Schenck School marks 60 years

Sarah Bottini has two sons with superpowers. To much of the world, those powers may be considered a disability, but at their Sandy Springs school, her children have abilities considered beyond the norm.

Both of the Decatur mom’s kids have dyslexia, a learning disorder that makes reading difficult. Bottini realized that might be the issue when her oldest son struggled with flashcards in kindergarten.

“It was an onerous time drilling those with him,” she recalled. “But after a psychological evaluation, we found he was a perfect fit for The Schenck School. Once we changed his environment, it was no longer a disability. In fact, at Schenck, it’s a superpower that’s celebrated.”

For 60 years, The Schenck School has been changing the environment and the lives of dyslexic children and has become one of, if not the, oldest elementary school for dyslexic students in the country. Its founder and namesake, the late David Schenck, started out with a handful of students to whom he taught the Orton-Gillingham method of overcoming their reading issues.

“He was a teacher and visionary who knew he could help struggling kids through this method,” said Principal Foster Soules. “His idea was to take the pressures off and let them work on this problem here, then send them back to their home schools. And that’s how it still works: You might enter and stay for two or three years before returning to your regular school environment.”

Today, the 250 students from kindergarten through sixth grade spend the greater part of their days improving reading skills while surrounded by peers, faculty and staff who understand the problem.

“It’s hard work on the thing that’s hardest for them, but the supportive environment is the key to our success,” said Soules. “We work on reading and study skills all day long with two teachers in a classroom who can tailor the instruction to meet students’ needs.”

The school has been so successful that other institutions and teachers from around the country ask for Schenck’s help to duplicate it.

“Our mission is to reach as many dyslexics as possible,” said Josie Calamari, the director of teacher training. “We go all around, and people come to us. This year, we’re headed to the Alabama department of education to train cohorts in Auburn and Montgomery.

“We have summer courses teachers can enroll in, and we’ve had attendees from Texas, Florida and South Carolina. We’ve being doing this for 20 years, and each year, it becomes more robust,” she said.

The school also offers a program for adult dyslexics that draws students from 20 to 60 years old.

“That was David’s final big project as director emeritus,” said Soules. “We have three eight-week sessions a year at St. Anne’s (Episcopal Church) where we use the same intensive phonics instruction we use here at the school.”

Since her oldest son enrolled at Schenck, Bottini, who leads the parents’ association, has seen a remarkable change.

“Three years ago, I never would have thought this could happen, but now I cry in my son’s door jamb almost every night; I have to tell him to put his book down and turn off the light,” she said. “It’s changed the course of his life.”

Information about The Schenck School is online at


Each week we look at programs, projects and successful endeavors at area schools, from pre-K to grad school. To suggest a story, contact H.M. Cauley at or 770-744-3042.