Charles Armstrong School (CAS) first opened its doors in 1968 to eighteen dyslexic children in the second, third and fourth grades. The school was housed in a renovated single dwelling home on University Drive in the downtown area of Menlo Park, and consisted of three classrooms and a business office.
While the Charles Armstrong School formally began over 40 years ago, its roots may be traced to two occurrences some years before. In 1960, a group of concerned Bay Area parents first gathered to discuss a puzzling phenomenon – the fact that their intelligent, motivated, and healthy children were unable to learn how to read. This group of parents began to meet in an attempt to find solutions to their children’s learning problems. They found that pediatricians were often helpful in diagnosing the condition, but were unable to suggest how the learning difficulties might be overcome.
In an otherwise unrelated event, Charles D. Armstrong, physician and founder of the Menlo Medical Clinic passed away in 1962 at the age of 44. Eager to perpetuate the memory of a community leader whose brilliant career was suddenly cut short, friends and patients of Dr. Armstrong established The Charles Armstrong Memorial Foundation dedicated to “improving the well being of the community by applying today’s knowledge to today’s problems.”
The plight of children with dyslexia was brought to the attention of the Foundation by the group of concerned and active Bay Area parents. The directors of The Armstrong Foundation were impressed by the importance and prevalence of the problem, and formed a committee led by director Wilbur E. Mattison, Jr., M.D., a colleague of Dr. Armstrong’s at the Menlo Medical Clinic, to survey the needs of Bay Area children with “specific language disability.” The Armstrong Foundation sponsored several symposia inviting medical and educational experts from around the nation to examine the nature of dyslexia, how it could be recognized, and most revolutionary at the time – what could be done about it. One symposium in 1966 drew over one thousand parents, teachers, school administrators, physicians, and psychologists to listen to a panel discussion about this invisible disability and new teaching techniques that would enable the dyslexic learner to read.
It is thanks to Dr. Wilbur Mattison, The Armstrong Memorial Foundation, and the tireless group of dedicated parents that CAS was born. Dr. Mattison, a familiar face around the school, is Chairman Emeritus of the CAS Board of Trustees, having served as its President for over 30 years. He has been instrumental in the school’s evolution from its beginnings in a small home in Menlo Park to its current location in Belmont, and its reputation as a nationally recognized school for the dyslexic learner.
Initially the Charles Armstrong School’s academic program focused only on improving language skills, with the intent that after two or three years in the school, students would be equipped to re-enter a public or private school successfully. Later, the school added a full academic program and extracurricular activities.
The school moved several times before purchasing the former McDougal Elementary School in Belmont, California, where it currently resides since 1984. At one time CAS included a high school, but later returned to offering only the elementary and middle school. CAS has educated over 3,000 students during its history.