Champion of school choice, Cheryl Hillen, fights battle against cancer
Until all children have access to a quality education, Cheryl Hillen will fight for the rights of low-income families to choose the best school for their kids. Throughout her career, she has triumphed against overwhelming odds, but now faces a personal battle that even she admits will be difficult to overcome.
“I was diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme, an aggressive form of brain cancer,” Cheryl explained. “The odds for survival are not great, but I have great doctors who are committed to helping me beat the odds.”
If anyone can beat the odds, it’s Cheryl. When she got started in the movement there were only a handful of school choice programs, including one in Milwaukee founded in 1990 that focused solely on at risk-students. Today, thanks to leaders like Cheryl, 26 states have some form of voucher or tax credit program that empowers parents to choose the best education for their children.
Cheryl was on the ground level as early as the 90s, fighting alongside passionate leaders, before school choice was on the radar. Many of those people—Peter Flanigan, John Walton, Steve Schuck, David Brennan, John Gardner, Rick and Sherri Sharp, John Kirtley, and so many others—are now regarded as legends in the movement.
“ACE quickly became known for its commitment to tracking the success of students receiving scholarships,” Cheryl explained. “It is a tribute to the leadership of the organization that ACE continues to grow to serve more families and students across Louisiana and our nation.”
Cheryl provided strategic assistance during the launch of ACE Scholarships back in 2014, and she was a critical factor in the early success of the program.
“I feel incredibly blessed,” says Cheryl. “Not a day of my work was hard. Everyone in education reform is there for a reason – to help kids. When you are focused on helping kids, personal differences no longer matter.”
Cheryl is originally from West Virginia and attended the University of Kentucky where she majored in political science. She has three children, Marga, Will, and Woody. Her primary residence is in North Carolina, which allows her to be close to Duke University, where she receives treatment. She enjoys visiting her children, especially Marga in Salt Lake City, who is also a cancer survivor.
“There are still millions of kids stuck in low-performing schools,” Cheryl said. “We need education reform that is scalable, then we will see the kind of rapid advances in education that we have seen in computers, the internet, food production, and other industries.”
“We all benefit when all kids get a great education – instead of dropping out of school, at-risk students can become our next doctors, lawyers, and engineers,” she concluded. “It is right for them, it is right for us, and we have to get it done.”
Notes may be sent to Cheryl Hillen care of Arthur Dupre at [email protected]