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 Rachael, and in the coming days, we will share more about our other new colleagues and how they developed their 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?
My son was, and still is, my inspiration to become my best self and to make my community a better place. Growing up in Jacksonville, I became a mother at a young age -- a reality that for many equates to the end of dreams. I learned how expectations could be instantly lowered, and I empathized with other teen parents, but didn’t accept for myself how this could be an annihilation of my purpose. For me, it was the catalytic turning point in my life as an optimistic 16-year-old, whose unique lens allowed me to deeply understand, grapple with, and meaningfully engage in complex societal issues.
My heroes were the teachers, church community, and family members who affirmed me and my purpose. I possess a deep commitment to and passion for improving educational and life outcomes for young people growing up in Jacksonville, especially in the inner city.
During my undergraduate studies at the University of North Florida, I fell in love with the public sector, while learning to advocate for and with others. I practiced servant leadership within the African American Student Union and ultimately in my role as UNF’s second African American female Student Body President. Upon graduation, I joined Teach For America Jacksonville’s charter corps (the inaugural cohort) and taught second and third grade at S.P. Livingston, the elementary school around the corner from where my grandmother grew up. In my students, I saw myself and my family. My students experienced nearly two years of growth in key subject areas before I transitioned to the Jacksonville Public Education Fund (JPEF) for the first time on a mission to mobilize the community for the improvement of public schools. After two years with JPEF, I was accepted to Stanford University, and my now-husband and I set off to deepen my expertise in education policy and leadership.
After graduate school, I served at Oakland Unified School District and shortly after, was honored to serve at the U.S. Department of Education during the Obama Administration where I managed a portfolio of multimillion dollar Race to the Top grants and supported state education agencies’ implementation of federal policies and programs. I also served briefly at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services where I helped to advance initiatives related to teenage pregnancy and other children and youth policy areas. Most recently, I served at America’s Promise Alliance where I led the GradNation campaign aimed at closing graduation gaps nationwide.
Through these various personal and professional experiences, I’ve learned that to increase equity we must advance strong, ethical leadership in and around the education system and support those who are on the frontlines with our students every day. I couldn’t be more excited to rejoin the Jacksonville community and meaningfully contribute during the city and JPEF’s next chapter.
Who is the teacher, school leader or community member that inspired or helped you to reach this moment in your professional life?
When I first became a young mom, my life was at a major crossroad and I joined a small church community led by Pastor L. Williams and First Lady J. Williams. They served as inspirational mentors in the way that they supported our community and provided the powerful loving example and support I needed to grow better and stronger at that critical moment. Those relationships coupled with affirming messages from my parents and close friends—that I could and would fulfill a unique purpose in this world—inspired me to not only press on but to be and lead the change I wanted to see. Every time I looked into my son’s eyes, I knew I had to do it for him.
What makes you particularly excited to join JPEF at this moment in the life of the organization?
As a Jacksonville native and a former teacher, I am truly humbled and excited to serve as JPEF’s new Executive Vice President at this important moment because our kids need people who care deeply about them and who are committed to building bridges and doing what it takes to ensure they receive the support they need to be successful, no matter their background or their challenges. JPEF is growing in ways that I am proud of, and I am thrilled to lead and support our program team to deliver on JPEF’s strategies to strengthen, elevate and activate teachers, school leaders, parents/caregivers and community members working hard to improve student outcomes.
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.