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Founded in 1983 during a time of growing concern about our nation’s educational climate, Chartwell School was the vision of two educators seeking new and innovative ways of teaching children with learning differences. Judy Lewis, an experienced educator and private tutor, and Nicki McMahan, an independent school administrator with a masters degree in elementary education, had long observed engaged and determined children struggling in school.

For these students, reading was extremely difficult, despite adequate teaching and support. Nicki’s daughter, Michel, fit that description. At the time, Nicki remembers, “dyslexia was an unfamiliar word and concept, and remediation was unheard of.” She and Judy, who tutored Michel, began searching for better educational solutions.

In 1982, Judy attended a conference on highly structured teaching to address dyslexia and followed that with three weeks of intensive training at the Charles Armstrong School in Belmont, a school specializing in education to help students with learning differences. Judy and Nicki recruited one of the Charles Armstrong master teachers, Jeff Allyn, to offer a summer program for six students in Carmel Valley. Seeing its success, they decided to open an independent, nonprofit school for the Central Coast. With a small board, eight students, and two teachers, they started as the Thomas Allyn School in Seaside (named in memory of Jeff’s brother). From there, the school continued to grow and evolve as learning disabilities became more readily diagnosed and families sought specialized education for their children.

From humble beginnings in Carmel Valley to today’s Platinum LEED-certified campus on 65-acres in Seaside, Chartwell’s mission has remained true to its founders’ vision - to provide targeted and direct instruction to empower students with the skills, strategies, tools and social-emotional mindset they need to thrive in college and beyond.

Today, with enrollment at 140 students, Chartwell stands as one of the most respected learning institutions of its kind. It has helped – and in many cases, saved—hundreds of children. Chartwell students have rediscovered their strengths, their confidence, and themselves.

Chartwell Milestones

1982 First summer school in Carmel Valley introduces new teaching methods for six students struggling in traditional classrooms

1983 Judy Lewis and Nicki McMahan open the Thomas Allyn School  

1985 Enrollment grows to 32 students and campus moves to a rented space on Imperial Street, Seaside

1985 First Teacher Training course held, offering resources to broader teaching community

1985 After participating in the summer training program, Judy Gaughf joins Chartwell, beginning her nearly 30 year tenure 

1986 School changes name to Chartwell School (see sidebar) 

1987 Patti Kirshner and Jim Kirshner join Chartwell faculty

1998 Chartwell faculty begin leading free Community Information Workshops about dyslexia and related topics open to the public, outreach that continues today

2001 Board begins search for permanent campus and acquires former Fort Ord land

2001 Nora Lee named Head of School

2004 Chartwell receives a $4 million challenge grant, the largest in its history, for Phase I of the new campus

2005 Chartwell celebrates ground-breaking for new campus

2006 The new campus at 2511 Numa Watson Rd. opens and welcomes 124 students 

2007 Chartwell receives Platinum LEED Certification from the U.S. Green Council for its environmentally sustainable campus

2009 The New High School Project opens with 15 students in grades 9 and 10

2010 The New High School Project adds grade 11

2011 U.S. Department of Education awards Chartwell an additional 29 acres of adjoining land for educational use

2012 The New High School Project graduates its first class of students

2017 Teacher Training Institute relaunches with expanded curriculum and experiential practicum 

2018 Chartwell partners with UCSF Dyslexia Center, a unique opportunity coupling the latest scientific discoveries in neuroscience with classroom-based intervention strategies

2019 170 teachers in the Hollister School District trained in structured literacy through TTI (over two-year period)

2020 Building 500 opens, expanding learning space for the High School and Teacher Training Institute

2021 January enrollment reaches the highest in the history of the school at 142 students

Chartwell School's Seaside Campus on Imperial Street

Judy Gaughf joined Chartwell in 1985 and retired in 2020. A master teacher and dedicated colleague, her contributions to Chartwell are beyond count.

McMahan Hall, the center of the new Numa Watson campus, opened in 2006

Board Chair Katrina Maestri (right), Head of School Kate Mulligan (left), and Contractor Derek Hanson (center) stand in front of Building 500 at its Opening Ceremony in October 2020.