Jun 03
CLE Ahearn Blog Post Graphic

A Legacy of Impact

As we celebrate our 10th Anniversary, the Center for Learner Equity (CLE) recognizes the legacy of Eileen M. Ahearn, a dedicated advocate for students with disabilities. Eileen’s foresight and commitment to ensuring students with disabilities have equitable access to high-quality charter school education as their peers is the foundation for the work at CLE. In 2019, CLE created the Eileen M. Ahearn Education Visionary Award to honor Eileen’s impact and recognize individuals who have built upon her legacy. Individuals selected for this award have made outstanding contributions to ensuring that students with disabilities are able to access and thrive alongside their peers in inclusive educational environments, charter or otherwise.

CLE is proud to announce that Paul O’Neill, CLE’s co-founder and Senior Fellow Emeritus, is the recipient of the 2024 Eileen M. Ahearn Education Visionary Award. Paul’s contributions to special education and charter schools align seamlessly with Eileen’s vision and legacy. His commitment to creating a nonprofit organization dedicated to boldly challenging systemic barriers for students with disabilities has been integral to CLE’s success over the past 10 years, success that translates directly into improved access and educational outcomes for diverse learners in charter schools and beyond. Paul is an education attorney, professor, and author with extensive experience guiding education organizations through challenges and growth. Paul helped found charter schools in the South Bronx, Brooklyn, Washington D.C., and New Orleans. His leadership is reflected in the impactful work CLE performs through research, policy analysis, coalition building, advocacy, and technical assistance to various nationwide stakeholders.

According to research from the Civil Rights Data Collection completed by the U.S. Department of Education, more than 418,000 students with disabilities had access to charter school education during the 2020-2021 academic school year alone, with countless more students positively impacted since this critical work began. During this celebratory time, it is critical that CLE recognize the visionary leaders who paved the way for our ongoing work. Paul O’Neill’s commitment, dedication, grit, and vision are woven into CLE as an organization and our ongoing work. His efforts to advance the interests of students with disabilities reflect the legacy of Eileen M. Ahearn, demonstrating our commitment to equitable access, inclusion, and positive learning outcomes for all students.

“I am truly honored to receive this award,” said Paul O’Neill. “Eileen Ahearn’s vision has been a guiding force throughout my career. This award is a testament to the progress we’ve made. Still, it also serves as a reminder of the work that remains to ensure that every student, regardless of ability, has access to quality education.” We are grateful for Paul’s ongoing partnership and the opportunity to honor his life’s work with the 2024 Eileen M. Ahearn Education Visionary Award.

As CLE continues into the next ten years and beyond, we hope to exemplify the vision held by Eileen M. Ahearn and Paul O’Neill as we execute our mission of catalyzing student success and eradicating the complex, pervasive, and systematic barriers that prevent students with disabilities from accessing quality educational opportunities and choices, robust support, and inclusive environments.