School for dyslexic pupils proposed in North Hills

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A proposal to open a charter school for dyslexic students drew mixed reviews Monday at a public hearing sponsored by the North Hills School District, which must decide on the application within 75 days.

If the proposal wins approval, it will be the first school in the western half of the state wholly dedicated to addressing dyslexia, which is a learning disability characterized by difficulty with skills such as word recognition, decoding and spelling.

Provident Charter School would offer classes for children in grades 2-8 beginning in September 2013 in a facility that would be erected on Cemetery Lane in Ross.

During Provident's presentation, Curtis Kossman, a local real estate developer, said he initiated the idea to develop the school. Not only is Mr. Kossman dyslexic, but so are both of his children.

"Dyslexia is part of the essence of who I am. It is a daily struggle," he said.

Maria Paluselli, a school representative, said Provident would rigorously train its teachers in the Orton-Gillingham method, in which students use not only visual and auditory methods but a small-group approach in all subject areas.

While the school would be for grades 2-8, it would offer curriculum for grades K-8. There would be four teachers for every 24 students, or a teacher-student ratio of 1-6.

Provident also plans for an extended school day, with 6.25 hours of instruction daily and 1,137 hours of instruction annually. The state Department of Education requires 900 to 990 hours annually.

Many in the audience supported the idea.

"As a taxpayer in the city of Pittsburgh, I am very sensitive to the issue of real estate taxes," Jeffrey Cohen said. "However, I am here to speak as a parent of a dyslexic child and what I went through with her. I can't imagine any parent not wanting to provide the best for his or her child."

Jonathan Seppi, also of Pittsburgh, spoke of his own struggles as a child growing up with dyslexia.

"I remember very distinctly being stupid or thinking I was stupid. I remember not being able to read. I remember people doing everything they could think of to help me. In fifth grade, I found out I had dyslexia," he said.

Mr. Seppi said he graduated from Carnegie Mellon University two years ago.

"I think this school would be invaluable to students because they wouldn't have to go through that," he said. "I am smart and they are smart, and they shouldn't have to think otherwise."

Don Sabroski, of Ross, voiced his opposition to the school.

"I am 100 percent against this," he said. "We have to think about this as taxpayers in Pennsylvania. Where is all of this money coming from? I am very frustrated with the whole idea of charter schools. The madness has to stop. I feel sorry for these people, but as a taxpayer, I'm taxed to death, and I'm sick and tired of it."

Representatives of the school district did not comment on the application during the hearing.

North Hills received the charter school application Nov. 11 and was required to conduct a public hearing within 45 days. Now it must provide at least 45 days for public comment. The school board must decide on the matter no later than 75 days after the public hearing.

Additional comments may be submitted via email or mail to Lynne Phillips, school board secretary.

Shellie Petri Budzeak, freelance writer: .


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