It's Complicated

Josh Clark with students
Josh Clark, Head of School

This piece first appeared in the Spring 2018 issue of The Story.


I was a man on a mission.

It was already 12:30 p.m., yet it felt like the day had just begun. My to-do’s multiplied with each minute, and the “ding” of my inbox haunted my every move. Despite these distractions, I charged down the steps with a singular focus: cauliflower soup.

It was my new obsession. Chef Kotrell and Ms. Brenda introduced it to me several weeks ago, and each day I followed my nose into the dining hall hopeful for its return. I filed into line just after a group of third graders. With nervous angst, I asked the young lady in front of me if she knew what we was on the menu. Aghast, she turned around, her face filled with shock and disbelief.

“You mean, you don’t decide what we’re eating?”

The revelation shook her very core. If the Head of School was not in charge of the menu, what other absolutes could crumble?

I pondered her reaction a few minutes later as I sipped on a bowl of tomato basil soup - a satisfying but safe choice. What does it mean to be Head of School? When my son was four years old, my wife interviewed him for a Father’s Day present. When asked what Daddy does at work, he said, “Daddy works at a school and helps people who fall off the sidewalk.” An admirable career, even if it did not match my actual responsibilities.

Like many of us, it can be difficult to explain what I do. “Running a school” is a fair start, but it is just a general overview of a much more complex landscape. Further, while being in charge of The Schenck School shares similarities with the leaders of Trinity School or Oak Grove Elementary, it is also very different in subtle yet important ways. Titles and labels are a helpful gateway into complex ideas and constructs, but they fall short of a full understanding.

The term dyslexia is similar. Most educated adults understand it has something to do with reading difficulties or perhaps the misconception of seeing letters backwards. For parents and children navigating its diagnosis, dyslexia can be an empowering term, providing validation and explanation.. The comfort and uniformity the term casts can also be misleading, though.

Knowing someone is dyslexic is just the beginning of a journey to understand his or her “differences within THE difference.”

No two dyslexic brains are the same. While all dyslexic students share an unexpected difficulty learning to read, write and spell, how these difficulties manifest themselves, how they respond to interventions, and how they impact academic performance vary greatly.

At The Schenck School, we often refer to the “secret sauce” that makes our students so successful. I hate this phrase. First, there is no secret. If you want to know why the School has been successful for the last 58 years, spend five minutes in a classroom observing the tireless efforts of  the teachers and students. Hard work, dedication, and evidence-based teaching methods are not mysteries.

The idea that we marinate our students in a sauce or follow a step-by-step recipe does not resonate either. In fact, I think the fact that we do the exact opposite is what makes us so successful. As research advances and our diagnostic instruments improve, we are able to better understand the variations in how our students solve problems and process information. As research becomes more extensive, we may soon be able individualize our approach even further.

In the end, as with all things in life worth understanding, dyslexia is complicated. As a school dedicated to grappling with and celebrating its intricacies, we must always aim to do better. When we embrace the “difference within THE difference” of dyslexia and all of its complexities, we get closer to a full understanding of how to best serve our students.


  • It's complicated
  • Josh Clark