For more than a decade, the National Partnership for Educational Access (NPEA) Conference has convened a national collective of committed educators, practitioners, and thought leaders working in educational access and equity to network, share best practices, and learn from each other regarding ways to support historically marginalized students, families, and communities.

This year, one of the members of the conference planning committee is our own CAST Counselor Jacque Fields, now in her second year assisting with the conference. She is sharing her passion with others in a field that has been her life’s work – justice – and hopes to bring more representation from Southern schools as TSCS and KIPP have been the only schools from the region to participate for the past seven years.

“Ms. Jacque,” as TSCS students and staff fondly know her, grew up near Soulsville on Norfolk Street off Mississippi Boulevard as a small child and move with her family to Memphis’ Bethel Grove neighborhood when she was nearing school age. “Bethel Grove was the quintessential blue-collar neighborhood,” she says, “where every parent was your parent. Salt-and-pepper haired grandmothers adorned in flour-stained aprons stood watch from their front porches as we walked to and from school each day.”

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Walking to school each day would soon come to an abrupt halt for Jacque, though. She was in second grade in 1972, when the 1954 court order Brown V Board was finally put into action, and she was bussed from Bethel Grove Elementary School to Fox Meadows Elementary School in an effort to desegregate the school system. “Ironically, the school system is just as segregated today than it was at that time, if not more so. I learned to navigate the halls of Fox Meadows, but it was the folks in Bethel Grove who taught me the real importance and power of education.”

Those lessons were a portent of things to come. After moving to Michigan with her mother for her job at General Motors after her parents divorced, she graduated high school and immediately enrolled at Western Michigan University at Kalamazoo, where she earned a degree in Speech Pathology and Elementary Education. She then worked in Higher Ed at Grand Valley State University for five years and at Calvin College for 16 years. Her last role at Calvin was Assistant Dean of Multicultural Student Development. 

While at Calvin, Jacque was responsible for starting many initiatives to address educational equity and access. She played an integral role in Calvin’s Entrada Program, a summer bridge program that invited students to attend summer courses. She also started a program called UNLEARN Week, which involved seven days of programming specifically to address anti-racism; it’s still an annual event. 

“My life’s work is about justice, no matter the title and no matter the location,” Jacque says. “I have served in many roles: Director of Community and Family Engagement, Assistant Principal, Interim Principal, School Board member, and Alumni Counselor. But my mission has always been the same.

“It is only fitting that I would join other like-minded individuals committed to working for educational access across the country,” she continues. “The National Partnership for Educational Access (NPEA) mission states that it ‘is a membership organization that connects the people, practices and innovations essential for eliminating barriers to educational access and college and career success for underserved students.’ You could easily delete ‘membership organization’ and insert ‘The Soulsville Foundation’ because WE work to eliminate barriers to educational access by providing a world-class museum, allowing students to pursue passion and purpose through music at the Stax Music Academy, and offering a college preparatory education at The Soulsville Charter School.”

It’s this passion for eradicating obstacles to educational access and success in adulthood for young people that drives Jacque participate so enthusiastically in the NPEA conference, especially since this year’s meeting of the minds will be held virtually due to the COVID pandemic and therefore will afford more people the opportunity to attend.

“I am very proud to serve on the conference planning committee of the annual conference,” she says, “and especially to represent The Soulsville Charter School and the Soulsville Foundation. I think we have a lot to bring to the table because providing equitable access to education, which includes arts and post-secondary opportunities for our alumni, is in the DNA of everything we already do.”

In addition to Jacque’s involvement in planning the NPEA, our TSCS Dean of Curriculum and Instruction Kelly King has also created an on-demand workshop and will be facilitating a group discussion that will be included in this year’s conference. Kelly was the featured Staff Spotlight in the last TSCS newsletter, which detailed the new anti-racism curriculum she created for TSCS. Her session will focus on providing a framework and steps for leaders to begin initiating anti-racism efforts at their schools. The session will provide a timeline for these efforts and split the work into two buckets: staff initiatives and student initiatives.

“I hope to use some of what we’ve learned this year at TSCS to serve as a case study in what to do and what not to do when engaging in this work,” Kelly says.

“We are thrilled to have the support, involvement, and contributions of The Soulsville Charter School at this year’s virtual conference, says NPEA Associate Director Carrie Tate of Boston’s Steppingstone Foundation. “Since 2014, Soulsville has been proudly representing Memphis in the NPEA community. As we welcome Jacque and Kelly to #NPEA2021 this April, we hope many others will join them from the Southern region to engage in this national conversation about educational access, equity, and social justice for historically marginalized students.”