In this series, we are celebrating Black History Month and interviewing local African American leaders about their Black History heroes.
Jacquline M. Byrd began her career in education more than 25 years. Mrs. Byrd has served as a teacher, school principal, and district administrator. In 2013, Mrs. Byrd was named Deputy Superintendent of Polk County Public Schools. She was sworn in as Superintendent on Feb. 23, 2016.
How have your experiences as a person of color shaped you?
I’m always very cognizant that in everything I do, I’m a role model for all young people, but especially for young people of color. I am tremendously fortunate to have the chance to serve as superintendent of Polk County Public Schools, but with this great opportunity comes great responsibility. Young people, and particularly young people of color, need those of us who have reached a certain level of success in our lives to reach back and lend them a hand. They need to be told they can be successful too. That no challenge is greater than their potential. That if they work hard in pursuit of their dreams, they can achieve whatever they desire. As a person of color, it’s never far from my mind that I must be an example for those who will follow. It’s a great responsibility, but also a great honor.
Which historical black figure has most inspired you?
So many! I’ve always admired Marva Collins for her work to create equality within our education system. Marva Collins believed in education as “the great equalizer,” and she dedicated her life to that ideal. She was passionate, brave, and purposeful in all she did for children. On the hardest days, I imagine her whispering to me to keep working and keep striving for the students of Polk County — and I am inspired once more. I’m also a fan of the incomparable Maya Angelou. I try to live by one of her quotes: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
What kind of changes would you like to see made in the community in the near future?
I’d like to see a reinvestment in our public school system. Public education is rarely celebrated, but it should be. There are outstanding things happening in our schools every day that this community should be very proud of. I encourage your readers to visit one of our schools, volunteer, or just follow us on social media to see for themselves the good work we’re doing for the students of Polk County. In 2018, we achieved our highest graduation rate on record and we became a B school district for the first time in eight years. These weren’t flukes. They were the result of a ton of hard work on the parts of our students, staff, administrators, parents, and stakeholders. Come see for yourself what we’re doing — and be prepared to be amazed.
What moment in Black History has had the most impact on you?
The images from the integration of our public schools resonate deeply with me. Those brave children, such as the Little Rock Nine and Ruby Bridges, who just wanted an education, who just wanted a chance to make the most of their lives — they’re always with me in some way. Our public education system is far from perfect, but it’s come a long way. Many people of color fought hard to get us here, even risking their lives for equal educational opportunity. We honor them by moving forward and continuing to do everything we can to give all our children access to high-quality education.