School Leadership Matters: Catching up with Florida's Assistant Principal of the Year

Kate Fulginiti went to Columbia University with the help of the Quality Education for All Fund. Now, she's the statewide Assistant Principal of the Year.


Last year, Kate Fulginiti, the Assistant Principal at Matthew Gilbert Middle School near downtown Jacksonville, was recognized as the Duval County Assistant Principal of the Year. Then, she was named the Assistant Principal of the Year for the entire state of Florida. As part of her journey in public education, Fulginiti participated in the Summer Principal Academy at Columbia University, an opportunity made possible through the Quality Education For All Fund, which was based at The Community Foundation of Northeast Florida and administered by JPEF.

As JPEF continues our focus on supporting school leaders, we recently caught up with Ms. Fulginiti to learn how her studies at Columbia made a lasting impact on her career. You can learn much more about her work at Gilbert through Team Duval Newsroom.

What inspired you to become a teacher?

I had a petite, passionate economics professor in college, Mrs. Marme, that modeled leading with fire and empathy. She cared about the world and she cared about her students. She tasked me with tutoring an evening each week; one of my missions included helping ensure the football team pass macro and micro economics (ha, and those boys thought I was there to give them answers! Nope!). I think I learned through that experience I liked teaching. More importantly though, Mrs. Marme charged me with reflecting on where my passions, interests, and world needs intersected; and for me, that intersection was education. I ended up applying to Teach For America and got placed in Duval County teaching 6th grade math at Eugene Butler Middle School.

Did you always want to become a school leader?

No, not right away! Growing up I always wanted to own my business, start my own company or be my own boss. I realized, though, that pursuing education leadership allowed me to channel my entrepreneurial spirit while making an impact. I believe teachers have the most important role in school buildings, and ultimately chose to pursue school leadership to cultivate an environment where they can thrive.

How did you learn about the Summer Principal Academy opportunity through the QEA Fund? What made you want to participate?

I had a colleague and a couple people I knew and respected apply the year before I did. They spoke highly of their experience at Columbia and the partnership with JPEF. I was excited by Columbia’s program structure—didactic learning in NYC over two summers then a hands-on internship during the school year. I knew I’d be challenged by some of the top professors in the field and would have the chance to collaborate with some brilliant, passionate people. 

I understand you're going to be principal at Pinedale Elementary this fall. Congratulations! Can you share a little bit about that school and what you hope to do with the team there?

Pinedale Elementary, a Title I school on the Northwest side of Jacksonville, serves 500 brilliant and resilient Pre-Kindergarten through 5th grade students, including two special education units (Communication and Social Skills & PRIDE Day-Treatment). Currently rated a “D” school by Florida’s school grading system, our team is on a mission to be a “B” or better this year. We have a revitalized vision and have re-grounded ourselves in high expectations. We are committed to challenging stigmas and status quos and creating an inclusive and joyful learning environment. We have the dedicated staff ready to put in the work to move achievement forward. I am pumped to be a Panda!!


Following the Quality Education for All Fund, JPEF continues to invest in developing the leadership skills of teachers and school leaders to close the opportunity gap for low-income students and students of color in Duval County. Learn more about our School Leadership Initiative, which supports principals in Title I elementary schools with professional learning, coaching and grants for strategic projects to improve school quality.




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