As a child, Dana Herzberg needed lots of visuals to help her study for a test. She covered the walls of her room with posters filled with formulas and data. Tutors helped to break concepts down so they would stick in her brain.
As an adult, Dana channeled a strong sense of determination and a passion for helping others with learning disabilities to build a successful tutoring business of her own. She’ll continue to run On Track Tutoring as she begins her tenure as head of school for the newly opened Lexis Preparatory School in Scottsdale.
Vicki: Much has changed in terms of awareness of learning disabilities and the way they are managed with kids today. Talk about your own experiences in school.
Dana: I was diagnosed with learning disabilities in fourth grade. My parents could see that I could read everything that was in front of me. But I wasn’t understanding what I read. I was having trouble in math. School was just very hard.
Vicki: How did your life change after that diagnosis?
Dana: It changed for the better in that my parents got some answers. I think it gave them some comfort. It enabled them to get some services for me in school. And they got me some one-on-one tutors that made a huge impact in my life.
Vicki: Is there a message from your own school experiences that guides your work today?
Dana: My sister, who’s highly gifted, had the same sixth-grade teacher that I ended up having. We had three different reading groups going on around the class. He stood up in front of the whole class—I don’t know if he was having a bad day, but he said, “Why can’t you be more like your sister?” And that was my defining moment in education. I will never forget it as long as I live. I left the room crying, and I was destroyed.
Vicki: Do kids today go through that? I’m sure it can’t be easy for an overloaded teacher with a large class to individualize learning.
Dana: All the time. I hear it every day, and it breaks my heart. I tell kids this: “You can’t say that I don’t understand.” I’ve been there, and I’ve done that. But no matter how frustrated we are as teachers, that child is 100 times more frustrated than [we] will ever be. It takes one statement to destroy everything that is within them, and it takes years to rebuild.
Vicki: Talk about when you knew that you wanted to be an educator yourself.
Dana: [It was during] a community volunteer program, where you could volunteer and get high school credits. My first [experience] was helping individuals who had cerebral palsy ride horseback. And I fell in love. Then, working with children who had pretty heavy-duty disabilities. I think I saw that, as challenged as I was, and as hard as things were for me, [it] could have been a lot worse.
Vicki: What’s tough for parents of kids with learning disabilities today?
Dana: As parents, we want quick fixes for our kids. So you have to be able to investigate—find out what’s real and what’s really going to work. And not do things that sound really good on paper but don’t have any hard evidence.
Vicki: An example?
Dana: There is not going to be anything that you can do that is going to change your brain that is not going to make you dyslexic anymore. There is no quick fix.
Vicki: So the idea that kids will be “fixed” isn’t realistic—but there’s hope?
Dana: Children who learn differently can be very successful. We look at the world a little bit differently. People like that in their employees. A lot of entrepreneurs have some sort of learning or attention disorder.
Vicki: Over the past few months, you’ve been gearing up to open a new school for kids with learning disabilities like ADHD and dyslexia. How will it differ from other schools?
Dana: Lexis Prep is run like traditional college prep, but there is a lot of individualization. The children also get a resource period where they are pulled for [extra help with] whatever skill they need, whether it is speech, occupational therapy, reading, writing, math.
Vicki: It can’t be easy starting a school from scratch in just a few months—remodeling, building a curriculum plan, hiring teachers. What’s the model?
Dana: I went to see Tampa Day School, from which Lexis is being replicated. I walked in, and for the first time I saw a school for kids with learning disabilities that didn’t look any different than any other traditional private school. It looked like a place that I should have been [as a child]. One hundred percent of our teaching staff is special ed-certified—it’s truly like we hit the lottery.
Vicki: Was there a moment of awareness amid the preparations that you realized that this new school was coming to fruition as you’d envisioned?
Dana: A child came to an open house. He looked at me and he looked at his mom and said, “Mom, this must be what heaven’s like!” I left there that night and I thought to myself, that’s why I do this. That’s why I’m here. It’s for children like him, who need to re-write memories. They need a new place to call school. RAK