Shannon Varga serves as the Director of Data and Research at the Jacksonville Public Education Fund
Tell us a little bit about you and how you came to JPEF.
I was a Research Assistant Professor at Boston University and the Associate Director of Research and Evaluation for the Community Engaged Research and Evaluation Sciences (CERES) Institute for Children and Youth, housed in the Wheelock College of Education and Human Development. I earned my PhD in Educational Psychology: Applied Developmental Science at the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education and my BA in psychology from Montclair State University. After living in several states on the east coast, I'm excited to invest in my new home state of Florida and maximize the impact of the existing community efforts and energy for serving students in Duval County through my work at JPEF!
Why are you excited to lead JPEF's data and research?
I am excited to lead JPEF’s data and research because I feel the organization’s key priorities and history of partnerships are crucial to making a difference for all students in Duval County. I am passionate about taking evidence-based approaches to collaborating with multiple stakeholders, across sectors, to bolster systems-level solutions to multilayered issues identified by students, educators, and other community members. I believe JPEF is uniquely positioned to implement research, convening, and strategic initiatives that truly lead to measurable improvements in educational experiences throughout the county.
Why does public education matter to me personally?
I believe the ultimate purpose of all youth-serving organizations is to prepare and empower future generations to tackle historical and new barriers to thriving. Youth spend so much time in school that I feel public education remains the greatest opportunity for caring adults and policymakers to impact the development of the next generation of leaders.
Tell us about a teacher who made an impact on your life.
There are so many teachers who impacted my life when I was a student by really seeing me, treating me with respect, and encouraging innovative thinking when many other adults did not. From another perspective, since I’m coming to JPEF from a university, the graduate students I worked with who were former or current K-12 teachers had a huge impact on my work because they are some of the most caring, hardworking, creative problem solvers I have ever met. These former teachers had seemingly boundless energy for tackling issues of equity given how much they were managing in schools while also preparing the next generation, and they constantly inspire me to work harder to meet the needs of students and educators.