Alumni Impact Interview with Rachael Tutwiler Fortune, President of Jacksonville Public Education Fund
December 1, 2022
Rachael Tutwiler Fortune, President of Jacksonville Public Education Fund, began her career in 2008 as a Teach For America Corps Member in Duval County Public Schools. Her storied career in education policy has taken her to Oakland, California and Washington, D.C., before coming back to serve in her TFA placement community in Jacksonville. We spoke to Rachael about the impact she’s making in education in Jacksonville, what changes she’d make to our current education system, and what advice she’d give to corps members.
How do you think your Teach For America experience has influenced you throughout your career?
I served as a member of the Charter Corps in Jacksonville. Immediately before deciding to teach, I did not know exactly where I would focus, as far as making a difference in my own community. When I decided to teach, it really changed everything for me.
I have spent my entire career focused on educational equity and ensuring that low-income students and students of color are afforded opportunities to be successful. Had it not been for my TFA experience, I probably would not have been on this path.
“I have spent my entire career focused on educational equity and ensuring that low-income students and students of color are afforded opportunities to be successful. Had it not been for my TFA experience, I probably would not have been on this path.”
Reflecting on your own career from Jacksonville to DC, what do you believe is your biggest accomplishment or proudest moment and why?
I have been very blessed. I’ve had a lot of great opportunities. I’d say professionally, I’m really proud to have been in DC, in particular during the second half of President Obama’s administration. To have been part of that history was very significant to me.
Extending beyond jobs and work, part of my narrative is that I was a teen mom. My son is going to be 21 in November and I [also] have a daughter who is 3 and a daughter who is 5 months. They are my pride and joy.
One of the moments that really caused me to pause and reflect [about] the transformation that has occurred in my own life, was when I saw my son graduate from high school. When I look at him and reflect upon the success he has experienced, that is, probably more than anything, my proudest accomplishment—just being his mother.
Now I’m looking forward to seeing my two smallest children, as they enter school, pursue their own life passions and goals as well. It just speaks to how personal the work is. I think about my own experience as a young person growing up, but also how much I have hope, faith and belief in what the next generation can bring—including my own kids.
What advice would you give to current corps members as they continue to shape their careers and their students’ lives?
The first bit of advice I would give them is to be who they are and to really follow their own passions. I think too often we feel pressured to be something that we saw someone else do. I really believe that everyone has a very unique purpose and we all have specific strengths and abilities. Because of that we have something very unique to bring to the future of our communities and our society at large.
“Everybody who is involved in education, has a heart for children and I think that if we all come to it with that positive intent and try to understand what everyone’s bringing to the table, we can jointly do some impactful things for kids. ”
What are a few ways the Jacksonville Public Education Fund is tackling educational inequity?
At the Jacksonville Public Education Fund, we call ourselves an independent think- and do-tank. We go about our work in three main ways, First, is through our research: our independent analysis of education issues and policies to identify both where we’re being successful and where there’s opportunities to improve our public schools. The research is really the core to everything that we do.
Guided by our research we are also a convener. We’re bringing partners and stakeholders together to work collaboratively around solutions that we all agree upon. At present, we’re really focused on two main priorities. The first is building a high-quality and diverse teacher pipeline. As we identify the talent our students need in the classroom to be successful, we also want to make sure that our community is able to prioritize recruiting more diverse male teachers—which is the greatest area of deficit when it comes to our teaching pipeline.
The second area that we’re convening partners around is to address gaps and disparities in the area of literacy. We recently launched a campaign called Read Jax, which is our local campaign for grade level reading. It brings partners from the early learning and K-12, as well as those outside of the school system—governmental bodies, business partners and after-school providers together, so we can help create a culture of literacy in Jacksonville.
Our third strategy is our strategic initiatives, where we are able to work in partnership with principals, as well as teacher leaders to help pilot evidence-based practices for school improvement. These may be things that are working in other communities or that have worked in a part of our community. We’re working in tandem with those school-based leaders to demonstrate how impactful those practices can be for students.
If you could change one thing about our education system, what would it be?
I think people power everything when it comes to really driving solutions. If I had to change anything, I think it will be the extent to which all of the adults who have an impact on our students are supported and able to work together to move the needle forward. We can’t do this work in isolation. I think, unfortunately, oftentimes politics gets in the way of us really focusing on what the data is telling us. Everybody who is involved in education, has a heart for children and I think that if we all come to it with that positive intent and try to understand what everyone’s bringing to the table, we can jointly do some impactful things for kids.
Learn More About JPEF
The Jacksonville Public Education Fund is an independent think-and-do tank that believes in the potential of all students. We work tirelessly to close the opportunity gap for low-income students and students of color in Duval County.