Which Middle School for Learning Differences & Special Ed?

Parent Q&A

Private Middle School reco that does not test for admissions Oct 28, 2019 (1 responses below)
Middle School for a Teen with Learning Differences and OD? Oct 16, 2019 (1 responses below)
Middle School Advice for Exec Dysfunctional Kid with Anxiety Sep 1, 2017 (6 responses below)
Middle school for highly social gifted/LD kid Jul 22, 2017 (7 responses below)
Special Ed options for Middle School other than OUSD Jul 15, 2016 (6 responses below)
  • Hello my daughter has learning differences and I am looking for a mIddle school without the entrance test  in East Bay.

    Hi there -
    We went through this last year - also trying to avoid the official testing. Just for you to know: while there are several schools that don't require the test (like The Berkeley School and Black Pine Circle) they all do their own testing and evaluation on site. It always includes an academic, sit-down test.  Meaning - the more schools you apply to, the more tests your kid will have to take. So the decision is whether to take one very long test, or serveral, shorter tests on different dates.

    If you do the long test, you can ask for accommodations, but you need "official" diagnosis and need to get on it now. We made sure to speak openly about son's ADHD and what this meant for the academics, because we did not want to end up in a school that didn't have the resources/expertise to work with him. That did pay off. 

    Good luck! 

  • Hello. Does anyone know of a great school for an 8th grader who has Learning Differences? We have visited Big Minds, Tilden, Linda Moodbell and none of these seem like a good fit. We also visited Fusion, and the head of school was great, however, he insisted that if my son did not want to be there, there was no point in enrolling him. Looking for a place where people are willing to give my son a try, even if at the beginning he does not want to be there. My child has been traumatized by the public school system. He is funny, intelligent, and kind. 

    You should check out Mentoring Academy in Rockridge.  It is a very small and individualized college-prep high school, but they will take students in 8th grade if they feel like they can serve them.  They pride themselves on really getting to know each student (the entire school is 30 students) and figuring out what motivates each one.  My son has been really happy there.   www.mentoringacademy.org

  • What strategies have families used to help kids with executive dysfunction and/or anxiety manage the transition from elementary to a big middle school, with 7 different teachers and classrooms per day, and increased responsibilities? Or what private middle schools are recommended for a more "gentle" middle school experience (such as not changing classes every hour, limited homework policy, etc.)? Thanks in advance.

    Hi there - you might want to check out Raskob Institute. Our son who was diagnosed with ADD in 3rd grade just graduated middle school and is now on to high school! Class sizes are very small and they have to tools and teachers to work with different learning challenges. There are 2 teachers in every classroom, one of them a special ed teacher. Definitely a very gently experience even though they still change class rooms. However homework is very limited and with the home work club in place it was a very manageable experience. Wishing you good luck in your search! 

    This is a tough one.  I was in a similar situation with my child a number of years ago, although my child also has ADHD.  I tried many, many, different strategies.  Some worked, some worked for a while, some didn't work at all.  And, different kids respond differently to the various strategies, a lot has to do with temperament of both child and those supporting the child.  In general, it is very difficult to get solid support for EF challenges. A couple of suggestions:

    Start by reading "Smart but Scattered". 

    If you have not yet had a neuro-educational assessment with recommendations done, consider doing so with a reputable, independent agency.  In my experience, this is much better than having the school assess.  Morrissey-Compton on the Peninsula is excellent.  I am not familiar with such resources in the East Bay, but if you call M-C they might be able to make a referral.

    On the home front: Put in place systems to support your child.  Get ideas from the assessment report recommendations, the book I suggested, and other sources you trust.  Consider finding a good academic coach (different than a tutor who typically addresses academic subject content) if you think your child will resist working with you or if you are not up to or able to take on the task.

    Get a good therapist involved, and if it makes sense, consider anti-anxiety medication.  As kids get older, anxiety can present as anger, often intense anger, particularly if your child is a boy.  If your child is very bright, it's important to find someone who is knowledgeable of both anxiety and giftedness - they often go hand-in-hand.

    On the school front: Once you have the assessment report and recommendations, and if your child is settled in middle school and you are seeing problems, or the teacher(s) is/are noticing problems, consider putting the wheels in motion with the school to get accommodations.  Start by requesting an SST (Student Study Team) meeting.  Do your research on 504 and IEP plans.  Different schools are more or less receptive to 504 and IEP plans.  Decide if it makes sense for your child given your child's school.  Even though my child was no where near meeting potential, the school was reluctant to grant an IEP because my child hadn't failed a grade and was managing to just get by year to year.  Other schools are more supportive of bright but struggling students.

    Take care of yourself, you may be in this for a long haul.  Hopefully your path will be straight-forward.  Mine has been very difficult.  After all else has failed, my teenager has moved to a boarding school that has a strong program in place to support such types of students.  We are hopeful.

    Good luck on your journey.

    My situation is similar to the long response you received on 9/4, with the exception that my child has major depressive disorder and social phobia (anxiety). It wasn't until I paid for a neuropsych by East Bay Family Institute, http://eastbayfamilyinstitute.com, that she was properly diagnosed. The consultation with the testing technician was invaluable! After being hospitalized for severe depression the school finally agreed to assess her. The school district psychologist reached the same conclusions that East Bay Family Institute had reached. Then my child was finally given an IEP (Individualized Education Program). My child is finally thriving and getting the resources and accommodations she needs to excel.

    Best of luck to you.

  • My kid is entering the 5th grade at a small private school. She has struggled with writing and rote memorization and has received support/handholding but no remediation at the school. Her learning needs evidently run counter to the progressive educational model  so she has floundered and required alot of outside help we can no longer afford .We got her tested by the school district and since she did not bomb the testing, but still met criteria for LD, she was denied services. We have run out of money given we have other kids who need to be educated too.

    She has to take the ISEE this fall to get into private middle school. She is saying no way will she even attempt the essay portion of the test-even if she is allowed extra time and a computer. So, we have a kid with a 99th%ile IQ who has to be literally walked through sentence by sentence to write a paragraph and still has not memorized multiplication tables, but is advanced in math reasoning and is highly verbal.

    I'm  feeling very stuck and hopeless about our kid's education and what to do about middle school. Homeschool is out- I work and my kid is very strong willed and would not learn from parents. She would crash and burn in a public school classroom and is refusing to do the ISEE if she has to write. Luckily she is socially and emotionally well-adjusted, and knows she's smart, but can't find a learning environment that will do the remediation. We can't afford both private school and private remediation and without significant support in the classroom, there's no way she could function in a large class. Help!

    This sounds difficult. Are there really two issues? 1) child has LD not currently addressed by school she's in, and you anticipate the differences only growing/intensifying into middle school, and 2) you can't afford to supplement given private school cost. There may not be a silver bullet here. One approach is to move her to public school ASAP, so you are saving money on tuition that then could be applied to outside services, if the public school denies her in-school services (not sure of the backstory there from your post, but obviously public school districts are required to provide services to children who qualify for an IEP - perhaps your child doesn't quite meet their standard for services). If her social skills are good, like you say, she can weather this transition and hopefully not "crash and burn" especially if she's motivated - understands her situation, that she has differences, and this is one approach to help her work through them. The IEP process has a steep learning curve, so I realize it's daunting, but  I love that my son is getting the services he needs in school, for free.

    If you are open to a private school that is different than the rest, you should check out Big Minds Unschool in Pinole. It is a school specifically for children like your daughter - those who are both gifted but have a learning disability or other challenge that makes conventional school very difficult.  Our son started attending the school last year and it has been a huge relief in many ways for him and for my husband and I knowing he is in a place where he is accepted and supported. Families are traveling from Oakland, Berkeley, Vallejo, Pleasanton and more because it is such a unique and caring school! 

    Homeschool is not sitting at the kitchen table teaching your kid.  Especially not in the bay area.  There are loads of classes and micro schools she could attend while you worked.  Single parents do it, working parents do it.  You might look at Baywood, also look up Jade Rivera as well as Melanie Hayes of Big Minds.  There's also a gifted co-op in Alameda.  That said, I know kids with severe dyslexia who did the ISEE and got into great schools.  

  • Does anyone know of a good public MS and/or HS that has a good program for LD children? I have two children with LD and they are both struggling in the public school system. I can't afford to send them to a private school. 

    This is what Ive learned.

    As our kids mature, it is important to have current comprehensive testing, whose responsibility belongs to your school district. So you need to advocate strongly that your district perform testing on your children to understand the degree of disability and the best practice to intervene. You may need an educational advocate to help you with this process, and you can find a list of advocates through DREDF. We used Toby Adams, toby.adams [at] gmail.com with great results.  

    There are great NPS and Public Charters schools in the Bay Area like Orion Academy, Phillips Academy, and Realm Charter School, who are stakeholders committed to equity education. Our experience at BUSD was less than satisfactory.

    Hi there! I'm sorry for your struggle. As the parent of a LD child in a private school my experience is while some have (limited) resource departments, they are not really equipped (or meant) to fully remediate your child, especially if their LD's are moderate to severe. So 'private school' per se is not necessarily an answer (unless you mean schools ONLY for LD students). I would suggest the route of hiring an Ed Therapist to work with your children as often as you can afford in conjunction with their regular school. I can't speak to the IEP process but assume you have gone that route as well. Wishing you and your kids all the best!

    I totally feel your pain... my daughter is in 10th grade and has ADHD.  I haven't been able to find any good public schools that handle LD's well, and I also think that private schools aren't necessarily the answer either.  I actually just took my daughter out of her high school and she's going to do K12 public school online with a tutor.

    I highly recommend Educational Therapist Amy Cheifetz who has been extremely empowering for my daughter and me.  She's amazing and would be a good resource for you.   Amy's contact info is (510) 207-2995.  She completely changed our lives for the better and I can't say enough how awesome she is.  Good luck!

  • Our child needs therapeutic and pull out support for behavioral and learning challenges. We're looking at middle schools outside of Oakland. We think we might be priced out of the schools that might work best, but are checking here in case folks have some advice/options we haven't thought about. Maybe Concord? San Leandro? Castro Valley?

    5th grade experience was at a great school community - strong principal, excellent therapist team, thoughtful assessments.  But OUSD repeatedly did not evaluate and update our child's progress, did not follow up with IEPs, missed important areas we needed addressed. There were major and chronic deficits in the resourcing and training of "mainstream" faculty on effective practices communicating with special ed staff and supporting our child's needs. There was a constant battle to get assignments recorded and shared clearly and bringing our child along clearly and adequately only happened 50% of the time.  Most students who had challenges were physically separated from the school population even for many all-school events. 

    6th grade, middle school, was better with more experienced (though even less resourced) special ed staff and therapy. Excellent site leadership in so many ways.  But the school is likely best for folks who are primarily Spanish speakers and the parent and student culture relies on this (so awesome for some, but not a great fit for us as it played out). Our child is most interested in choir, band, theater, etc. and those programs are only sporadically offered. After school program was poorly supervised with constant turnover and could really only work for the kids who are most socially capable. We were the only QTBLG family which was not ideal, but relatively minor in most ways.

    Leaving this school and still staying in OUSD isn't really an option. Middle schools options for the therapeutic support we need are extremely limited. 

    For 7th grade, we are open to the idea of selling our house, moving, renting, really getting into a place with more opportunities and resources. This will mean more commuting, possibly considerably smaller housing, etc.  We've been considering other states with stronger special ed resources (there are many) and middle schools where there are arts programs, therapy, and less turnover at the top (OUSD is in a total churn there). But we increasingly think we may need to stay. 

    Have others been in this position?  Are you happy with the special ed services in your non-OUSD district? 

    It looks like we'd be priced out of Alameda, Berkeley, Albany, (the usual suspects).
    We haven't found private schools that have the support we need.
    We expect to be fully mainstreamed in the next year so special ed - only schools aren't the best fit either.

    Here's what we are hoping for:

    Daily on-site therapy for students with behavioral challenges. (Rare in Oakland middle schools but we see this district-wide in other states.)
    Strong experienced team that is used to communicating about IEPs, assignments, between special ed team and mainstream faculty.
    A parent-involved school culture that includes regular communications about ways to be involved and connect families.
    QTLBG, racial, income diversity. 
    Trauma-responsive counseling.

    Thanks for any thoughts or resources. 

    My son goes to Core Academy Jr High in WC. It is a school that specializes in identifying your child's learning style and teaching them how they need to learn. It is not a traditional school but my son has done very well in this small learning environment. Www.coreacademy.net

    Check out The Phillips Academy in Alameda--a nonpublic school--paid for by your school district. All students have IEPs, highly therapeutic environment with full time therapists on staff. I worked there for 20 years--recently retired. You may have to fight with your school district to get your child placed but we have many Oakland students. Very LGBT friendly and supportive. Call director Dr. Esther Cohen 510-864-3503. Tell her Helen sent you. Good luck!!

    A parent had similar problems with BUSD. Since you mention moving as an option-- when she moved to Santa Cruz, she found that the schools provided more of what her child needed. I will introduce you via e-mail. I am sure she would be happy to share info. You can contact me via my BPN username.

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Middle School for Learning-Disabled 5th grade Student

Nov 2015

Our daughter has been diagnosed with a significant executive function / working memory deficit. She now attends 5th grade in a small private school in the East Bay where she is allowed a part-time aide for core academic work. For middle school, we were advised to switch her to a school that can offer a more individualized curriculum to suit her needs. Our daughter does not have any socio-emotional adjustment issues. So we are looking for a school that specializes in academic disabilities. In the East Bay, Raskob in Oakland and Springstone in Lafayette were recommended to us. Any feedback about these schools would be greatly appreciated. Our understanding is that Springstone used to cater mainly to students with Asperger's spectrum disorder. But apparently, the administration is changing course and focusing more on pure academic disabilities. Is this true? (The Sterne School and Star Academy are the other options. But transportation to/from our home in Oakland is a major factor for us to rule out these two schools.) Thank you for your advice!

My son is at Star Academy. They have a van! For most kids it's door to door or close. There are a lot of east bay kids there, so it's probably worth keeping on your list. Star parent

School for intelligent child with learning issues

Sept 2007

We're looking for a middle school for our child who has some learning issues. He's very smart but has mild ADHD. Does anyone have any recs? Searching for a school


Sterne School 6-12 San Francisco

Looking for an LD School for Middle/High School

Feb 2007

I am looking for a good LD school for my son with dyslexia. I was told to consider Charles Armstrong School in Belmont. Does anyone know anything about Charles Armstrong School? Can anyone recommend any other good LD Schools for Bay Area? Chris

There's a new high school in Oakland Bayhills which I understand has sprung from Raskob Day school. Depending on your child's needs there's Springstone (middle and high school) in Lafayette and Orion (high school) in Moraga. Best wishes

Charles Armstrong has a great middle school. However, commuting from the east bay can be exhausting. Feel free to call the school, and ask to speak to east bay parents. There are several that go there each year. anon

Special Ed Program for 11-y-o with ''Emotional Disturbance''

May 2006

I am currently negotiating with the school district regarding a placement for my 11 year old son who has an IEP based on ''Severe Emotional Disturbance''. Over the past 3 years he has tried and failed to make it at a charter school, a public elementary, and an excellent private middle school. He was just recently asked to leave the private school, despite all of their and our best efforts to make it work, and I'm now looking towards next year, 7th grade. At this time I am realizing that he probably needs to be in a special day class. However, I am not at all satisfied with the placement the district has made, and I'd like to explore alternatives. Which brings me to my question: Does anyone have experience with/knowledge of either public or private therapeutic school programs? He does not have a learning or developmental disability, so that disqualifies him from several school programs I know of. The program really needs to be specifically for emotional/mental illness, and he also needs an intellectually stimulating environment as he's very bright. We are in WCCUSD, but I would move anywhere (anywhere!) for the right school, and I am prepared to fight hard to get the district to pay for a private placement, if that is what's needed. Any suggestions/feedback would be much appreciated. Thank you.

I highly recommend Children's Learning Center (CLC), which is a private school for learning disabilities in Alameda. (click for full review)

School for slow learning 7th grader

Aug. 2004

Hi, We have a daughter who definitely has some info processing issues (but of course if brilliant in many other ways). She was tested in 5th grade but her situation got caught up in a battle between her teacher and prinicipal and they said that she did not qualify for any special ed. She had a horrible year and was at the cracking point by the end of the year. We homeschooled her last year and while she picked up some things really well and became much more socially adept, etc., she is still finding it hard to remember what order the months come in. She is ADAMANT that she wants to go to school this year and wear new clothes and backpack, etc. We are really worried about her. I am not interested in any info on homeschoooling vs traditional school but I would like any referrals of schools (We are in the South East Bay), programs, consultants, etc to help make this Jr High experience good for her. She already is very defensive about school and has low esteem around it (since 2nd grade), so.... Thanks for any advice Anon

I would invite you to visit our website at www.cedu.com and look at Boulder Creek Academy. It is specifically designed for adolescents with specicial needs academically as well as the emotional needs which often follow. If you need additional information on other schools or referrals of educational consultants who can help with these issues-- please call me. Sharon Kyle-Kuhn 831-688-4434. I am the area director for CEDU and may can provide information regarding other schools as well. In addition, I work with many ed consultants in the bay area and would be happy to share their names and phone numbers. sharon kyle-kuhn


Need to get 13yo assessed for learning disorder

April 2003

I am considering taking my 13 year old son for assessment for learning style. His grades are poor -- not a new development. I took him to counseling for many years -- but nothing changed. First counselor told me he was in ''psychic pain.'' That was for four years. Then I obtained a referral from my pediatritian for a second opinion. The second counselor said there was nothing wrong with him. (Actually -- it turns out there is no such thing as a second opinion in counseling). First counselor was quite put out about second opinion. It was considered changing counselors.

Anyway, my son's siblings do well in school. He is a middle child. The school won't test for anything unless the performance is two grades below the norm. Any information on insurance and learning assessment will be helpful. Also, son is tired of counseling and doesn't want to go back. Anonymous

I am a special education advocate, a volunteer with the East Bay Learning Disabilities Association, and the guardian of a teenager with LD.

The school district gave you incorrect information. If you put your request for an assessment in writing, they have 15 days to provide you with an assessment plan for your review and consent. You can ask for very specific types of assessments, such as a neuropsychological evaluation. After you sign the assessment plan (you have 15 days to do so), they have 50 days to complete the assessment & hold an IEP meeting (that's calendar days, not including school vacation in excess of 5 days). If you feel that the assessment performed by the district is innaccurate or incomplete, or that it wrongly classifies your child, you may be entitled to seek an independent evaluation at public expense.