In 2019, the Center for Learner Equity established the Eileen M. Ahearn Education Visionary Award 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.

Eileen Ahearn at award dinner 2019

Eileen Ahearn built a remarkable career beginning with her work at Quincy Public Schools in Massachusetts. She was also the founder of the Assabet Valley Collaborative, served as the Superintendent of schools in Maynard, Massachusetts, and after a move to Washington, DC, served as a Policy Analyst and Project Director at the National Association of State Directors of Special Education for more than 20 years until her retirement. In the early 1990’s, as the first charter school in the nation opened its doors in Minnesota, Eileen recognized that state charter school laws represented an opportunity for children with disabilities. Existing federal statutes had not anticipated autonomous public schools and the process of ensuring all students have access would be complicated, however Eileen was up for the challenge.

Eileen’s recognition of the obstacles that would emerge at the intersection of federal civil rights laws and state charter school laws created the foundation upon which the mission of the Center for Learner Equity (initially the National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools) was built. In March of 2022, Eileen passed away, leaving behind a legacy and vision that has enabled hundreds of thousands of children with disabilities the ability to actively exercise choice in charter schools across the nation.

Eileen M. Ahearn Education Visionary Award Recipients

Kristin Wright Headshot
2022

Kristin Wright

Kristin Wright Headshot

2022

Kristin Wright

Kristin Wright, a California native, is the Executive Director of Equity, Prevention and Intervention at the Sacramento County Office of Education – a role she began in June of 2020 amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Kristin assumed this position after leaving her post as California’s State Director of Special Education, a role she proudly served in for four years. Wright also served at the California Department of Education as a policy consultant in the Special Education Division and as an education policy advisor to the California State Board of Education.

As a parent trying to traverse the education system with her daughter, Wright grew frustrated with a system that she found ill-equipped and less than willing to educate a child with the level of support Shelby required. It was this frustration that landed her a State Senate appointment to the California Advisory Commission on Special Education (ACSE), a role she served in for almost 8 years – the last four as Commission Chair. It was during her tenure at the ACSE that Wright immersed herself into the world of special education and returned to higher education to earn both her Education Specialist Credential and Masters in Education.

Kristin considers herself a lifelong learner and prior to her work for the state, was fortunate to spend a number of years both working for Edresults.org and under contract with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation doing research about charter schools and how they were serving students with disabilities. It was after a visit at CHIME Charter School in Los Angeles, that Wright finally visualized what inclusion could look like and it was at that moment she decided to advocate for a fully-inclusive education for Shelby. It was also through that work she met Lauren Morando Rhim, Paul O’Neill, and Robin Lake. Seeing inspiring leaders and educators defying the odds for kids catalyzed a deeper curiosity about implementation, mindset, and inclusive practices beyond California. Kristin has since traveled to Israel, Ireland and England to widen her view through visiting schools and talking with educators and education leaders from around the world.