The only charter school in Texas focused on young students with language-based learning challenges like dyslexia and ADHD is opening in Lubbock. The Condra School for Education Innovation this year will teach kindergarten through second grade. Plans are to add third grade next year.
Merinda Condra, the school’s superintendent, says the staff includes a diagnostician and two dyslexia therapists, 11 teachers – most with dyslexia training – aides, student teachers and volunteers.
“Most of our teachers that I am thinking of have experience in LISD, however we have some that, for instance, we had one of our dyslexia therapists move away from Lubbock. And then when she heard that we’re opening up this school, their family had been contemplating coming back to Lubbock but they decided, ‘hey, it's time to go back.’ But one of the interesting things is, all of our teachers really want to be here. Many of them sought us out when they heard about the school and said, ‘Can we please come? We want to come. This is where I want to be. I know I can make a difference with these kids.’”
Dyslexia is a learning disorder that involves difficulty reading due to problems identifying speech sounds and learning how they relate to letters and words. It affects areas of the brain that process language.
Condra says that research shows early intervention is key to giving children with dyslexia the best opportunity to learn throughout the rest of their lives. Research from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, she says, shows that 20 percent of the US population has some level of dyslexia.
Enrollment for the upcoming school year stands at about 85 students. The cap will be 150. The plan is to expand the school to eventually serve kindergarten through fifth grade with a cap on enrollment at 540 students.
Condra says the school, which is state-funded and open to youngsters in eight school districts in the Lubbock area, gets inquiries from parents every day.
“What we’ve had in traditional school districts is a struggle. It was a fight to get your child the services they need. It was a fight to get them Identified. Because once they were identified they qualified for services and we’re flipping that on its ear. We are saying no, no we’re going to start with the assumption if you tell us your child needs help. Your child, somethings wrong or that there's a special need here we’re going to assume that you know your child. “
Condra says the road to opening the school has been long. It began about seven years ago when Condra realized through testing at Dallas’ Scottish Rite Hospital that her older daughter was dyslexic and inattentive ADHD - once called ADD.
Condra got a grant from the J.T. and Margaret Talkington Charitable Foundation to fund an after-school intervention program for youngsters with ADHD or dyslexia.
“By the time children with ADHD and dyslexia or just dyslexia have gone through an entire day of school hanging on by their fingernails in every subject trying desperately not to get behind. They are so tired they can't focus and -really get a lot out of a dyslexia intervention.”
Kids at the Condra School will do hands-on learning in small groups. There won’t be lectures so no sitting and listening. Students have two recess periods a day and class sizes at the school will be small. Condra says the teacher-student ratio will vary.
“It depends on the subject matter. So, for instance, we have what's a reading pod. And a reading pod has actually three teachers all that have significant dyslexia training and in any given time a child might be in the general pod or they might be with a specific dyslexia interventionist. It might be a 1 to 15th ratio at one point, another point, it's going to be 1 to 5. It depends on what they are covering it and how they are covering it. Because every child doesn’t need the same thing at the same time. And that’s the way we’re doing it with math as well and really in all of our classes. “
The school is working on developing teaching and research collaborations with Texas Tech and West Texas A&M University in Canyon.
“We would like to get some professors in here doing some research showing, ‘ok let's follow these kids let's look and see what happens when your provide the intervention, what happens to these kids, how many of them are able to perform well and go onto success that might not of otherwise happened.’”