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  • Writer's pictureJennifer Coiley

Empowering Minds and Nurturing Spirits: The Inspiring Legacy of Julie Billiart Schools in Northeast Ohio

Attorney Jacqueline “Jakki” Nance and Julie Billiart Schools President & CEO Lannie Davis-Frecker  are champions of autism advocacy and education.

Nestled within the heart of Northeast Ohio lies a beacon of hope and education, embodying the transformative vision of its namesake, Saint Julie Billiart. Julie Billiart Schools stands as a testament to the power of special education, offering a haven for children with special learning needs to flourish academically, socially, and spiritually.

Founded in 1954 by the Sisters of Notre Dame, Julie Billiart Schools have remained steadfast in their commitment to serving students with mild to moderate autism spectrum disorder (ASD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyslexia, and other learning differences. With a philosophy deeply rooted in Catholic values and the belief that every child is a gift from God, these schools provide a supportive environment where students can embrace their unique abilities and reach their full potential.

With campuses in Akron, Brecksville, Lyndhurst, and Westlake, Julie Billiart Schools students come from 40+ school districts across Northeast Ohio. At the center of their approach is a dedication to individualized education. Recognizing that no two students learn alike, teachers employ personalized strategies tailored to each child’s strengths, challenges, and interests. Small class sizes and low student-to-teacher ratios allow for targeted instruction, fostering a sense of belonging and empowerment among students who may have struggled in traditional academic settings. In the state of Ohio, over one in seven students has a documented disability and related Individualized Education Plan (IEP).

Lannie Davis-Frecker and a student show peace sign with their hands

“We focus on the potential of a child, and our teachers make the magic happen. When you respond to a child with love, they begin to see and feel their potential,” said Lannie Davis-Frecker, President and CEO of Julie Billiart Schools. 

Central to the school’s mission is the cultivation of a nurturing and inclusive community where every student feels valued and supported. Faculty and staff work collaboratively with families to create a partnership built on trust and open communication, ensuring that each child receives the individualized care and attention they deserve.

a student cuddles a therapy dog in the classroom

Beyond academic excellence, Julie Billiart Schools prioritize the holistic development of every student. Through a comprehensive curriculum that integrates therapeutic services, social skills training, and extracurricular activities, students are equipped with the tools they need to navigate the complexities of the world with confidence and resilience. For the past decade, 100 percent of JB students have graduated from high school, an equivalent/vocational program, or are currently on track to do so. 

One former student, Ricky Nance, is currently attending Notre Dame and studying to become a teacher. “Ricky is wonderfully blessed with a sense of humor,” Lannie said. “After a few years at JBS, we noticed a visible change in his level of confidence both academically and socially. In addition, Ricky has taught over the summer for our Beyond Camp program, which fits into our desire to hire alumni and give them a workforce experience in a supportive atmosphere.” 

Ricky’s mother, Jakki Nance said, “JB is a wonderful place. Two weeks after he started, he told his aunt ‘I like that there are kids like me.’ JB is a hidden gem – such a special place where kids learn how to advocate for themselves.” Ricky started at Julie Billiart Schools in 4th grade, but Jakki wished she had known about the schools before then. “It’s like home for him.” Ricky is 21 now, and his goal is to someday teach at JB so that he can “help kids like me,” he said.

two students on the playground smiling

Students keep them ever-focused on their “why.” But the impact of the Julie Billiart Schools extends far beyond the confines of the classroom, enriching the lives of students, families, and the broader community. The resilience and dedication of their community has fueled growth and propelled the schools forward. By fostering a culture of empathy, acceptance, and understanding, these schools serve as a catalyst for positive change, challenging societal norms and breaking down barriers to education for children of all abilities. Their mission isn’t limited to serving only JB students. Their call is to support all families and children with learning and social differences.

2024 marks 70 years of giving their students the love, acceptance, and belonging that every child deserves. In concert with this special milestone, Julie Billiart Schools will be opening its fourth school in Brecksville this fall, and their Annual Celebrate Gala will take place Thursday, September 12, 2024, at the new location. For more information about this event, please visit

As the legacy of Julie Billiart continues to inspire future generations, Julie Billiart Schools remains steadfast in its mission to empower minds and nurture spirits. With unwavering dedication and a commitment to excellence, they stand as beacons of hope, illuminating the path to a brighter and more inclusive future for all.

Learn more about Julie Billiart Schools:


Jakki and Fred Nance’s son Ricky with his poster  at the Chef’s Gala in 2022
Jakki and Fred Nance’s son Ricky with his poster at the Chef’s Gala in 2022.

Autism Speaks Cleveland Chef Gala 

On Wednesday, May 8, 2024, at the InterContinental Cleveland Hotel, Autism Speaks Cleveland Chef Gala will honor community advocates and philanthropists Fred and Jakki Nance. Fred and Jakki are dedicated community builders who have devoted more than three decades of their lives to philanthropy. As the Vice Chair of the Autism Speaks National Board, Jakki works tirelessly to help push forward Autism Speaks’ mission of creating a more inclusive world for all individuals with autism on a local and national level.

The Autism Speaks Chef Gala unites a selection of the region’s finest chefs with autistic individuals to create inspired dishes for guests to enjoy while bidding on exceptional auction items. All auction proceeds will support Autism Speaks’ public health and awareness initiatives, global research efforts, state and federal advocacy work and programs across the lifespan that make a difference for the autistic community. For more event information, please visit

autism speaks logo

Autism Speaks is one of the largest autism advocacy organizations in the United States and is dedicated to creating an inclusive world for all individuals with autism throughout their lifespan.


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