National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools Announces Inaugural Eileen M. Ahearn Education Visionary Award

For Immediate Release
Contact:  Lisa Cohen, 310-395-2544,
September 9, 2019

Education Advocate Eileen Ahearn Honored for Her Foresight  and Commitment to Ensuring Students With Disabilities Have the Same Access to a High Quality Charter School Education as do Their Peers

Washington, DC – The National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools (the Center) announced that education advocate Eileen M. Ahearn will receive the inaugural Eileen M. Ahearn Education Visionary Award for her foresight and commitment to ensuring students with disabilities have the same access to a high quality charter school education as do their peers. 

In 1991, when the nation’s first charter school law passed in Minnesota, Eileen recognized that state charter school laws represented an opportunity for children with disabilities.  She also recognized that ensuring that all students would have access to these schools would be complicated, given that existing federal statutes never anticipated charter schools. As Project Director at the National Association of State Directors of Special Education (NASDE) when the first charter school laws were passed, Eileen had the foresight to help states and ensure that charter schools had what they needed to comply with their special education obligations.

Lauren Morando Rhim, Executive Director and Co-Founder of  the Center stated, “Eileen’s recognition of the challenges that might emerge at the intersection of federal civil rights laws and state charter school laws have resulted in more than 300,000 children with disabilities exercising choice in charter schools across the nation.  We are indebted to her vision and work, which created a foundation for the Center’sand we look forward to recognizing her achievements annually as we honor other leaders having an impact in this movement.” 

Paul O’Neill, Co-founder of the Center, added that “Eileen was the trailblazer, tirelessly insisting to all stakeholders that access, equity and academic success for students with disabilities in charter schools must be a priority.  She was right, and they listened.” 

Prior to leading NASDSE’s work advising states and charter schools, Ahearn had over 20 years of experience in Massachusetts as a teacher and administrator in general and special education, culminating in the position of Superintendent of Schools in a K- 12 district. She had also designed, implemented, and served for eight years as the Executive Director of a collaborative providing special education programs, staff development, transportation and business services to 13 public school districts in central Massachusetts.

About the Eileen M. Ahearn Education Visionary Award

The Eileen M. Ahearn Education Visionary Award was established in 2019 to honor an individual or organization that has made an outstanding contribution to ensure that students with disabilities who are interested in attending charter schools are able to access and thrive alongside their peers.  The award was established in honor of Eileen M. Ahearn, a visionary and committed education advocate who was instrumental in the founding of National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools and who was the first advocate to help states and charter schools comply with federal special education requirements.

About National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools

Co-founded by Lauren Morando Rhim and Paul O’Neill, the Center advocates for students with diverse learning needs to ensure that if they are interested in attending charter schools, they are able to access and thrive in schools designed to enable all students to succeed.