First in the Nation: Olentangy Schools Earns Recognition for Program Serving Struggling Readers and Learners with Dyslexia

Olentangy Local School District made headlines when it announced it was the first public school district in the nation to have an Orton-Gillingham accredited training program. Designed for students with dyslexia and those in need of reading assistance, the program emphasizes a scientific, multisensory approach to teaching reading by using sight, hearing, touch, and movement to connect language with letters and sounds. The program is a powerful tool for teaching language skills that has been validated with over 80 years of research-based practice.

I reached out to Marty Arganbright, Director of Pupil Services for Olentangy Local Schools, and asked him to briefly share Olentangy’s work-in-progress serving children with dyslexia.

LISA: Before we get to the headline, I want to ask you about the impetus for your current literacy program. What problem were you trying to solve?

MARTY: Despite very well intended reading strategies and interventions, the district added Orton-Gillingham (OG) instruction when it discovered there were struggling readers who were not able to keep up with their peers in reading and spelling skills. Very few of our teachers had training in Structured literacy approaches (e.g. Wilson or Orton-Gillingham) and hence didn’t have the tools to help our students narrow the gap. In the summer of 2012, the district’s part-time OG Fellow held our first OG training class for intervention specialists. In 2013-2014, the OG Fellow’s role became full time. Currently, we run 60 hours of OG1 and OG2 twice a year and 50 hours of Certified once a year. All new intervention specialists are required to take the first 30 hours of OG training. Our OG programs follow the 5 Big ideas of reading and the training curriculum designated by the Academy of Orton-Gillingham Practitioners and Educators (AOGPE).

LISA: How has the OG work manifest itself in your district’s data?

MARTY: Indicator 3c on our Special Education profile measures the percentage of students with disabilities who scored at or above the proficient level on statewide reading assessments (see chart below). We continue to work hard on behalf of all of these and other children.

LISA: Assuming success didn’t come easily, what were some of the most important lessons you learned along the way?

MARTY: The process takes time and we are still evolving and growing in the way we identify students with dyslexia, determine frequency/intensity/exiting of OG services and train teachers in a large suburban school district. We are a typical school district staffed by teachers who are passionate rock stars for OG and others who appreciate what we do but would prefer to teach their known content areas.

The important thing is that we seek to develop a positive culture around serving our students with dyslexia. It is vital that we express appreciation to our teachers who have taken on OG training, practicums and writing in-depth applications to AOGPE. On a daily basis, we have the amazing opportunity to see children read for the first time, to maximize their reading/spelling ability, to apply for college and to reach for dreams, which may not have been available to them in the past.

On a practical note, we have learned that we need to proactively plan for staffing OG teachers/tutors and OG practicums. Starting in November, we meet with building administrative teams and their OG staff to plan for the following school year. In addition, to our OG Fellow, some buildings need additional OG supervisors to provide in-house coaching and support. The OG Fellow meets monthly with Pupil Services.

LISA: What options do students and parents have if their district is not using a structured literacy program?

MARTY: Well, there are private tutors that are very expensive, and if they have not been properly trained may not even understand the science of reading and how to teach children with dyslexia. There are a few schools devoted to dyslexia, but they have staggering tuition. We believe all children have the right to access high-quality reading instruction and remediation in their neighborhood school district.

LISA: Talk to me about the role AOGPE has played in your success. We often say beware of wolves in sheeps’ clothing given the sector is replete with organizations and trainers that tune their marketing and advertising to mimic high-quality structured literacy programs, but are in fact not quality programs and not capable of affecting change in student performance.

MARTY: The Academy of Orton-Gillingham Practitioners and Educators has been very supportive of our in-house OG Fellows. The structure of AOGPE enables sustainability of our district’s OG training programs and hence services for our students for future generations. Specifically, AOGPE offers an annual Fellow webinar and conference. These resources are important in guiding Fellows as they train teachers, supervise practicums, and disseminate information about applying at the Associate, Certified and Fellow levels. The Academy provides a behind the scenes support network to guide Fellows in adhering to ethical, high-quality teacher training. The Fellow also participates in a monthly online meeting, where she can connect with and share resources with other Fellows throughout the country.

Olentangy has been working toward accreditation of its Orton-Gillingham training program for the past three years, with participating staff members completing an independent practice and demonstrated competency review. Currently, 32 district staff members are certified in the program, with another 35 in training. More than 700 students in the district receive Orton-Gillingham instruction.

LISA: I know you also work closely with the Olentangy Dyslexia Network which figures prominently in your success. Can you tell me more about ODN?

MARTY: The Olentangy Dyslexia Network (ODN) provides essential resources and support for students and their parents. ODN’s board consists of parents of children with dyslexia and Olentangy staff representatives. ODN holds an annual dyslexia simulation, which has drawn up to 100 participants. This evening provides family and staff with the opportunity to experience the struggles of dyslexia firsthand, to learn facts about dyslexia and to ask questions of relevant district staff. ODN also collaborates with OLSD to provide a “Navigating Dyslexia” panel presentation for OG teacher training and our District Diversity Conference. Students, parents and staff share their experiences about living and teaching in a world impacted by dyslexia.

LISA: Given Olentangy’s success, what recommendations do you have for other educators and districts who continue to struggle with students’ reading performance?

MARTY: Reading is a critical skill that affects all aspects of daily life. It is important to look at all of the Tiers of RTI. Children need to start with high-quality general education instruction (e.g. Fundations K-3 and Heggerty K-1). There are different avenues for training staff in effective Structured Literacy approaches such as OG. Most teachers greatly appreciate having the skills to help our struggling readers.  It is also very helpful to have a District Dyslexia screening plan. Some districts send their staff to OG or Wilson training, while others bring consultants in. We have found it very beneficial to have in-house staff to provide not only OG teacher training and practicums but also on-going support to IEP teams and families. Strong administrative support and appreciation to staff providing OG services to our students with dyslexia build a compassionate professional culture and value system to support our struggling readers. The most important thing we do is operate from a value system that says all children have the right to read and spell.


To learn more about AOGPE, click here.

Connect with IDA Central Ohio and watch Dyslexia: The Science of Reading– a presentation to the Ohio State Board of Education (December 2018) here at the 54:15 mark.

Marty Arganbright is a Member of the Board of Directors of IDA Central Ohio and is currently the Director of Pupil Services in Olentangy.

Lisa Duty, Ph.D. is the Executive Director of IDA Central Ohio.