Pictured from left to right: Kelli, Joseph and Leah

“Nearly a quarter century ago, the Autism Society launched a nationwide effort to promote autism awareness, inclusion, and self-determination for all, and assure that each person with ASD is provided the opportunity to achieve the highest possible quality of life. This year we want to go beyond simply promoting autism awareness to encouraging friends and collaborators to become partners in movement toward acceptance and appreciation.

Let’s embrace a new perspective. For over 50 years we have worked in communities (both large and small) to ensure our actions, through our services and programming, supported all individuals living with autism. Let’s expand this work to focus on the rest of us – ensuring acceptance and inclusion in schools and communities that results in true appreciation of the unique aspects of all people. We want to get one step closer to a society where those with ASDs are truly valued for their unique talents and gifts.”

-Autism Society

The REED Foundation for Autism is commemorating National Autism Awareness Month by honoring the Champions Among Us, a four-part series recognizing unsung heroes within our community. These team members, partners, and philanthropists are passionate contributors promoting acceptance and inclusion for individuals on the spectrum.

Our first champions are the extraordinary leadership team at REED Academy, a private school for individuals with autism from diagnosis to age 21.

Principal Leah Farinola, Clinical Director Kelli Fowler, and Director of Curriculum and Technology Joseph Novak, are three magical ingredients resulting in a dynamic and successful collaboration. “They are the precision-tuned engine that makes REED Academy run”, says Executive Director Jill Nadison, “but it is their phenomenal partnership which helps REED Academy stand out as an exemplary educational organization.”

For a school program to be successful, it must be united in its mission. It is critical for stakeholders to share a vision for how students are educated, and how to leverage its connection to the greater community.

This is one of REED Academy’s greatest strengths – a leadership team of passionate administrators with a shared vision for educating children on the autism spectrum from diagnosis through age 21, and continually striving to provide the opportunity for students to live productive, independent lives.

The culture created by Leah, Kelli, and Joe relies on communication, trust, and a shared passion for education. They all have unique qualities, specialties, and areas of interest.

Whether developing a new policy or researching innovative technology options, this team’s collaboration ensures that REED Academy will continue to lead the way in education of individuals on the autism spectrum and foster professional and interpersonal growth among the amazing and dedicated instructional staff.

Leah M. Farinola, MA, Principal is responsible for day-to-day operations at REED Academy. She develops and coordinates relationships with districts, leads the intake process, and oversees all school employees. Leah began working with the families at REED in 2001 before REED Academy was even founded. Starting as a full-time instructor in 2006, Leah has held various positions including instructor, lead teacher, assistant to the executive director, classroom consultant, curriculum coordinator, and became principal in 2009.

“Coming into work every day is a pleasure knowing that I have the support of Kelli and Joe. We are comfortable and confident in sharing our viewpoints even when they differ. The trust and communication we have developed over the years allows REED to be an extraordinary program for our students to learn and staff to grow.”

Kelli Fowler, MA, BCBA Clinical Director oversees educational and behavioral needs of all students in the school program. She is our behavioral expert who provides training and support to all staff, in particular classroom consultants and speech therapists. Kelli has been with REED Academy since 2007 and developed several critical programs, including the launch of our home and community support services, social skills groups and transition programming. Her current research interests include identifying new social skills procedures to facilitate meaningful relationships for children with autism.

“Collaborating with Leah and Joe is rewarding on so many levels. Each of us have individual strengths that promotes a dynamic and well-rounded partnership. It is a pleasure to come to work knowing that you have the support of intelligent, caring individuals who have the same goals and vision for our school.”

Joseph Novak, EdD, BCBA-D, CCC-SLP, ATP, Director of Curriculum and Technology consulted with REED for augmentative and alternative communication and speech and language programming prior to joining the team full-time in 2015. Since joining REED, Joe’s work with the team focuses on the implementation of cutting-edge curricula and integration of modern technologies to enhance the educational and behavioral needs of the students at REED. In addition to supporting educational and behavioral curricula, Joe has helped spearhead various initiatives including: a new data collection system (Catalyst), the development of an advisory council, and the creation of various trainings related to speech and language.

“Working with Leah and Kelli is one of the great privileges of my career; Leah and Kelli have worked hard to train and motivate our staff and ensure student progress which allows me to use my time to research new innovations for REED in our integration of technology and use of modern curricula.”

As administrators, difficult decisions must be made (sometimes on a daily basis) and yet the strength of REED’s administration is that each individual can bring his or her own knowledge and perspective and yet find a way to come together to make a decision as a team.

“I wholeheartedly feel that the three of us can face any challenge together,” said Leah, “there is a quote that says ‘do what you love, and you’ll never work another day in your life’ – it is because of Kelli and Joe that I can I can honestly say I love my job!”