Conference aims to help Duval County hire, retain more Black, Hispanic male teachers

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Lift and Lead Conference -- the first of its kind in Duval County -- is helping the county reach an important goal: to hire and retain more Black and Hispanic men as teachers in the county.

Keeping men like second grade teacher Nick Nelson in the classroom and trying to inspire one of his old students to become an educator.

“He said, you know, Mr. Nelson, all jokes aside, I have really thought about it because you have made it look pretty cool. I think that might be what I want to do,” said Nelson, who teaches at Sabal Palm Elementary School. “I read it. ‘I am doing this because you made it look cool.’ That gave me chills, and this is why I am doing what I’m doing.”

Eligio Calatayud, a Spanish teacher at Mandarin High School, emphasized the importance of role models.

“We can convey that to them, and that can be a win-win for the community and for us,” he said.

The two-day conference at TIAA Bank Field and the Jesse Ball DuPont Building downtown is led by the Jacksonville Public Education Fund.

According to the JPEF, as of December 2022, there were 1,628 total male teachers in Duval County, and as of February 2023, the county had 509 Black male teachers and 85 Hispanic male teachers.

That’s an increase of 39 Black male teachers and 15 Hispanic male teachers since May 2021.

But the numbers need to keep climbing, the education fund said.

Its goal is to have at least 1,000 Black and Hispanic male teachers in Duval County classrooms by 2025 because according to JPEF, 62% of students in the county are Black or Brown.

Edwin Mayorga, a longtime teacher, believes this push might encourage people to enter the industry, develop and retain current teachers and build community.

“What Duval County is doing here is critical to impacting the lives of so many children who need to see people who look like them and sound like them and come from communities like they do,” Mayorga said.

Dante Jennings and Dimas Vidales are both former teachers now working with the education fund. They said targeting Black and Hispanic male teachers is crucial.

“This being a large urban school district, teetering between 16th and 20th largest in the nation, how important it is for our students to see themselves in who they are being taught by and led by and guided and molded by,” Jennings said.

It’s especially key as Hispanic students are the fastest-growing demographic group in Duval County, according to Vidales.

“It is a fulfilling profession. It is an honorable profession,” Vidales said. “You can make an honest living out of doing it.”

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