Duval County Parents Begin Intensive Advocacy Training Program

Now in its third year, the program has made a dramatic impact in Duval County, as graduates have led successful community projects on implicit bias, special education and many other issues.


A diverse cohort of 16 parents has been selected to participate in Parents Who Lead, an intensive program on civic leadership that teaches parents how to be effective advocates for children. 

The program is a partnership between the Jacksonville Public Education Fund (JPEF), Duval County Public Schools (DCPS), the Jacksonville Public Library and the Kids Hope Alliance. Now in its third year, the program has made a dramatic impact in Duval County, as graduates have led successful community projects on implicit bias, special education and many other issues.

The parents selected for the program already have a proven track record of volunteering, and they are inspired to take their leadership to the next level because of a variety of issues affecting children, including STEM education, autism, mental health, trauma-informed practices, and communication between schools and parents.

Participants will attend 20 three-hour lessons and complete a community project of their choosing in order to graduate from Parents Who Lead. This week, JPEF and partners finalized the list of participants from 70 highly qualified applicants, who filled out a questionnaire and were interviewed as part of the selection process.

One applicant wrote that she wanted to "learn how to be a voice for the children and families in my community who don't understand how to voice their concerns." 

It’s the third group in Jacksonville to participate in the program, which is structured after the model by the National Parent Training Institute and launched in Jacksonville last year.

In the last two years, 26 parents graduated from the program, and have gone on to lead community projects such as: teaching parent education classes about how to advocate for children with special needs, supporting a massive online course for teachers and parents on implicit bias, developing an online resource portal for parents of gifted children, and advocating for traffic safety improvements outside First Coast High School.

Parents Who Lead alumni also played a major role in advocating for the half-penny sales tax referendum for Duval County Public Schools, which passed with 67 percent of the vote in November 2020.

“Parents are inherently interested in the well-being of children,” said JPEF President Rachael Tutwiler Fortune. “This program equips them with the skills and connections to translate that commitment into effective advocacy for all children in our community.”

“I absolutely commend these parents who are truly emblematic of what it means to be Team Duval,” said Superintendent Dr. Diana Greene. “School safety, equity in education, and mental health resources are just a few examples of areas where the community as a whole has to collaborate together to find solutions, and these parents are doing just that! They are investing their resources and hundreds of hours of their own time to develop themselves into child advocates and agents for change in the community.”

The curriculum teaches parents about city and state law and budgets, how to use the media to effect change and public speaking. Child care and hot meals are provided during the classes to ensure the program is accessible to parents from all walks of life.

Below is the full list of parents who were selected to participate.


Jill Hill

Sree Panchagnula

Danita Matthews

Erika Watkins

Marcus Smothers

Kamlesh Jethwani

Mahak Gupta

Karen Demuth

LaQuanda Paschal

Teresa Mitchell

Julia Gray

Safa Mahjoub

Vanessa Davis

Andre Higgins

Hind Chahed

Andrea Barlow


Contact Stephanie Garry Garfunkel, Director of Marketing & Communications, at (352) 359-2393 or stephanie@jaxpef.org for more information.




About the Jacksonville Public Education Fund

The Jacksonville Public Education Fund is an independent nonprofit organization that works to spark innovation, relationships and resources to power the potential within and around our public schools to achieve excellent outcomes for all students. For more information, visit www.jaxpef.org or call (904) 356-7757.




of public schools in Duval County earned an "A," "B," or "C" in 2021-2022.