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.
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’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.