In 1968, Speech and Language Therapist, Donna Aseltine, founded the Aseltine School for Special Needs Children, after noticing a lack of educational resources for these children in San Diego. Noting the immediacy of the needs of these students, Donna began Aseltine School in her own home, working with and utilizing the support of parents, friends, and local community leaders. In November of 68’, Aseltine School became recognized as a 501(c)(3) organization by the IRS.

Four years later, in 1972, the school moved to 4027 Normal Street—its current location—inhabiting a former parochial school. The new property allowed for Aseltine to serve more children due to its greater size, which consequently attracted more educators to seek out the school. The children that became Aseltine students finally had an opportunity to realize their potential, after struggling for so long in a traditional academic setting.

Marian Grant became the Executive Director of Aseltine in 1977, and with her tenure came an individualized curriculum that addressed students’ academic, physical, social, and emotional needs, along with a skilled and caring staff. Mrs. Grant realized that her staff and her program had a unique gift for helping students struggling with behavioral issues, and made every effort to help those in need.

Dr. Hayden Thomas succeeded Mrs. Grant as Executive Director of Aseltine, and in doing so he and his team built upon the dutiful work by Mrs. Grant. Their new program would focus on identifying and moving students well beyond the limitations of the “behavioral engineering” approach that had long dominated special education practices. Instead, this new, unprecedented program would hold students accountable for their decisions and actions—working with students as full partners in their learning process.

In 2014 Aseltine celebrated its 45th school year serving San Diego County’s struggling K-12 students. The institution’s commitment to its students, and its innovative program caused its reputation to grow, receiving praise from California Department of Education reviews, case managers, school districts, school psychologists, probation officers, state officials, parents, and others in the community. From its beginnings as a school for children with developmental disabilities, Aseltine has remained true to its mission of educating San Diego’s children whose educational needs cannot be met by the public school system.

Today, Aseltine’s inventive conflict resolution based educational model has made us San Diego’s school of choice for children who have both learning disabilities and a difficult time learning to control their behavior. Aseltine critically evaluates and inventively adapts our program to meet the changing needs and circumstances of our students, the education system, and society.


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