A former educator and now defense attorney Staci Childs is transitioning into politics as she prepares for the runoff election race for the Texas Board of Education District 4 seat. In addition to her practice, she is also the founder of the non-profit organization Girl Talk University. Childs finished second in the five-way primary race with 28 percent of the vote behind 23-year educator Corretta Mallett Fontenot.
The Signal spoke with Childs about her run for the seat, Texas’ anti-critical race theory law, the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR), and more. The questions and answers have been edited for clarity.
Why did you decide to run for this seat?
“I decided to run because I had always seen some things happening while I was a teacher that I felt could be adjusted. So I decided to transition to become an attorney to make more of an impact on education on a larger level outside of the classroom. But what I learned in my practice of being an attorney is that a lot of the people who grow up and become adults start having real-life situations and problems they have due to a lot of gaps in their education. The main gap is one of literacy. A lot of my clients will have just very, very bad situations that could have been avoided if they had better literacy and financial literacy.
On your website, you said you want to implement more social-emotional learning. What do you mean by that?
“Where we are in education is that we have to teach the entire child—the entirety of the student. Obviously, we want students to be literate. We want them to understand math, science, and social studies, but we also owe it to our students to make sure their emotional lives are taken care of as well. Some of our students, especially after COVID, are dealing with a lot of inner struggles. Obviously, there are not enough counselors or social workers to work with every single student one-on-one. Even though that might be what they need, I’m passionate about this because students have been out of school for a year and a half, two years out of COCID, and they are back in-person. But that doesn’t negate some of the losses they experienced. With their family members dying and passing away, that does not negate the fact that they were isolated from their friends and their teachers.”
Even before the pandemic, Texas struggled with keeping a low Teacher retention rate. Why do you think the state struggles with keeping educators?
“It’s not politically correct, but they are not paying them enough. Think about it when you go to a mall, certain things cost a certain amount because the average person assigns that more expensive item at a higher value. When you think about our highest paid professions, whoever decided to pay them that amount, it’s because they assign that profession a certain value. So if you want teachers to be valued and stay in the classroom and continue to show up for kids every single day, you have to show them their value.
How do you feel about the anti-critical race theory law and the new prohibitions on teachers discussing current events in the classroom?
“It’s extremely unfortunate because what this new law in my mind is going to do is cause teachers to be very fearful of being culturally relevant and accurate teachers. It’s going to take away the little autonomy that teachers had in Texas as it is. And it can continue to cause teachers not to want to teach. So if Texas is having a problem with retaining teachers already, I think this is going to exacerbate the problem. Not only that, but we run the risk of graduating misinformed and uninformed students.
Why do you think Texas legislators are okay with not being as transparent on some of these issues?
“I’ve heard people say that it’s because they are doing it in the name of making sure students don’t feel uncomfortable and making sure students feel safe while they are in school. But which students are we talking about? When I would talk about current events in news and culture, that was when I got the most excitement out of the students. And let me set the record straight. I didn’t just teach Black kids. I taught Black kids and Latinx kids. Kids who had just arrived from Iraq, Iran, Honduras, all sorts of students. And they were all so excited to learn what was happening in their world. And obviously, we had all sorts of uncomfortable conversations, but that’s what you’re supposed to do in the classroom. The classroom is supposed to be your safe haven where if you have an idea, you confront it, you discuss it, and you challenge it.
Are you for canceling the STAAR test, and do you think it’s an effective way to measure education in the state?
“I don’t think it’s an effective way to measure anything in the state of Texas. I know that there are students who barely passed the STAAR, but who’s to say that they’ve actually mastered something as opposed to killing and drilling for a test. I think there are other ways to demonstrate mastery of a subject or a grade level. You can do oral exams, group projects, and service-learning. Researchers much smarter than me have done research on how you can demonstrate a student’s mastery in the subject. The only caveat to that is if we do cancel the STAAR test. How are we going to demonstrate students’ mastery of a subject? I do think a baseline level of literacy and math is important for students so that we can make sure all teachers and students are being held accountable for learning.”
Election day for this runoff race is May 24, 2022.