Dr. Ilene Wilkins (she/her)


NYU Alumni Changemaker of the Year
(WSUC ’82)

President and CEO, UCP of Central Florida

Pioneering Inclusion in Charter Schools

“Helping children has been in my DNA from a very young age,” says Dr. Ilene Wilkins. As an 11-year old, Dr. Wilkins ran day camps from her parents’ garage in the small town where she was raised. Today, she’s the president and CEO of UCP of Central Florida, a nonprofit charter school and therapy center where children with and without disabilities learn and socialize together in an inclusive environment. Throughout her career, Dr. Wilkins has challenged the mainstream “special ed” model that believes young people with disabilities should be taught in isolation from their peers. Instead, she’s helped UCP build a radically different community where every child can reach their highest potential.

Since she joined the organization in 1995, Dr. Wilkins has grown UCP from a small community of 100 children to eight campuses serving over 3,500 pre-K and elementary school students with a wide range of abilities. In 2011, Dr. Wilkins led the launch of UCP’s Transitional Learning Academy, its first middle/high school and postgraduate campus to help support the transition to adulthood for students with disabilities and developmental delays. And in 2016, a key partnership with Orange County Public Schools spearheaded by Dr. Wilkins created the UCP’s BETA Teen Parent Connection. The program, which supports teen mothers who are at risk of dropping out of high school, saw 100 percent of its students graduate from high school and 88 percent of its graduates get accepted into college or post-secondary programs.

However, Dr. Wilkins views UCP’s decision to become a charter school as a pivotal piece to the puzzle that makes up its success. “Applying a holistic approach that combines support education and therapy, while working closely together with families and as a team, has been incredibly impactful.” That philosophy allowed UCP to deliver over 70,000 hours of therapy services and enable three-fourths of its students to meet at least 75 percent of their reading and math goals. The state of Florida has taken notice as well. Recently, Florida’s governor recognized UCP East Orange as one of the top 10 elementary schools in the state.

Dr. Wilkins has also received multiple accolades, including earning recognition as “Central Florida Women of the Year” by the Women’s Executive Council and “CEO of the Year” in the Orlando Business Journal. But for her, UCP’s true impact is measured in the tremendous progress of the children who benefit from a culture that destigmatizes disabilities. “It’s that child whose parents were told they would never walk or talk and who said ‘I love you’ for the first time,” reflects Dr. Wilkins. “Or the child who took their first steps; those are the individual accomplishments that bring me pride and joy as a leader.”