By Todd Cohen
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — In 1974, Mary Dore, a nun now living in Texas who at the time was studying to be a teacher, founded the Mary Dore Center for Human Potential at Sacred Heart in Belmont.
The center, which grew out of tests Dore had developed for children who were having difficulties in school, operated for four years with the assistance of other nuns from Sacred Heart.
Still, parents remained frustrated because, despite what they were learning at the Center, their children continued to face challenges in their own schools.
So in 1978, Dore left Sacred Heart and founded Dore Academy, the first school in North Carolina to gear its teaching strategies to the needs of students with learning disabilities and attention disorders.
In August, the school began its new academic year after moving from its long-time home on Providence Road to larger quarters on a six-acre campus on Parkway Plaza Boulevard off Billy Graham Parkway near Charlotte-Douglas International Airport.
It also changed its name to The John Crosland School, recognizing real estate developer John Crosland Jr. and his family, who contributed over $1 million to an ongoing capital campaign that, in its first phase, has a goal of raising $5.9 million for the new campus.
Operating with an annual budget of $1.7 million and 27 faculty and administrative staff, the school currently enrolls 81 students from kindergarten through 12th grade, and is using only 23,000 square feet of its 58,000-square-foot facility.
But with its new building, the school has a four-plan to grow to 125 students by 2016, and eventually could grow to 250 students.
Chaired by Jim Kelligrew, a member of the Crosland School board of directors and executive vice president at U.S. Bancorp, the campaign kicked off its quiet phase in June 2010 and its public phase in January and already has raised $4.5 million.
The school serves students from the region, including 21 cities in eight counties in the Carolinas, who must have intelligence that is average to above average and undergo formal testing that shows a diagnosed learning disability or attention disorder, or both, says Maria Leahy, associate head of school.
The curriculum reflects an integrated, multi-disciplinary, multi-sensory approach to teaching, and teachers are certified in areas specific to teaching children with disabilities, she says.
Classes are small, some with the number of students per teacher ranging from three for some courses to 12 or more for others.
The school places strong emphasis on technology, sports and the arts, and on engaging parents in their kids’ education, Leahy says.
“We teach children the way they learn best,” she says.
Three current students who learned to play instruments at the school, for example, played in the statewide honors band and one of them performs with the Charlotte Junior Symphony.
Jennifer Nichols, director of development at Crosland, says that kind of education can be costly and beyond the means of many families whose children need it.
“Private independent schools are schools of choice,” she says. “Our school is a school of need, not of choice.”
The school makes an impact, she says, with 100 percent graduating, either from Crosland or from traditional high schools to which 28 percent transfer, and with over 90 percent going on to two-year or four-year colleges.
Because not all Crosland parents cannot afford the tuition, the school counts on support from foundations, corporations and wealthy individuals, with 28 percent to 32 percent of students receiving tuition assistance each year.
Those funds are provided through the $1.7 million the school raises each year, including funds from its spring gala, which netted $60,000 last year and next will be held April 13 at the Ritz-Carlton.
Crosland within five years likely will launch one or two more phases of its capital campaign to raise $4 million to $6 million more to complete construction of its campus, and the first phase of an endowment campaign to support student assistance that initially will raise at least $3 million and eventually aims to build the endowment to $11 million.
“All of our children are here because they need to be here,” says Leahy. “Children who come need us, to learn to their full potential, be successful, and grow in self-esteem and outlook for the future.”