Alice Ann Koontz, an acknowledged expert in the field of dyslexic education who also played a key role in establishing programs at the Jemicy School in Owings Mills, died Friday of cancer at her Roland Park home. She was 82.
Ms. Koontz, the daughter of Arthur B. Koontz, a lawyer and prominent Democrat who was a West Virginia gubernatorial candidate in 1920, and Mary Watson Sipe Koontz, a homemaker, was born in Charleston, W.Va., and raised at Burkewood, her family's estate overlooking the Kanawha River.
After graduating from the National Cathedral School in Washington, she attended the University of Rochester's Eastman School of Music.
Ms. Koontz earned a bachelor's degree from Adelphi College in Garden City, N.Y., and a master's degree in education from the University of Denver. She also took doctoral courses at East Texas State University.
At an early age, she expressed an interest in the arts. She had worked as education director at the Children's Museum in Charleston, acted with the Kanawah Players and was drama director at Perry-Mansfield Camp in Steamboat Springs, Colo.
Ms. Koontz began her teaching career in Denver public schools. From 1954 to 1956, she taught in the American Dependent Schools in Japan before teaching in Berlin for two years.
She subsequently held teaching positions in public schools in Charleston and Santa Barbara, Calif., and at Laguna Blanca School, a private school in Santa Barbara.
"Education became the vehicle for Alice to move around the globe, sharing her ideas and giving wings to students and teachers," said Mark Westervelt, assistant head of Jemicy School and Ms. Koontz's housemate.
In the field of dyslexia, Ms. Koontz was influenced by such experts as Margaret Rawson, June Orton and Sally Childs, "only to become an icon in her own right," Mr. Westervelt said.
"As with many influential educators, she would conceive or borrow an idea and build it into a teaching platform," wrote Rogers Saunders, a prominent psychologist and colleague who had been a pioneer in treating dyslexia in Baltimore for more than 40 years.
Ms. Koontz moved to Baltimore in 1974, a year after Jemicy School, then called The School at Jemicy Farm, had opened its doors to children with dyslexia, and joined its faculty.
Ms. Koontz knew that in addition to having difficulty reading, children with dyslexia experience handwriting problems.
"Handwriting problems are almost inherent," Ms. Koontz told The Baltimore Sun in a 1999 interview.
"When our kids start managing the pencil, they often have directional difficulty. Where to put the pencil down on the paper is sometimes a mystery to them. With cursive, they always start at the same place, on the line, and they know which direction to go."
Her classroom work turned to mentoring and training teachers to recognize and manage the dyslexic child. As an adjunct professor at the Johns Hopkins University and Loyola University Maryland, she engaged graduate-level professionals, exposing them to new methodologies and creative delivery.
"Alice's understanding of multisensory instruction spawned numerous hands-on activities, games and a reader series, 'Hook Books,' for young, dyslexic students," Mr. Westervelt said.
Ms. Koontz, who also was on the faculty at the Odyssey School, enjoyed the successes of teachers and children using her theories and materials.
For her work, she was awarded the Samuel T. Orton Award in 1985 from the International Dyslexia Association. She was also honored by the Orton-Gillingham Academy, the Dyslexic Tutoring Program, Alphabetic Phonics and the Texas Scottish Rite Society.
"She was a pioneer in working with students with learning disabilities long before people engaged in this work," state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick said Wednesday. "She helped them achieve accordingly and realize their potential."
Dr. Grasmick recalled visiting her classroom.
"When I observed her working with the children, she so captured their interests," she said. "Her work impacted the lives of hundreds and hundreds of students that otherwise wouldn't have been successful in life."
Dr. Grasmick added: "She really will be missed. Her legacy lies in schools like Jemicy and Odyssey."
Ms. Koontz's home, which became known as "Alice's Palace" and "The International House of Alice," was always "open to educators, knowledge seekers, storytellers, political refuges, gourmet cooks and visiting clientele from around the world," Mr. Westervelt said.
Guests who signed her guest book received a souvenir T-shirt that said, "I Slept at Alice's Palace."
She also enjoyed entertaining her guests by playing her Steinway spinet.
Ms. Koontz was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 2002.
"The irony of such a prolific language instructor losing her speech and facility with language saddened many," Mr. Westervelt said.
Ms. Koontz was a communicant of the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, 5603 N. Charles St., where services will be held at 11 a.m. Jan. 30. A memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. April 10 at Jemicy School, 11 Celadon Road, Owings Mills.
Ms. Koontz is survived by a sister, Mary Watson Ragland of Charleston; and a niece and nephew.