The start of the 2017-18 school year will see the rollout of a pilot program to identify elementary school kids with dyslexia and have them work in small groups led by specialists trained to remediate problems with reading, writing, and spelling. While the program’s big-picture aim is to help dyslexic students maintain academic pace with their classmates, it’s also designed to prevent those kids from being placed in a special-education setting, which is much more costly. “It will cost the district some money up front to put this kind of an intervention in place,” Dr. Jarice Butterfield told the Board of Education at a recent Santa Barbara Unified School District meeting. “But you will actually save money in the end.”
Butterfield, who is the director of the Santa Barbara County Special Education Local Area Plan, recommended that the district hire a credentialed specialist to train and coach teachers in general-education classrooms, where kids can be evaluated early on in a structured, strategic manner. “The bottom line is you need to get that intensive intervention going on in gen-ed” for four to six months, Butterfield added.
The announcement of the pilot program aligns with AB 1369 — a new state law that requires districts to create program guidelines for dyslexia assessment — and years of steady insistence by Cheri Rae, who has become a student advocate and dyslexia expert since navigating her son’s struggles. “This is an important moment in the history of [the district] and the dyslexia community,” said Rae. “This is a new beginning [for] properly identified kids [to] reach their full potential.” Board President Kate Parker expressed concern about dyslexic kids who are also learning to speak, read, and write in English, and was grateful to hear that one of Butterfield’s areas of expertise is the early remediation of dyslexia and reading disabilities in English learners.