I am the sibling of a brother that would have been diagnosed with an Intellectual Disability, an Expressive-Receptive Language Disability, Motor-Coordination Disabilities, and ADHD.

But in the 1960’s and 1970’s those descriptors didn’t exist. Around the age of 2, my parents were told he was Mentally Retarded and Brain Damaged and it would be best to place him in an Institution. They didn’t do that, and I was raised by a woman who became an advocate for my brother and children like him long before “advocates,” laws, and policies to provide treatment and services for children with disabilities in schools existed.

The experiences I had as a sibling helped me understand the need to include and support the entire family, not solely focus on the child identified as having a disability or disorder. My oldest child was born in 1984 and we were experiencing significant difficulties understanding how to care for him and manage his behaviors. I was struggling to find information to help my child, family, and childcare providers understand how to best care for him. Subsequently, I made the decision to return to college to complete my Bachelor’s Degree. I decided to pursue a degree in Education with an emphasis in Special Education. I graduated from Texas Woman’s University in 1988 and began my career as a high school Special Education teacher. Success is measured by the ability to keep your head above water when the chaos threatens to drown you; it’s never the year that anyone can look back on and feel they’ve done their best work as a teacher.

By my third year working in a high school, I’d experienced enough to know that most of the high school graduates that received special education support in my school were not prepared to be successful in life. We filed assessments from one year to the next indicating students were making progress, their report card grades looked like they were doing okay in school, and each year they moved from one grade level to the next, but their standardized and reliable individually administered assessments told a different story. It was unusual to see measurable growth over time in the areas that the disabilities existed. Most students appeared to cease measurable growth from the third or fourth grade on.

To make matters worse, the criteria used to demonstrate mastery of goals and objectives was often tied to grades earned on assignments. Students received numerous opportunities for “extra-credit”, low grades were taken out of grade books, policies in schools existed wherein teachers were not permitted to give a student a grade lower than a 50 or 70, students would receive study guides that were exact replicas of tests and told the only difference between the two would be the word at the top of the page, and so on. By the conclusion of my third year of teaching, I’d decided that I was part of the problem and doing what I’d been taught to do wasn’t the right thing for the students in my care. I earned my Master of Education in 1997, transferred to a different school district, and began working as a high school Educational Diagnostician.

By this time, I’d become an advocate for students, educators, and families. I spoke up when no one else would, I showed others how improvements could be made when we worked together, and I displayed how to accomplish what others had said would never work. I left public school education and became the Director of the School at the Child Study Center. During my time there, I was able to improve my diagnostic assessment abilities as I learned more about the medical versus educational methods of assessment, treatment planning, and providing systems of support. The years there taught me the value of integrating medical and educational practices as well as locating the services families of children with disabilities need in close proximity to one another. During my Child Study Center years, I also became an Adjunct Instructor at Texas Christian University (TCU) in the College of Education and eventually the director of the Hill School of Grapevine.

My enduring dream, however, was to create a school unlike any in existence. The “dream school” would become a world-class learning community that provided innovative, creative, and experiential educational programming within a culture that instilled confidence, respect, and self-worth. In addition to providing exemplary services and support to the students and families that would attend the school, educators and clinicians around the country would be invited to visit the school to discover ways they could improve services for students and families in their care. Five years ago Novus was birthed out of the experiences and vision of a lifetime devoted to students who deserve more. The rest of the Novus story is contained in the pages you are reading now. I left public school education and became the Director of the School at the Child Study Center. During my time there, I was able to improve my diagnostic assessment

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