MNLEND Fellow Becomes a Special Education Director at Minneapolis Public Schools
The Minneapolis Public Schools have chosen Deeqaifrah (“Deeqa”) Hussein (MNLEND Fellow, 2017–18) as a Special Education Director. She credits many people and organizations for helping her get the position, including her husband Abdi Hussein (MNLEND Fellow, 2016–17) and family (she has two children with autism); the University of St. Thomas where she is earning her doctorate in Educational Leadership and Learning; her internship at the Minneapolis Public Schools with Rochelle Cox, Executive Director of Special Education and Health (and Hussein’s new supervisor); and the student/family advocacy skills she learned as a MNLEND Fellow. Hussein spent the past two years as an Autism Itinerant Teacher, and for two years before that she was a High School Special Education Resource Teacher. Going into her 14th year in education, she is now one of four Special Education Directors in Minneapolis who report to the district’s Executive Director. Each Special Education Director covers a different portfolio of schools, and Executive Director Cox oversees the entire department. Hussein brings both a professional and personal mission to her task.
When her eldest son, Ayub, who is now 11, was diagnosed with autism, she changed careers from being a teacher in general education to special education. She later learned that another son, Asad, now 7, was on the spectrum. “Being a parent of children with autism informs every decision I make as a teacher. The students I work with are just like my own children. Advocating for their needs is the greatest accomplishment a teacher could ask for. When our students thrive in the general education classroom, it is rewarding for us. We celebrate their gains while we accommodate their needs. Being a parent gave me the inside scoop of what family and home life is like for my students. It also gave me the advocacy skills and the educational training to fight for my children in the school district. I have the benefit for working for one district while my children attend a different district. I compare different programs and adapt and adjust for the next service that my students, as well as my children, should access.”
“I belong to many organizations and the fellowship taught me the benefit of cross-organizational networking; the autism community is well connected and MNLEND trains parents to seek equitable services for their loved ones,” says Hussein. Formally known as the Minnesota Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities Program, MNLEND is a center at ICI that prepares future leaders—known as Fellows—who will serve children with autism and other neurodevelopmental and related disabilities, and their families, in healthcare, education, human services, and policy settings. “I honed my advocacy skills while expanding my lens from parent and educator to a leadership perspective where I now think about improving the quality of life of children and families with disabilities through person-centered planning. I connected with other parents, doctors, speech and language pathologists, and other professionals I wouldn’t have met otherwise. I shared my own experience and benefited from the experiences of other fellows. The program combines families, educators, doctors, and experts in the field and trains them in leadership. And by listening to families, professionals learn to serve with humility and compassion. I have focused on my students’ quality of life and my own children’s trajectory of educational opportunities as they navigate through society. And I appreciate the diversity inclusion that MNLEND/ICI programming is extending to our communities of color.”