Emily Kafle2016 Rising Alumni

Emily Kafle photo

Emily Kafle, recently named the Special Education Director at Lionsgate Academy, has a master’s and teaching licensure in special education as well as her principal’s licensure through Organizational Leadership Policy and Development. Lionsgate is a local charter school specializing in educating students with autism spectrum disorders. Since she started there in 2010, Emily has improved access for the Lionsgate student transition program, led planning to integrate mental health programming, and is currently planning a relocation of the school site that will lead to increased enrollment.


Director of Special Education, Lionsgate Academy

What professional accomplishments are you most proud of?

  • Presenter at MASE Conference in Oct, 2015
  • Presenter at MACMH Conference in April, 2016

What professors were most influential during your time in CEHD?

Honestly, it's hard to choose because there were so many! One of my favorite things about the U is the quality of the professors. I mention this every time I recommend the University of MN twin cities to someone.

Christine Peper was my professor in my first graduate school class and she got me fired up about transitions regarding students with special needs. And I'm still fired up about it thanks to her!

Mary Beth Kelly taught me the importance of diversity competence and this is still a concept I find myself reflecting on frequently.

Cryss Brunner taught me how to ensure I command my audience when speaking and the delicate balance professional women must maintain.

Chris Sonenblum helped me see how a special education administrator can make a difference in the lives of students without being directly in the classroom.

What was the impact/benefit of your educational experience in CEHD?

My educational experience in CEHD prepared me masterfully for my professional career. Because my teachers were in the field, I knew that the information I was receiving was current, best practice, and compliant with what the monitoring agency (MDE) would expect of me and that has continued to prove itself to me year after year. In comparing my experience at the U with others who received reciprocal degrees and licensures from other programs, the quality of the University of Minnesota's program continues to outshine others.

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I always knew I wanted to be a teacher from the time I was very young. When I was in high school was when I knew I wanted to be a special education teacher.

What’s a fun fact about you?

I am 12 inches taller than my husband, without heels!

Who has inspired you the most during your career?

There are two people who have inspired me the most in my career. The first was my boss when I first moved to Minnesota, Mr. Stan Hacker. He recognized qualities in me that I hadn't seen yet. He taught me how to be a leader who cares about everyone I come in contact with, a leader who has high expectations and supports people in realizing them, and a leader who is reflective, transparent, and genuine.

The second is my dad, Mr. Larry Beard. I have learned from him that you don't have to be who you've always been. That we can continue to grow and learn and change for the better throughout our lives. He has also inspired me to lead with strategic intention and to always do what is right.

What gets you excited about work?

Attending all of the extracurricular opportunities gets me excited about work. Seeing our students shine socially and doing things that, by the nature of their disability, they shouldn't be able to do, is exhilarating. Seeing our students with disabilities enjoying themselves at the school dances, performing in the school play, participate in student council, act in the improvisation skits, doing the things that many adolescents take for granted reminds me why we do what we do is so important.

Also, working with others who are excited, passionate, and creative gets me fired up about doing the work I do with students with disabilities and the staff who support them.

Outside of your job, how do you grow professionally?

I attend as many professional development opportunities as I can. This year, I was fortunate to be able to participate in the MASE (Minnesota Administrators of Special Education) New Leaders Cohort. I also participate in a monthly RDC (regional Director's Council) meeting with other Directors of Special Education in the west metro. In addition, I have formal mentors in the field with whom I confer regularly. These opportunities allow me to engage with others and rely on additional expertise when making decisions in my role. There is so much to know that it is impossible for someone to enter this field fully competent to handle all of the different scenarios one will face.

When you have 30 minutes of free time, how do you spend it?

Read a book or play with my children. Or organize something.