May 11, 2021 – For Tia Leathers, growing up in Jacksonville’s northside helped develop her drive to be a leader who invests in her community.
“My life was full of the most resilient and brilliant examples of leadership all around me,” said Leathers. “Retired educators. Doctors. Politicians. Movie stars. Each and every one of them gave me a bit of them to carry on my journey.”
“I will not let them down.”
And Leathers has not. Now the Executive Director of Family and Community Engagement, Leathers was recently selected among a record number of nominees to be one of Jacksonville Business Journal’s “40 Under 40.” This annual designation honors the 40 most promising professionals in Northeast Florida.
Under her leadership, fully certified athletic trainers have been placed in every high school, a nationally recognized parent leadership academy has been established in Duval, and non-profits have banded together to supply school supplies, food, and even internet access to families and students in need.
“This award isn’t about me at all,” said Leathers. “It’s about our children, it’s about our community, and it’s about so many of our school system’s best and brightest. We all come together every day and show how teamwork can make the dream work for our children and the entire Jacksonville community.”
Leathers – who has been with the district for eight years – manages a $6.2 million budget and is tasked with leading overall partnerships between the district and stakeholders, ranging from business partners to faith-based partners, and from non-profits to government agencies.
She also provides oversight for a variety of programs that include Community Education, the Parent Academy, the 5,000 Role Models of Excellence Project, Volunteer Services, and many more.
Navigating the vast government, civic and private networks to get things done for children is a challenge, said Leathers. But it is a challenge that is overcome through building relationships.
“Creating and strengthening authentic relationships in the community and at the district level has been my best strategy to overcome these challenges,” said Leathers. “When you establish real relationships both internally and externally, you are better equipped as a leader to learn, adapt, and be flexible to the challenges that present themselves each day.”
Leathers said one of the achievements she is most proud of is expanding the number of parents who have access to professional training. Through working with the Jacksonville Public Education Fund, Jacksonville Public Library, and Kids Hope Alliance, Leathers helped establish the Parents Who Lead program in Duval two years ago.
Since then, nearly 40 parents have come through this program, which teaches parents how to be advocates for students. For example, one of the parent-leaders helped bring implicit bias training to Duval last school year.
“I am grateful to have a hand in developing leaders who are leading for the right reasons,” said Leathers. “These are leaders who want to make a difference and will stop at nothing until this world is better just because they’re in it.”
Reflecting on her childhood, Leathers says the desire to invest in her community – the way her community invested in her – is what drives her.
“I will give everything in me to ensure I can remind other children and adults in this community that their temporary circumstances do not write their permanent stories,” said Leathers. “They have hope.”