of LD students. Because Faye had been a teacher at The Hillier School, Highland follows the Hillier philosophy.

Highland uses an intensive, multisensory, om ni -directional computerized phonetics language program known as American Phonics that was developed by the Handlogtens, and the school’s biggest strength is the way it builds language skills. The school seeks children who are not meeting grade-level expectations in language, whether they are dyslexic or have ADD or ADHD. Parents say you will find more children with behavioral problems at Highland.

The school enrolls 70 students; it aims to mainstream students after three years. Highland offers much structure and individualized attention. Although much in the way of remedial help is provided, students learn social studies and science along with language skills, writing and math.

The Phonics pilot program at Highland has helped one group of youngsters who were behind in reading race ahead. When these fourth-graders were tested in May, many were reading on an eighth-grade level. Lynda K. Handlogten, director: 1231 W. Belt Line Rd., Richardson, 972-238-7567.

Oak Hill Academy

TEN-YEAR-OLD OAK HILL ACADEMY OFFERS EDUCATION IN KINDERgarten through eighth grades for 100 children with language learning differences, communication disorders, and ADD and ADHD. The approach is individual, multisensory, sequential and comprehensive. Oak Hill focuses on the remedial basics. It’s a structured, stay-in-your-seat kind of place; four years later, the child will, ideally, be caught up and ready to mainstream.

“We try to accommodate the learning difference,” says Carole Hill, executive director and a former Shelton teacher, “by individualizing and nurturing. We do not spoon-feed.”

Most teachers have master’s degrees and are certified in remedial speech pathology, language development and reading. Children are divided into core groups instead of grades. Oak Hill (like Shelton) has a preschool program for LD children, an after-school tutorial clinic and several summer programs.

Most parents rave about Oak Hill, especially its Upper School director, Pam Quarterman. Carole Hill, executive director; 6464 E. Lovers Ln., Dallas. 214-368-0664.

Keystone Academy

KEYSTONE IS A SMALL SCHOOL THAT SPECIALIZES IN INDIVIDUAL assessment of an LD child’s learning style in a highly structured environment. The school has 38 students in kindergarten through eighth grades, and no plans to expand. The 16-year-old Keystone is a Christian school with no particular church affiliation.

Small classes accommodate each child’s learning style. Keystone offers students a structured, focused environment with much hands-on experience and remedial work. About 60 percent of the students mainstream into other Christian schools or public/private schools. Those who cannot usually end up in LD high schools.

Some parents find Keystone director and teacher Helen Werner, who has worked with special-needs children for more than 30 years, rather cold. They describe the school as very “bom-again Christian” with clear-cut limits. Students spend a great deal of time memorizing Scripture and asking for forgiveness for talking out in class. There are many out-of-bounds students at Keystone, many with learning problems. Helen Werner, director; 6506 Frankford Rd., Dallas, 972-250-4455.

Meadowview School

GRADE LEVELS (FIRST THROUGH EIGHTH) EXIST AT MEADOWVIEW, but each child works at an individual instructional level; in seventh and eighth grades, Meadowview students learn study and organizational skills to carry them to their next schools. Meadowview likes to mainstream if possible, and its graduates are scattered across Dallas in regular public/private schools as well as LD high schools.

Enrollment is 60, but the school will soon expand to 70; there is a waiting list.

One of Meadowview’s strengths is its strong faculty-most have master’s degrees and almost all are certified in teaching LD children. The school works miracles on a reasonable tuition. Because most Meadowview students come from dual wage-earner families, the school relies on heavy fund-raising to supplement the budget. Community support is strong, and parents pitch in. As a result, Meadow-view has state-of-the-art computers, arts facilities and a competitive sports program housed in quaint cottages on its two-acre campus. Beverly Prtsly, director; 2419 Franklin Dr., Dallas, 214-289-1831.

Notre Dame School of Dallas

FOR MORE THAN 33 YEARS, NOTRE DAME SCHOOL OF DALLAS HAS provided a rich, loving environment for developmentally disabled or delayed children and young adults ages 3 to 21. including children with severe LDs, mental problems and low IQ scores. Its ultimate goal is each student living as independently as possible. The Vocational Center focuses on living skills and job training; it has 11 job-training sites in Dallas. Enrollment is 110.

Recent testing, records and a pre-placement visit are required. Students are usually referred by school district counselors, private LD schools or Dallas County Mental Health and Mental Retardation case workers.

One parent of a mentally handicapped child says her son’s years at Notre Dame were the happiest of his life. A firm but loving structure is in place at the school. The hardest part for most Notre Dame parents, she says, is coming to terms with the child’s future.

Many parents of developmentally delayed children learn that, ultimately, the greatest gift a parent can give his child may be love and a lifetime of happiness with himself. It’s a lesson Notre Dame bestows on them as well as its students. Theresa M. Francis, principal; 2018 Allen St., Dallas, 214-720-3911.

Treetops School International

Treetops is a self-paced school for students in kindergarten through 12lh grades located on 21 acres in Euless. It’s fully accredited although students attend school only four days a week.

Treetops is an international school because the 80 students are world travelers. Each year, students visit such places as the Netherlands, Great Britain, Switzerland and New Zealand. Once, high school students backpacked into Costa Rica to study environmental science.

Treetops is not necessarily for LD students; it does not teach by remedial training. All children learn differently and at different paces, which may not necessarily be a disability, says the school’s founder and director, Christine Kallstrom. Some students have no LDs; many have extremely high IQs. But any child with educational gaps can benefit from the virtual one-on-one teaching.

No formal testing is required. Achild and his parents visit and if the child can handle a day’s work in class, he’s in. Many students go on to top universities; many are National Merit Scholars. The school sets two basic goals: make each child love to learn and work to the best of his or her own individual ability. There are no competitive sports.

The early grades are Montes-sori-based and very hands-on; for instance, students learn math with beads, blocks and games. Much drama and freedom of expression abounds. Students move around learning centers scattered across the campus-from the Native American center to Japanese pagodas to a replica of the Dallas County Courthouse. The school has plans for a folk arts building. Christine Kallstrom. director; 12500 S. Pipeline Rd., Euless, HI 7-283-1771.

Southwest Academy

BEVERLY DOOLEY, A FORMER SHELTON TEACHER AND LD TEACHER trainer, opened Southwest Academy in January 1994. Although it is a member of the Council for Private Specialized Schools, Southwest claims not to be a school for children with LDs.

“We want to be identified as a good private school,” says Dooley. “We will accept some children with LDs. and all our teachers are trained in special learning techniques.” In the beginning. Southwest was actually a teacher training center with three children who came in for an after-school reading lab. Area parents asked Dooley to turn the program into a school.

Southwest teaches children from age 4 to ninth-grade level who will mainstream to conventional high schools. Enrollment is 52.

All teaching is multisensory. Most classes are limited to three students. Southwest ascribes to the phonics program Alphabetic Phonics to teach reading; it is one of 12 AP training centers in the country.

Prayers are said during lunchtime, but the school is nondenominational.

This is a good match for the child who is either excelling or slipping behind, says Dooley, who initiated what she calls the most exciting idea of her education career: University Days. Parents visit once a week and teach for a few birdhourse-birdhouse making, painting, cooking-whatever they want to share with the students. Beverly Dooley, founder; 9550 Forest Ln,. Dallas, 972-349-7272.

Vanguard Preparatory School

NEWCOMER VANGUARD HAS BEEN INCLUDED IN MANY A PARENT’S prayerbecause along with learning-disabled children, it will accept those with behavior problems, whether social or psychological. This is the place for children with PDD-Pervasive Developmental Disorder, kids of average to high \Q who score low across the board in all LD areas, or children with bipolar disorder. Founded four years ago by Rosalind Funderburgh, the school has 60 students from preschool through eighth grade. This fall. Vanguard will add ninth and 10th grades; the last two years of high school will be added next year.

Says Funderburgh, who holds a master’s degree in education and educational diagnostics, “I saw so many children in my private practice who weren’t successful in school when they should have been. Too many social and behavioral things were getting in the way. I felt the city needed a program to help these children meet those needs.”

Vanguard features a highly structured environment. Each class has a teacher and an assistant-virtually a 4-to-1 child-to-teacher ratio. There’s a full-time therapist on staff, and the children can participate in group therapy. Students know what to expect and what consequences will be. They get constant feedback on behavior, both positive and negative.

Getting the picture that this is a no-nonsense place? Correct- but in a loving, therapeutic milieu that promotes self-esteem. One parent reported his child refused to get out of the car the first day at Vanguard. Two teachers came to the car, picked him up and carried him into the school. Four days later, he was bounding out of the car with eager expectation.

Although the school will ultimately offer kindergarten through high school education. Vanguard likes to get its students together enough to mainstream back to regular schools, and 85 percent do. Rosalind Funderburgh, director; 13750 Omega Rd., Dallas, 972-404-1616.

Preston Hollow Presbyterian Church Weekday School

PRESTON HOLLOW WAS FOUNDED IN 1962, ONE OF THE CITY’S FIRST schools devoted to children with LDs. Enrollment is % students in first through sixth grades. Preston Hollow is usually the school discussed at a cocktail party when learning problems are brought up. Tuition is reasonable because of low overhead.

Preston Hollow’s philosophy is to teach remedial language skills while building and developing children’s individual strengths. Students learn self-control through a behavior modification reward system.

Director Sheila Phaneuf says there are never more than nine students in a class. First through third grades are self-contained-that is, a child remains with one teacher except for classes in art, music and the computer. Changing classes begins in fourth grade.

Parents say Preston Hollow feels more like a family than a school-they love the nurturing, gentle approach thai somehow also manages to be quite academic with less structure. Phaneuf calls it “controlled movement”-children are not necessarily required to sit at desks. During a test, kids may be found standing around the classroom or lying on the floor. But they are working- which is Phaneuf’s objective as long as the children don’t bother each other.

Preston Hollow seeks an LD child with an IQ of 95 or higher who is industrious and self-disciplined and will be a contributing member of the school. The school has children with ADD and ADHD who are at the more controlled end of the disorder spectrum. Phaneuf does not want behavior problems. The school’s goal is to mainstream its students into other area private and public schools.

Many of Preston Hollow’s teachers tutor LD children, and the school offers an extensive LD summer program that fills rapidly. Sheila Phaneuf. director; 9800 Preston Rd.. Dallas. 214-368-3886.

Glen Lakes Academy

NEWCOMER GLEN LAKES BILLS ITSELF AS THE AREA’S FIRST AND ONLY school to deal exclusively with ADD and ADHD students, a claim that has mildly incensed other area LD schools that have been dealing with hyperactive children for years. It helps children with other LDs (because many children with ADD and ADHD typically carry a mixed LD bag), but it has a strong, primary, ADD/ADHD focus. And that may be what makes Glen Lakes different.

“We take children who cannot do well in a public school,” says Steven Steen, founder and president and himself an ADD child.

Glen Lakes kids are active and opinionated, but they are not bouncing off the walls. The school is extremely structured; lunch time is the noisiest because it’s about the only time students can break into a bit of freedom. If a child is severely dyslexic, or has major language delays, this school may not be the right match for him or her, says Steen.

Classes offer hands-on experience to keep the children moving while still learning. Computer lab is a favorite. Eighth-grade students must attend a social skills course three times a week; one concept covered: developing friendship skills.

Admission requirements include an average IQ score (mean is about 120 here, but Steen says he has many students with IQs higher than 145), three to five days in the classroom. and testing results from an outside source.

Big plus: Steen hired former Armstrong Elementary principal Dr. Ken Thomas to guide the academic program. The school plans to add a grade per year until it can offer 12. Steven Steen.founder and president; 6000 Custer Rd.. Piano. 972-517-7498.