In 2015, Aqua Stovall founded the Special Education Leader Fellowship (SELF) as an incubated program within charter school network Firstline Schools. Stovall’s goal was straightforward: address the issues in special education that she encountered as both an educator and a student. Helping current students have a more inclusive and beneficial education is the whole idea.
“My public school experience was not pleasant because I did not fit in any of the usual boxes,” said Stovall. “Later when I became an educator myself, I made it my personal mission to do everything I can to reach other kids like me. Kids with learning differences or disabilities have every right to a good education.” Stovall identified the issue as systemic and aimed to help educators work with special education students more effectively.
“In my experience, educators want to do what’s best for students, but often lack the knowledge and specialized skills. I set out to give them the support they required and deserved,” said Stovall. With this in mind, Stovall founded SELF from the ground up to build special education leadership and expertise in schools throughout New Orleans.
For example, the SELF Signature Leadership Fellowship is a two-year program that provides training, coaching support, and professional network development for special education leaders. In time, the increased support for highly-trained special education professionals throughout the New Orleans school system will help schools become more welcoming communities for all students. This will also help close performance gaps for special education students as well.
The SELF program is already making a real impact throughout the city’s schools. “We have served 74% of our schools in New Orleans,” said Stovall. “83% of our partner schools beat the state average for serving students with disabilities on state testing, and 86% of our leader fellows continue to work in New Orleans Public Schools.” The focus on greater support and training for educators is already paying off.
The city’s students are fortunate to have such a devoted, insightful educator and leader in their corner. “My core belief is that all students should be met where they are and given the opportunity to excel,” said Stovall, and the SELF program is making that belief a reality.
Moving forward, Stovall is seeking to expand the program to Louisiana communities outside of New Orleans. Any educator or school interested in partnering with SELF is welcome to reach out.