The JPEF team is thrilled to welcome Coretta Hill as JPEF’s new Vice President. In this role, Coretta will drive effective implementation of JPEF's strategy to create deep and measurable impact on school quality through management and support of the organization's talented program team. She will partner with Rachael Tutwiler Fortune, JPEF's President to guide the organization's overall operational effectiveness.
Coretta is transitioning to JPEF after serving at the United Way of Northeast Florida for the last 10 years, since 2011 as Vice President of Volunteer and Community Engagement.
In the following Q&A, we asked her a few questions about her experience and why she's excited to work in public education in Jacksonville.
Could you share a bit about your story? How did you come to Jacksonville?
As the wife of a retired United States Marine, I’ve spent the last 19 or so years traveling with my husband. I’ve been extremely fortunate to continue working in the non-profit sector, a field that I’m very passionate about. When I got married in 1999, I moved to Jacksonville and actually worked for United Way of Northeast Florida as a member of the development team then. Four years later we traveled to Buffalo, and then to Okinawa, Japan.
Before leaving Japan, we knew my husband would only have a few years to retirement, and we really wanted to move back to Jacksonville. Jacksonville is close to my hometown of Albany, Georgia, which was one of the many reasons we wanted to move back. So when we got the news that we could finish our military service in Jacksonville, I immediately contacted my former supervisor at United Way to let her know we were moving back to the area. She told me about a job opportunity that would develop strategy in a new area for United Way, which would focus on volunteer and community engagement. And that was beginning of our second move back to Jacksonville, which was more than 10 years ago.
Prior to marrying my husband, my roots began in the state of Georgia, which is where I was born, received my education and lived for more than 25 years. My nonprofit experience actually began in Albany at the United Way. I had no idea out of college that I would have a career in nonprofit management. I thought I wanted to work in public relations at a Fortune 500 company, but I was told I needed writing experience first. So I worked as a news writer for a local newspaper as my first “real” job out of college. A few years later, someone recruited me for a position at the United Way after seeing a story I had written about a United Way campaign. I took the opportunity, again thinking I was just gaining experience that would lead me to a corporate PR job. But once I began learning more about the nonprofit industry, I knew right away that I had found my life’s purpose.
What are you most proud of during your 10 years at the United Way?
What I’m most proud of during my tenure at United Way is the team I’ve had the pleasure of working with. Volunteer and community engagement allows people to feel connected to the community and the causes they care about. The work isn’t easy and requires great skills in relationship management, leadership, project development and logistics. Anyone who has ever planned an event knows how much work goes into the details. And the hard-working team I’ve had the pleasure of partnering with every day implements year-round planning of more than 200 volunteer events each year with ease. They inspired me every day to be a better leader; and I’m super proud of the impact they make in the community every day.
Who is a teacher who helped inspire you as a leader and community advocate?
I have had so many wonderful teachers who inspired me, so I will share about one who helped me become true to myself. In elementary school I was pretty quiet and didn’t have many friends. I was pretty shy so I liked being by myself and that didn’t bother me at all. But I guess other classmates saw me as “different,” and I guess because they didn’t know me, they just made things up. So I guess you could say I was bullied. Bullying wasn’t considered as seriously then as it is today, so I got a pretty healthy dose of kids just saying mean things or even pushing me around. I cried a lot in elementary school because of that experience. But my sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Wright, helped me find my voice. She would pull me aside often to tell me I was special and that God had amazing plans for me. She was the first teacher who empowered me to stand up for myself by helping me understand where the energy from my bullies was really coming from. “You can’t allow people who are insecure themselves keep you from your destiny. You’re natural born leader. You just don’t know it yet.” Her words empowered me to speak up for myself and fight back in more ways than one. And when I started speaking up for myself, I also became and advocate for others who had not yet found their voices. And this was the beginning of my life’s journey to fight for the underdog.
You experienced the EDDY Awards for the first time this year. What was your reaction, and why do you think it's important to celebrate, elevate and empower teachers?
The EDDY Awards were incredible! I’ve been sharing about my experience to so many people because I honestly haven’t seen anything quite like it! The energy in the room permeated throughout the evening, and you could see how appreciated our Duval County Public Schools teachers felt. It was a red-carpet experience that also incorporated so many students, who were equally as impressive as the adults on the stage. I couldn’t believe so many of them weren’t using a teleprompter or notes!
Teachers deserve to be celebrated in this way and throughout the year. In my opinion, being a teacher is the hardest profession there is. Teachers provide the foundation for our students’ future and that’s a big job, with what most agree also comes with modest pay. But so many teachers are passionate about seeing their students thrive in the classroom and transform into future leaders themselves. When someone becomes a teacher, they choose service over self—and that deserves to be elevated and celebrated because our communities need them.
What makes you excited to join JPEF and work on behalf of public education?
As I shared in an earlier question, my heart’s work is about standing up for voices who either can’t speak for themselves or simply aren’t being heard. This opportunity with JPEF will give me the opportunity to dig deeper into the education mountain alongside a talented team and respected organization that has already done great work in our community. I’m excited about uplifting voices around the topic of public education because I believe it’s important to provide a standard of learning for every student. A large percentage of our community’s underserved neighborhoods don’t have access to the same resources some of their peers do in other communities and will continue to remain stuck without the ability to become productive citizens in the future. The cycle of poverty bothers me, and students’ environment affects resources and their opportunities for success in school. I believe every child deserves the opportunity to experience learning that would help forge a better life for themselves. So I am not only empowered by JPEF’s vision that “every student is inspired and prepared for success in college or a career and life.” I wholeheartedly believe in that vision personally, and I’m ready to roll up my sleeves to begin the next phase of JPEF’s work to see measurable impact and positive change in our Duval County public schools.