Florida Superintendent Shares his Struggles with Dyslexia

Duval Superintendent Nikolai Vitti is committed to identifying and helping students with learning disabilities, like him.

Duval Superintendent Nikolai Vitti is committed to identifying and helping students with learning disabilities, like him.

by Jeannie Blaylock -

He’s a new face in Jacksonville, a prominent local leader, a Harvard grad with a PhD. He has the golden resume. But his background might surprise you. In fact, his openness about his own struggles in school  might surprise you even more.

However, Dr. Nikolai Vitti has decided — along with his wife, Rachel –to plunge full force into making changes in the Duval school system when it comes to identifying and helping children  with dyslexia or any learning disability.

Dr. Vitti said he struggled for years in school until he did research and hired a psychologist. He was in college then. And, as he suspected, he was diagnosed with dyslexia.

Dr. Vitti and his wife started noticing signs that one of their four children might have dyslexia, as well. Rachel, who’s also a teacher , said Lorenzo, age 9, has trouble finding the pattern in cat, bat, mat, for example.

“He’d say m-a-aat,” she said. His reading wasn’t fluid.

She said he’d see the word “cat” and he’d know it but he couldn’t quite express it. Sometimes it would come out as “tac,” she said.

Now Dr. Vitti said, “I see myself in him.”

They are also beginning to see signs another of their four children has dyslexia. Marcello is five years old, and they’re going to have him tested soon.

Both Dr. Vitti and his son are good examples of what researchers say needs to be explained about dyslexia.

Too many people believe dyslexics are dumb or so slow they’ll never make it through school. Dr. Vitti and his son are dyslexic, but also test in high ranges in other areas. For Dr. Vitti, he said, IQ tests show his verbal skills at 99%. His son is classified as “gifted.”

But Dr. Vitti struggled for years in school. He said he would get into a sweat when it was time to read aloud in class. He said if the teacher allowed him to say, “pass,”  he was happy. But when he couldn’t pass, he’d try to read, and then after class kids would taunt him by saying, “Nikolai is stupid.”

He remembers getting one out of 10 correctly on spelling tests. But he said over time, he forced himself to take advantage of his picture memory and memorize words. He wouldn’t allow himself to use the automatic drop down boxes to check his spelling.  He’d “play with the words” until he mastered them.

Dr. Vitti said if he’d had FCAT tests in 3rd grade and 10th, he probably would never have graduated .

He said “it’s a shame” how many “bright kids” with dyslexia fall through the cracks in our school system. He said teachers are doing their best, but many don’t have the training to spot early warnings signs, even in Pre-K.

Read more at Duval Superintendent Nikolai Vitti opens up about his own dyslexia.

[Via First Coast News]

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