Dallas Academy’s rich and colorful history dates back to Dallas in the 1960’s. At this time, very few educational opportunities were available for students who had learning challenges. In 1965, Wallace and Dorothy Savage were experiencing first-hand the void of viable school options for their daughter, Dotsy. The Savages wanted a school for Dotsy, who was born deaf and with learning challenges, that would be nurturing as well as help push her to reach her fullest academic potential. Wallace served as the mayor of Dallas from 1949-1951 and was a successful businessman, lawyer, and war hero. Dorothy was an acclaimed Dallas preservationist and founded the Historic Preservation League, Inc. of Dallas. The Savages utilized their numerous connections to create their own school that would serve Dotsy as well as other students with similar needs. They called their school Plano Academy for the Achievement of Human Potential and it was established as a department within the University of Plano. Word quickly spread about an exciting new school on Pearl Street in downtown Dallas that was experimenting with a variety of innovative teaching methods. Students of all ages from all around the world flocked to Dallas Academy to receive its specialized education, many living with foster families and in dormitories. Just two short years after its creation, a booming Plano Academy obtained its own charter from the Secretary of the State of Texas and ended its affiliation with the University of Plano. The school was then renamed Dallas Academy.
At the same time that Dallas Academy was gaining national recognition, Dallas was becoming a world leader in dyslexia research and training due, in part, to the creation of The Center for Dyslexia and Learning Disorders at Texas Scottish Rite Hospital developed by pediatric neurologist Dr. Lucius “Luke” Waites. In 1968, the World Federation of Neurology met at Scottish Rite Hospital and formulated the first consensus definition of developmental dyslexia.
The 1970’s were a time of great changes for the young school. In 1972, Dallas Academy relocated its campus to Oak Lawn Avenue and soon reached an all-time high enrollment of 135 students. The success was short lived however when, in 1975, Congress passed the Education of All Handicapped Children Act, or Public Law 94-142. The new law provided the right of school-aged students with disabilities access to “free appropriate public education” and required that all public schools provide services for students with learning differences. Because of this law, many of Dallas Academy’s students transferred to their neighborhood public schools and enrollment declined to forty students. Dallas Academy saw this loss as an opportunity to modify its mission to work exclusively with bright students with learning differences in the seventh through twelfth grades who were falling through the cracks in public and competitive private schools. Knowing the need for a fresh start, Will Caruth, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, helped secure the purchase of St. John’s Episcopal Church for $150,000 on the corner of Buckner Boulevard and Lake Highlands Drive. Dallas Academy was now a proud member of the east Dallas community and looked toward the future.
Signs of growth took place throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s. Dallas Academy completed its first accreditation process in 1980 thanks to the dedication of Headmistress Pat Shaughnessy. Jim Richardson then succeeded Wallace Savage, Bettye Pope, Margaret Kraeger, Pat Shaughnessy, and Sue Hill in 1983 to become the sixth Headmaster of Dallas Academy. Jim brought to campus a vision of growth, an abundance of enthusiasm, and a can-do attitude. Dallas Academy quickly established its athletic program and expanded student extracurricular opportunities. With the desire to focus on better serving local students, the Board of Trustees decided to close its dormitories in 1985. In 1986, E.C. “Doc” Harrell, the “Father of Lakewood,” and wife Ruth Sanderson Harrell left a quarter of their estate as well as oil and gas mineral rights to Dallas Academy which created an endowment fund and helped pay for a major campus renovation. In 1992, enrollment surpassed 100 students for the first time since the passing of Public Law 94-142. A generous donation from John R. Albers, member of the Board of Trustees and former chairman and CEO of Dr. Pepper/Seven-Up Companies, Inc., paid for a gymnasium in 1997. Under the leadership of Joe Lancaster, member of the Board of Trustees, Dallas Academy then purchased four houses on Buckner Boulevard to lay the groundwork for future expansion. In addition to the growth of campus, opportunities continued to increase for students. A football team was added, the baseball team won the first district title for Dallas Academy, performing arts students put on the first annual holiday musical, and the school’s yearbook The Legend received national praise.
The last decade of Dallas Academy’s story brought about the most changes and growth. In 2005, Dallas Academy merged with The Lattner School of Richardson, named after benefactor Forrest C. Lattner, and expanded enrollment to serve students in the first through twelfth grades. To build a bigger and better Dallas Academy and to better serve its new population, Dallas Academy kicked off the Expand the Possibilities! Capital Campaign thanks to a 1.5 million dollar donation from Jim and Geneva Donald. After years of planning and fundraising, Dallas Academy dedicated a new campus designed by architects Good Fulton & Farrell in 2008. The two-story addition of 22,900 square feet included a new library, cafeteria, science labs, administrative office suite, classrooms, and writing and technology labs. The existing building was also renovated to accommodate the lower school. Good Fulton & Farrell won recognition from the AIA for the project. The beautiful new facility helped enrollment increase to 200 students from 69 zip codes throughout the Metroplex. In 2013, Jim Richardson celebrated his 30th anniversary as Headmaster of Dallas Academy, becoming one of the longest tenured headmasters of any private school in Texas. Dallas Academy celebrated its 50th anniversary in the 2015/2016 school year and gained the distinction of being the oldest school in the State of Texas to serve students with learning differences. In the summer of 2017, Dr. John Hill succeeded Jim Richardson to become the seventh headmaster of Dallas Academy.
This milestone would not have been reached if it were not for the countless individuals who have shaped Dallas Academy and made it possible for thousands of deserving children to reach their fullest potential and turn promise into reality.
- To the pioneers of Dallas Academy who envisioned a school where students with learning differences would be treated with dignity and respect.
- To the faculty and staff members who have dedicated their lives to serving the mission of Dallas Academy.
- To the generous individuals and foundations who have helped our children’s dreams come true.
- To the members of the Board of Trustees who ensure Dallas Academy’s continued success and well-being long into the future.