“What are we failing to do where we’re not seeing the kind of growth we would expect from this very bright child?”
Lou Salza, Lawrence School
Karas: When Lou Salza came, he saw this raw potential in this school. Lawrence School is the first time in the United States that a school for kids with learning differences at the high school level has been built ground up. And Lou was deeply moved by that and came, but recognized program wasn’t strong enough, board and head of school collaboration wasn’t strong enough. I could go down the list of the things that didn’t work.
Salza: It is a fundamental failure of will in simply applying what we’ve learned in 15 or 20 years of really great research and data that’s now been collected by the National Institutes of Child Health and Development, in Washington, DC. We know that we can screen a child in Kindergarten, January of the Kindergarten year, and we can predict where they’re going to be in the eighth grade. And we know exactly how to intervene so that child will not suffer the indignity of being illiterate—of being functionally unable to deal with a newspaper by the time they’re in the eighth grade. And we are not doing it. That kills me.
What we have in place is a way for parents, on a weekly basis, to track the progress their children are making in these three critical fluency areas that are the foundation for every other academic endeavor that those children will ever pursue. When parents can look at that and understand what’s going on, they see growth—it looks like a stock chart—it goes up and down, but there is a trend going up. If the trend isn’t going up, we look at our program and say, “Whoa, why is that not happening? What are we failing to do on our end that’s creating this situation, where we’re not seeing the kind of growth we would expect from this very bright child who has language-based learning differences?” The proof of the pudding is that if you start out in the fifth percentile, in the fifteenth percentile, you stay there. Well our kids don’t. They move up. And over three years, they start looking more and more like normally reading, normally writing, normally computing kids. And by the time they graduate from high school, we’re sending 88% of our kids on to college.
Karas: What changed was Lou, being the type of leader he is, and being visionary, humble, so mission-driven, really clear on what kids needed, and what a school needs to do. And he collaborated with the board to create an entirely new model. I think that’s transformational leadership.