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Leading the Way

While Allison McAvoy can’t predict the future, the veteran educator has a pretty good idea where she intends to be one spring day in 2026: celebrating the high school graduation of a student she met when he was a headstrong first-grader with dyslexia.

“Some students come in eagerly and some come in kicking and screaming,” the Chattanooga, TN, educator explained about the intricacies of running a private reading center.

“One boy was adamant when he arrived, protesting, ‘I didn’t sign up for this! I don’t want to be here!’ I’ve had him for two years now. He’s now in third grade and doesn’t want to miss a lesson. He’s already invited me to his graduation.”

Allison, a Wilson® Credentialed Trainer and Wilson® Dyslexia Therapist with more than 30 years’ experience in special education, has joined colleagues with similar expertise on Tennessee’s new Dyslexia Advisory Council.

Created in July 2016 under Tennessee’s new Say Dyslexia law, the nine-member council is tasked with laying the groundwork for how the new law will roll out in districts throughout the state. Its three-year agenda includes defining dyslexia and intervention strategies, educating the public, and making a recommendation to the Board of Education.

The advisory council encompasses a broad spectrum of stakeholders, including educators, parents, and advocacy leaders with expertise in dyslexia.

“All students deserve the opportunity to succeed and receive the supports necessary to do so, regardless of learning differences,” Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen stated when announcing the council members. “This group of education leaders and advocates will bring insight and expertise as we discuss concrete ways we can strengthen our screening processes and interventions for students with dyslexia, ultimately preparing more students to be ready for the next step in their academic journeys.”

“It’s exciting to be part of something that really looks like it’s going to address a lot of needs for students with dyslexia, as well as get that information to educators and parents,” said Allison, who is also a member of the TN-IDA Board of Directors.

The Say Dyslexia bill, passed through the advocacy of the grassroots nonprofit organization Decoding Dyslexia Tennessee, amends and strengthens the state’s 2014 law. The legislation now requires school districts to screen students for characteristics of dyslexia, provide “dyslexia-specific tiered interventions” for students who demonstrate a need, and provide appropriate professional development resources for educators in the areas of identification and intervention methods for students with dyslexia.

The council will report on its work to increase dyslexia screening and identification, and the report will be shared with districts, stakeholders and the general assembly.

A noted expert in federal and state special education regulations, Allison has been invited to participate on numerous committees representing special education, intervention strategies, and literacy law.

She previously taught for 20 years in Tennessee public schools and then served for 11 years as the Lead Teacher for the Hamilton County Education Department prior to her retirement.

She co-founded the Southeast Reading Center in 2013 to reach struggling readers who lack foundational reading skills but don’t quite meet the criteria for a Response to Instruction and Intervention (RTI2) plan. The center also provides professional development workshops, seminars, and coaching to help educators increase their knowledge of multisensory structured language instruction.

“Tennessee IDA is happy to have Allison on our board representing the Chattanooga area, and now also sharing her expertise on a statewide level as a member of the Dyslexia Advisory Council,” said TN IDA President Emily Dempster, an ex-officio member of the new council. “She brings with her a wealth of knowledge and experience.”

On April 8, Allison was among the presenters at TN IDA’s 2017 RISE Conference. Joining educators from throughout the state, she presented on “Phonological and Phonemic Awareness in the Early Grades.”

While she and colleagues embark on the council’s groundbreaking work, Allison will continue to provide one-on-one instruction to students using the Wilson Reading System® (WRS). This is a good thing for the Chattanooga region, based on the notes of appreciation she receives from parents grateful for her ability to unlock the door to literacy for their children.

“My kid just got in trouble for reading in math class,” texted the father of one of Allison’s WRS middle school students. “Thank you so much!”