Notre Dame School of Dallas Celebrates 60 Years

O’Brien, named president in 2021, loves knowing students by name

Dr. Caroline O’Brien learned about the Notre Dame School of Dallas through her nephew, Luke, who attended. 

Now, as president, she’s leading the school, which serves students from 6 to 21 with developmental disabilities, as it celebrates its 60th anniversary.

“It’s the most joy-filled place. I really call it the happiest place on the planet … but not because it’s easy,” she said. “It transcends ZIP codes, it transcends ethnicity, it transcends faith. Every family or community’s affected by a child with a potential disability, and so to have this wonderful place — how do we help amplify it?”

The school, founded in 1963 by the School Sisters of Notre Dame, began in a two-classroom building serving 19 students. 

In 1973, Notre Dame added a vocational component for older students. Today, many of the school’s approximately 170 students travel to partner businesses and nonprofits for vocational training. Those nonprofit job and volunteer sites include the Frontiers of Flight Museum, Park Cities Presbyterian Church, the Ashford Rise School of Dallas, and more. Businesses partnering with the school include Dream Cafe, Fuzzy’s Taco Shop, and Sammy’s BBQ. 

The school’s been in its Uptown location in the 2000 block of Allen Street since 1989. 

The academic curriculum for all students emphasizes math, science, reading, social studies, language arts, music, PE, computer, and religion. The upper school also teaches independent living skills, job skills, and career exploration.

O’Brien, a Highland Park High School alumna now living in Preston Hollow, joined in 2021 after serving as executive director of reading-focused nonprofit Catch Up and Read and as a campus instructional coach in Dallas ISD. 

“The root is loving children and knowing that was what I was called to do – what filled my bucket,” she said. 

O’Brien said her participation in the HiLites community service group in Highland Park was another inspiration.

“That exposure to community service and knowing it’s not just the giving but what you get back made a difference,” she said. 

Since becoming president of the school, O’Brien has enjoyed getting to know the students and staff. 

“The most rewarding was — I thought — learning all the kids’ names,” she said. “The most rewarding was them saying my name back to me, that they know me by name, I know them by name.”

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Rachel Snyder

Rachel Snyder, former deputy editor at People Newspapers, joined the staff in 2019, returning to her native Dallas-Fort Worth after starting her career at community newspapers in Oklahoma. One of her stories won first place in its category in the Oklahoma Press Association’s Better Newspaper Contest in 2018. She’s a fan of puns and community journalism, not necessarily in that order.

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