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In support of kids who learn differently

Steve Wilkins (left), head of school at the Carroll School, with students Dallas Rachal of Newton and Jake Lunder of Weston and Suffolk Construction CEO John Fish at the opening of the Fish Center at the school’s Wayland campus.
Cindy M. Loo
Steve Wilkins (left), head of school at the Carroll School, with students Dallas Rachal of Newton and Jake Lunder of Weston and Suffolk Construction CEO John Fish at the opening of the Fish Center at the school’s Wayland campus.

John Fish, chairman and chief executive of Boston-based Suffolk Construction, understands what it means to learn differently.

Because of dyslexia, Fish says he spells poorly, his handwriting is difficult to read, and he must rely on assistants to help with daily business tasks that others take for granted. Yet, the learning disorder has also gifted him with a high degree of curiosity, a thirst for education and learning, and other strengths.

“I don’t deny my weaknesses,” Fish said, “but for me, the ability to look at things abstractly is a tremendous asset.”

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After struggling in school prior to his diagnosis in the fifth grade, Fish thrived at Tabor Academy in Marion with the support of educators who assessed his effort in the classroom rather than standardized tests. He was then accepted early decision to Bowdoin College, a respected liberal arts college in Maine that does not require SAT scores.

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To extend the same positive academic experience to local students with dyslexia, Fish and his wife, Cyndy, sold their 11-acre property in Wayland last year for an amount substantially less than the purchase price and market value to Carroll School. The institution serves boys and girls in grades 1 through 9 with language-based learning difficulties at campuses in Lincoln and Waltham.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony was recently held for the Fish Center, the new home of Carroll’s Upper School. The property includes regulation-size athletic fields and expanded classroom, lab, and common space for eighth- and ninth-graders.

As parents of a former Carroll student, Fish says the decision to support the institution reflects their personal commitment to helping those who learn differently to “realize their true potential and pursue their most ambitious dreams.” Equally important, he adds, is recognizing that students with dyslexia often excel in the arts, technology, athletics, and other areas that may be considered “extras” at traditional schools.

“It’s not typically mainstream for people to want to invest their time and resources in a school like Carroll,” said Fish, who sits on numerous university, hospital, and nonprofit boards. “I’m the luckiest person in the world to have this opportunity to give back and support its great work.”

Cindy Cantrell

Cindy Cantrell can be reached at cindycantrell20@gmail.com.