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Meet the Team: ReGina Newkirk, Director of Development

Jacksonville Public Education Fund (JPEF) is excited to welcome four new staff members to our team. Each new member joins JPEF with an extensive background in education and unique experiences in the classroom and beyond. We invite you to learn more about ReGina, and check back tomorrow as we share more about our other new colleagues and how they developed their passion for ensuring excellent education opportunities exist for all students in Duval County.

Tell us a bit about your story. How did you come to be involved in this work?

I started my career in banking but quickly moved to non-profit work, where I spent 15 years in fundraising roles for a variety of organizations in Knoxville, Nashville, and Washington, D.C. Education was always a component of my life though, from teaching adult literacy classes to running grant-writing workshops to leading teen Bible studies.

My passion truly developed, however, when I was the Executive Director of Rocketown, a teen center in Nashville, and witnessed on a daily basis kids who had been let down by their education. These students were graduating high school, had no desire to go to college, and were completely unprepared for a professional life. These were the C and D students that slipped through the cracks but had nothing on which to build a real life for themselves. It was through this experience that I became committed to really making some changes in education because there are too many children who have no other chance to make it.

In an effort to be part of the change, I joined Teach for America and taught two years in elementary school in Oklahoma City.  When I considered my next professional step, I observed the innovative commitment Jacksonville had to making sure all children receive a quality education, so I moved here and taught for two more years.  Now, I have the perfect opportunity to marry my expertise in fundraising with my experiences in and passion for education to make a real difference in the lives of the children in Duval County.

Who is the teacher, school leader or community member that inspired or helped you to reach this moment in your professional life?

The teacher who influenced me the most and really challenged my view of self was my Advanced Placement 11th grade U.S. History teacher, Ms. Sylvia Karnowsky. Her class was the first class where I really struggled academically.  She worked with me on how to read text and take notes as well as how to pair those notes with the ones from class.  I internalized her advice and worked harder than I ever had before, and I got a B on my next test.  I have never been more proud of a grade - to this day, I still have that test.

I keep it as a reminder of what I am capable of doing if I put my mind to it, even if I have to completely turn something around.

Ms. Karnowsky had an even bigger impact on my life during my senior year when she was no longer my teacher. I was making some poor choices, and she called me on it.  She told me that I was poorly reflecting on my parents who had made enormous sacrifices to make sure I got a good education, and I was really letting down my community.  I had never had a teacher be so brutally honest with me, but I knew it was from a place of love and I also knew it was true.  

That’s what great teachers do - they challenge us to see the good and bad in who we are and inspire us to be better than even we sometimes believe we can be.

What makes you particularly excited to join JPEF at this moment in the life of the organization?

I think public education is at a critical juncture in Jacksonville, which I find exciting.  As a newcomer to Jacksonville, I was shocked by the community and business support and commitment to making quality education the norm here.  People not only know graduation rates, but they speak passionately about them.  Community members that don’t even have children invest in our schools.  

During my years teaching in Oklahoma and in Jacksonville, I saw teachers everyday work ridiculously long hours, plan strategically for how they can reach each individual student, make sure that students have food to eat and are going home to safe environments, and love kids when it’s the hardest but they need it the most.  Great things can happen  for our children with that confluence of passion, and I’m excited to be a part of it.

Jacksonville Public Education Fund believes in the power and potential of great people to drive positive change. To learn more about our team, visit our staff directory.