President's Back-to-School Message
JPEF President Rachael Tutwiler Fortune shares her thoughts as students go back to class this fall.
Dear Friend of Public Education,
When I was a teacher at S.P. Livingston Elementary, there wasn’t anything I wouldn't do for my students. I met some of them at the library on weekends, tutored them after school, and bought school supplies out of my own pocket to enhance our classroom. I affectionately called them "my scholars," because I wanted them to feel they were valued, loved, and smart.
That’s why I love the start of a new school year. Our students returning to class is a sign of hope for the future.
Last year, we learned just how essential public schools really are. They keep our children on track, ensuring the future success of our city, our economy, and our democracy. In reflecting on the last year, I believe many of the lessons we learned were not new -- they just stood out in stark contrast against the backdrop of the pandemic.
As we head back to school, the work of the Jacksonville Public Education Fund will be grounded in these three truths about the purpose of public education as we pursue our mission to ensure every child has access to a high-quality education.
- Schools do much more than teach academics. For many students, schools are the safe places in their lives, full of caring adults who serve as role models as well as instructors. Schools can help our students learn social-emotional skills, like emotional regulation, critical thinking, and getting along in a community full of differences. Our teachers, specifically, serve as role models for students, showing them that they, too, can become college-educated professionals with a meaningful career and leading role in our community. They show our students what a quality and meaningful life can look like.
- Schools must also lay the academic foundation for our students to be successful in the jobs of the future. In a globalized economy rapidly changing through technology, our schools need to prepare students for a different kind of workforce than the one of the past. For Jacksonville to attract businesses, we need to train our students for a number of careers: STEM, the arts, as well as high-demand fields like construction, welding, and electrical work. All students should have a chance to find their interests, try out careers, and connect their schoolwork to the jobs of the future.
- We must stay focused on closing disparities in educational outcomes. The pandemic laid bare disparities that have long persisted in our communities and in our schools. Some students were able to learn from home with the help of parents and a fast internet connection. Others went without steady meals or opportunities to learn because their families couldn’t support home learning and were afraid to send their students back to school. Just as we expected, end-of-year test scores show the pandemic was a set-back for our students. Now, we have an opportunity to reimagine public education at its core. Going back to “normal” isn’t good enough. We must ensure that all students, no matter their ZIP code or what they look like, are achieving their full potential.
Guided by these important lessons, the Jacksonville Public Education Fund is committed to impact in this school year and long afterward. We are working tirelessly to launch exciting new impact areas around recruiting and retaining teachers of color and improving third-grade reading. We believe these priorities are essential for student success. To achieve great things, students must be inspired by role models who look like them, and they must have a foundation of literacy to be prepared for any other goal in life.
This fall, we look forward to announcing collective goals around recruiting and retaining diverse male teachers with our partners at EDTalks, our biennial speaker series. Last week, I was privileged to talk with our EDTalks speaker, Dr. Eddie Glaude, a Princeton professor and bestselling author. I hope you’ll enjoy hearing from Dr. Glaude as much as I did in this video, and I hope you will join us for an even richer conversation at EDTalks. With your partnership, JPEF believes we can work together to close the opportunity gap – and prepare all our scholars for success. Our future depends on it.
Rachael Tutwiler Fortune