The International Dyslexia Association (IDA) has named Fairfield University’s director of Reading and Language Development, Jule McCombes-Tolis, PhD, as the organization’s new chief academic officer for Educator Training Initiatives.  McCombes-Tolis will continue to serve as director of the Reading and Language Development program at Fairfield as she takes on new responsibilities with the IDA.

The mission of the IDA is to support individuals who struggle with dyslexia and other related reading differences around the world. The 63-year-old organization provides current and reliable research to educate families and professionals about dyslexia, and to identify policy changes needed to deliver effective instruction to all students. 

Dr. McCombes-Tolis has been an advocate for student literacy growth throughout her career, including faculty positions at University of Saint Joseph (USJ) and Fairfield University. In addition to holding credentials in both special education and remedial reading, she has served families and school districts across the state of Connecticut – from Bloomfield to Norwalk – as an independent educational evaluator specializing in the identification and remediation of reading disorders. That dual expertise is essential, she explained, as she helps special and general education teachers better understand the literacy needs of diverse student populations.

“IDA’s Educator Training Initiative strives to ensure that all students have access to classroom teachers who are knowledgeable about the principles and practices of structured literacy, and that students who require additional practice — or who require individualized remediation — have access to nationally credentialed specialists who have proven, through their supervised clinical training experiences, that they are able to positively and meaningfully impact students’ reading outcomes,” said Dr. McCombes-Tolis.

The National Institutes of Health estimates that between six to 17 percent of school-age children have some form of dyslexia, although not all of those students have been identified by their schools.

“Dr. McCombes-Tolis brings not only her significant expertise, but also her visible passion for assuring that teachers across our country and globally have better tools to recognize, understand, and reach students with dyslexia and other reading differences,” said Rick Smith, chief executive officer of the IDA.

With academic degrees from the University of Connecticut (Ph.D.) and Southern Connecticut State University (Sixth-Year Degree) and university teaching experience at USJ prior to joining the faculty at Fairfield, McCombes-Tolis has provided expert testimony at the State Capitol, collaborating with the Commission on Children to advocate for policy geared toward reducing the achievement gap, and has served on several key state advisory panels.

In a previous interview, she emphasized, “all of my professional endeavors are focused on helping to ensure that future and current educators are provided with the necessary training and supports to serve the ever-changing needs of children, their families, and their communities.”

Recently, McCombes-Tolis partnered with Norwalk’s Superintendent of Schools (and former Hartford Superintendant) Steven Adamowski on a grant to develop a summer dyslexia training program in an effort to help the district meet their teacher training and student intervention needs in the area of dyslexia. The first cohort of six Brookside Elementary School teachers is receiving training needed to earn certifications with the IDA as dyslexia practitioners.  The educators are serving 12 students this summer and will continue to work with them over the course of the next school year. In addition, five Norwalk school psychologists will receive training by Fairfield University in how to diagnose dyslexia.

Earlier this month, Dr. McCombes-Tolis presented Fairfield University’s new Remedial Reading and Remedial Language Arts Certification program to the Connecticut State Board of Education, which received unanimous approval to award the certification as a stand-alone endorsement, and in the context of both a master’s degree and a sixth-year certificate.

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