A proposed charter school for dyslexic students appeared to receive the North Hills community's support Monday during a public hearing held on its application to operate within the boundaries.
About 50 people attended, with only one speaking against the application by the Provident Charter School.
If approved by the North Hills School District Board, the charter school would open in September 2013 and enroll 96 students from around the Pitsburgh region in grades three and four, according to the application. It plans to cap off at 336 students by the sixth year, and expand to teach grades two through eight.
Its board is in negotiations to purchase a piece of vacant land at 173 Cemetery Lane, where they would like to build the new 70,000-square-foot school, said Curtis Kossman, an architect and president of the school's board of directors.
The school would be funded by billing the home school districts of the children who attend, based on the districts' expenditures per student anda formula set out in state law. The charter school's board estimates that within a 10-mile radius of the city of Pittsburgh, about 3,146 students from 14 public school districts and 63 private and parochial schools would qualify for the special education.
For the North Hills School District, the cost would be about $20,000 per student, according to Tina Vojtko, the district's spokesman.
About 60 North Hills students would qualify for the charter school, according to the charter school's market study and an estimate by the district.
Kossman, who attended Monday's hearing, said dyslexic children need special education outside the traditional public schools and that he knows this from experience — having been a dyslexic student himself and watching his two children, who are also dyslexic, work through the traditional system.
"Every year we must perform the same routine,” Kossman said. “Every year we must teach their teachers. Every year we must convince them that our children are working hard and are putting forth the effort to deserve a passing grade.”
Maria Paluselli, a special education teacher who helped design the curriculum proposed for the new school, also spoke in favor of pulling dyslexic children out of the traditional school system.
“If it is not the right kind of tutoring, the right kind of reading instruction, the efforts are fruitless,” she said. “The parents and the child have put in hundreds of hours and lots of money to still be plateaued at the level they were a year or two ago.”
The new school proposes a 6:1 student-teacher ratio and individualized instruction for the dyslexic students, who suffer from a language skills disability that affects their reading, spelling, writing and pronounciation of words.
The teaching method would be based on the Orton-Gillingham approach, which emphasizes the use of multiple senses and stories to help make language connections.
The school will also integrate a martial arts program, conversational Spanish, the study of Latin and community service activities, according to the application.
"The martial arts helps organize a dyslexic's brain," Kossman said in an interview before the meeting, adding that it also helps build self-esteem.
As for the Spanish and Latin, "It will be a very specifically tailored foreign language program," he said.
Board members now have 75 days to grant or deny the charter’s application.