This article originally appeared in The Beacon Fall 2019 issue.
Did you know that one in five students in the New York City public school system is dyslexic? Did you know that if you intervene with proper instruction by the second grade, it is much more manageable and economical to ensure children with dyslexia are reading at grade level? So, if 20% of the 1.1 million New York City public school population is dyslexic and early intervention is critical, why is every student not screened for dyslexia?
These are the questions that Assemblymember Robert C. Carroll has been posing to the New York State Assembly. Elected in November 2016 to represent the 44th District of New York, he has advocated for legislation that implements universal dyslexia screening of all kindergarteners and dedicates the resources necessary to provide effective teacher training.
“Many students with dyslexia are struggling with the same issues that I had in school,” said Robert, “and we know that a science-based, multisensory, phonics-based curriculum works to make sure every child can become a fluent reader. We have access to cheap and accurate screening methods to determine who is and who is not at risk for dyslexia, and many states have already adopted screening programs so early intervention can be provided for students who are dyslexic.
“Windward is a shining beacon of what a smart curriculum that is research-based can do for dyslexic children and that model should be exported around the globe,” he continued. “As an assemblymember, a goal of mine is to make sure not just the lucky few who get to go to Windward get a proper education, but all students in New York City are given an appropriate and free public education that they deserve.”
Windward is a shining beacon of what a smart curriculum that is research-based can do for dyslexic children and that model should be exported around the globe.”
In acknowledgment of his legislative work on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of dyslexic children throughout New York, Robert was named the inaugural recipient of The John J. Russell Award for Advocacy in Education in June. The award will be given annually at Windward’s graduation and recognition ceremony to an individual who has made an impact helping children with learning disabilities to reach their full potential with advocacy efforts in research, pedagogy, legislation, education, or business.
"As someone who is dyslexic and only learned to read because of The Windward School and the education foundation that it laid for me,” Robert said upon receiving the award, “I am committed to working every day as a legislator to make sure every student in every school gets the opportunities and the learning experiences that I received at Windward.”
Robert was diagnosed with dyslexia when he was in the first grade. He was a precocious and talkative child, answering questions when spoken to or called upon by his teachers, but he could not read at all and struggled mightily with basic spelling. His family realized he needed more personalized and direct instruction, so he transferred from P.S. 230, his local elementary school in Brooklyn, to The Gateway School, at that time located on the Upper East Side. Then, for middle school, Robert took the long bus ride from Brooklyn to Westchester each day to attend The Windward School.
“Windward saved my life and changed the trajectory of my academic career,” Robert said. “Without Windward teaching me the foundational academic skills that I needed to thrive, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
Following Windward, Robert attended Xaverian High School before moving on to SUNY Binghamton for his undergraduate degree in history and theatre. He then attended New York Law School, where he earned his JD. As an attorney, Robert specialized in contract law, election law, trusts and estates, and real estate law for three and a half years before being elected to public office. In addition to his practice, Robert simultaneously served as development director and fundraiser for an independent theatre company in Manhattan. One of his plays, The Believers, which he wrote during law school, was produced in the fall of 2014.
When the 44th District seat became vacant, Robert decided to run for the New York State legislature based on his desire to represent his home community and neighbors while helping to set public policy for Brooklyn and the state. Robert is a lifelong resident of Windsor Terrace and Kensington, part of his district that includes portions of the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Park Slope, Borough Park, Victorian Flatbush, Ditmas Park, and Midwood. “It’s very fulfilling to represent the neighborhoods I grew up in; it’s a great responsibility and a great honor as well,” he said.
Although seemingly disparate, Robert’s areas of study and practice—history, theatre, law, and politics—are all about understanding how people interact with one another in order to solve problems, he explained. This has always motivated him. Whether it was through portraying the emotions of a character on stage as an actor, mediating contract disputes as an attorney, or drafting laws to benefit his constituents as an assemblymember, Robert has drawn on his empathetic skills at every stage of his career.
Upon reflection, Robert noted the Windward connection to his academic and professional achievements. “I probably would never have gone to college and law school without having attended Windward,” he said. “Ever since I was young, I thought I might like to pursue theatre or politics, but those types of endeavors are next to impossible if you are not a strong reader or writer. That is why I am passionate about effectuating real change in the New York public education system through dyslexia screenings and specific curriculum interventions. All children deserve to get a great education so they can become fluent readers and pursue their dreams.”
“Every child deserves to get a great education so they can become a fluent reader and pursue their dreams.”
In addition to education, Robert adamantly supports green energy adoption, transparent election laws, and fair workers’ rights. He splits his time between his district office in Brooklyn and his capitol office in Albany. When he is in the borough, Robert may be found attending a parent-teacher association meeting at a local school, discussing the closing of a bus route with commuters, getting briefed by a local precinct on neighborhood crime rates, hearing constituent needs at a senior center, or speaking with the department of environmental conservation about green energy policy. While in Albany, he is busy drafting legislation, sitting on committee hearings, and collaborating with fellow assemblymembers on the issues that affect their districts.
Robert enjoys working with local leaders and concerned constituents of the 44th District. He encourages all young people, whether they are interested in a career in public service or not, to be active in their communities and to be attuned to local matters.
“I am a big believer in the phrase ‘think global, act local.’ You can see and effectuate change on the local level in big and powerful ways that affect people’s lives every day—be it making local schools better, making the environment healthier and more energy efficient, or making the criminal justice system more humane. We are desperately in need of insightful thinkers and people who can think outside of the box. Be legitimately sincere and generous with people, and you will always be performing a great public service for your community.”
To stay abreast of future New York State Assembly legislative developments concerning dyslexia screening and curriculum intervention, visit nyassembly.gov/mem/Robert-C-Carroll.
To view Robert speaking at Windward’s 2019 Dream Big event, visit bit.ly/dreambigcarroll.