Charlottes first academy for kids with learning disabilities kicked off its school year Monday at a site nearly quadruple in size, and with a new name above the door: The John Crosland School.
Crosland, a well-known Charlotte developer, donated $1.1 million to help the former Dore Academy buy the 58,000-square-foot office building, located near the intersection of Billy Graham Parkway and South Tryon Street.
As a result, enrollment at the K-12 Crosland School the oldest accredited school of its type in the state will grow from 90 to 250 students, as phased-in renovation is completed. The six-acre site replaces a 15,000-square-foot building on Providence Road that was overcrowded and prone to flooding.
Crosland, 83, grew up with dyslexia and said he made the gift in hopes of prompting greater support in the community for students with learning disabilities. Helping such students is a major focus of his charitable Crosland Foundation, based out of Foundation for the Carolinas.
Parkinsons Disease prevented Crosland from attending the grand opening Monday, but he issued comments in advance.
I wanted to do something that was long-lasting, a legacy, said Crosland, who hopes his success in business will inspire the students.
I would say dont be bothered by what other people say about you. Even if they say you are dumb or whatever. You can stand there and take pride in what you do. If you try hard enough, you can overcome anything.
The school paid $2.5 million for the site, which once housed Wellman Inc., a plastics company. A capital campaign is ongoing to raise $1.5 million to finish the first phase of renovation on the 24-year-old building.
Dore Academy was founded in 1978 by teacher Mary Dore, who had been a nun at Sacred Heart in Belmont. It was the first school in Charlotte created solely for children with learning disabilities or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. It is now considered a national leader in the field, with 90 percent of graduating seniors going onto college programs, officials said.
Students from eight counties in the Carolinas are enrolled in the school, which has a 7-to-1-student teacher ratio and a full-time therapy dog on staff. It also has an eighth period tacked onto the end of the day, when teachers make themselves available in one room to answer all students homework questions.
Nearly one-third of the students receive some level of financial help, which makes Croslands gift all the more significant, said Bob Selee, the schools board chair and the father of one of its students.
Selee believes having a respected name like Croslands on the facade will prompt more community support for the cause of learning disabilities.
John Croslands impact was huge, said Selee, noting attempts to expand the school during the economic downturn were at a standstill.
We were stymied. Were a small school and big donors didnt have education on their mind. People were hurting for money and things like shelters got the attention. But John Crosland was insistent on helping kids with learning disabilities get an education, and when his donation came, things started happening.
It was the Foundation for the Carolinas that connected the school with Crosland. The foundation is the home to Croslands charitable foundation, which has given out $6.2 million dollars over 10 years. Among Croslands better known philanthropic acts helping to start Charlottes Habitat for Humanity chapter.
The Crosland Foundation has three focus areas: Helping children with disabilities, providing housing for the less fortunate and supporting urban policy research and education.
What excites John about this is making the intent of his foundation known in a more direct way, said Holly Welch Stubbings of Foundation for the Carolinas.
He feels having role models for kids is really important. He says frequently that he was made to feel dumb. He was made to feel he wasnt as smart as other kids. Having someone to look up to would have been powerful to him.
Selee says the school has transformed his 16-year-old son Wesley over the past seven years. Before being enrolled, Wesley would walk in a circle around the kitchen for hours, suffering from anxiety over homework. The teen has been diagnosed with Aspergers syndrome.
It took a few months to notice a change, but now he has confidence and self-esteem, Selee said. Wesley learned he was not like other kids, and he developed the skill to compensate.