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 Laura, and how she developed her 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?
For as long as I can remember, I have believed that education is a key component of a person’s success. My parents taught me early on that school was something to be valued and my teachers deserved the highest respect and appreciation. After I graduated from college, I wanted to return to Jacksonville and teach in one of our city’s under-resourced areas. Happily, I was accepted to Teach For America and placed at Ribault Middle School where I taught sixth-grade World History. During my time in the classroom, my passion for education really developed as I got to know my students and their amazing potential for greatness.
Eventually I decided to tackle the problems with education that I observed as a teacher at a systemic level. I attended Vanderbilt University Law School where I focused on policy, education, and social justice issues. I stayed in Nashville after graduation and practiced education law at a private firm for two years. As an education law attorney, I represented school districts across Tennessee, developing policies and advising on student and personnel matters. Although I loved Nashville, I had been away from Jacksonville for too long and I knew it was time to come home and continue my education work here.
Who is the teacher, school leader or community member that inspired or helped you to reach this moment in your professional life?
I feel incredibly fortunate to have been taught by so many great teachers in Duval County and I could easily list several who inspired me. The two teachers that stand out the most when I reflect on my education are Mrs. Beverly Jackson and Mr. Ben Mackay. Mrs. Jackson was my kindergarten teacher at Greenland Pines Elementary School and I credit her for my love of learning. Even as a five-year-old, I could see that she loved her students and she loved providing us with the foundation for our future education. Every day in her classroom was an adventure and I can still remember how exciting yet comforting it was to walk through her door each morning.
Mr. Mackay was my AP US History teacher at Stanton College Preparatory School and he also cared so much about his students. Typically, history classes in high school are considered boring but Mr. Mackay infused his lessons with humor and an obvious love for the subject and so my classmates and I always looked forward to learning from him. The way Mr. Mackay sparked discussions about past events in history, often connecting them to whatever was currently going on in our world, captured my attention and I’ve loved history ever since; it was my major at the University of Florida and I taught World History at Ribault Middle. I know that without Mrs. Jackson and Mr. Mackay, I wouldn’t have such a profound appreciation for my own education which in turn has furthered my commitment to ensuring all students in Duval County receive an excellent education.
What makes you particularly excited to join JPEF at this moment in the life of the organization?
I returned to Jacksonville at a time when our public school system is facing some challenges. As a product of Duval County Schools and a former teacher, I know the obstacles in our way but I firmly believe that we have teachers, parents, students, and communities who are united in their desire for and pursuit of first-rate education. I am excited to join JPEF because my colleagues share these beliefs and are dedicated to improving education by partnering with these groups to take on the work. Together, we will constantly strive to provide our students with the education they deserve.
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.