Tuesday, February 13, 2018

An Interview with Stacie Banks: Independent Candidate for Arizona Superintendent

By: Alex Kack

BMR: Whats your background? What do you think voters should know about you? 

Stacie Banks: I would like voters to know that my primary concern is the well-being of our students, and they are at the center of everything I do, every position that I take. I was a high school teacher for 10 years, and I loved that job, but I found myself increasingly frustrated by the implementation of policy based more on a politically motivated theory than any kind of reality, and it was negatively impacting our kids. I left the classroom to fight for change and part of that fight has led me to run for Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction. 

How would you describe yourself politically?

I am a moderate. I make decisions about issues using evidence, reason, and analysis. It is not good enough for someone to show me a party platform and expect me to jump on board. Some people seem to think moderates or centrists are weak-minded or indecisive. That is not true for me. I have a strong set of beliefs, and I would argue it takes strength to stand firm in those beliefs when everyone else is trying to force you to pick a side. In fact, I get really frustrated when people say that I just need to make up my mind and pick a party. If I was going to buy a car and I had two choices, a car with no transmission or a car with no alternator, I would pick neither. The parties are broken. I pick neither.

What sets you apart from the other candidates in this race? 

I believe two things set me apart from the other candidates. The first is that I am running as an independent. There is no party backing, no special interest money, no desire for political glory. I am in this because I want to serve and make a difference. I am in this because I believe in the hope and opportunity offered by our public schools. The second is my desire to put students at the center of the conversation. We spend a lot of time talking about schools, teachers, ESAs, theories, and money, but we rarely start with the question: What is best for our kids? That is always my starting point.

What are the biggest education issues facing Arizona currently? What do you propose to solve them? 

There are a few issues facing Arizona, and there are no short explanation for how to solve them. The top three are: teacher retention, school funding, and poverty. The first two are closely related, but not the same. Teachers are leaving the profession in part because they do not make a reasonable salary, but they are also leaving because they are not respected as professionals. We need to eliminate teacher evaluations based solely on testing and recognize that most of what schools do cannot be measured with multiple-choice exams. We also need to increase the funds that go to our schools. Specifically, we need to fully fund special education and capital needs, then use the money that frees up to increase educator salaries. I am releasing my ideas for education funding this summer, and I hope people will learn more by visiting my website. Finally, we have to recognize the impact of poverty on student learning and do something about it. Certainly, increasing the number of jobs that pay a living wage is essential, but we also need to seriously consider what it takes to overcome the impact of poverty and use targeted solutions to address the problem.

What role do you think charter schools have to play in the future of education in Arizona? 

There are amazing charter schools doing great things for our students. They encourage innovation and fill a need for non-traditional students or students who need something other than what works for the majority of kids. On the other hand, there are charter schools operating outside the bounds of what is ethical. They are operating in a way that harms children. Where the behavior is unethical and harmful, the state needs the will and ability to shut those schools down. The playing field needs to be level and any school that takes public money needs to be good stewards of that money. It should not be going to a stock holders or CEOs. It should be serving the public interest by ensuring a world class education for our kids.

What do you think you can do differently then other third party candidates in the past? 

The important thing to remember regarding the superintendent’s office is that it is non-partisan in 41 other states. It is the norm for the leader of a state’s public schools to be independent or at least quasi-independent. The leader of schools faces challenges that require deep knowledge of public schools and the laws and funding issues surrounding them. It is important to know what standards really are and how they relate to curriculum, and in this world of testing, it is important to know the how high-stakes tests work. In essence, the leader of our school cannot lead them without real understanding about what is happening in our schools. This isn’t about being a third party candidate. This is about recognizing that parties and platforms are out of place at the helm of our public schools.

What are the biggest failure you believe the last superintendent made made?

Normally, I avoid talking about Superintendent Douglas because I don’t believe it serves a purpose; however, I would say she made a mistake when she ran for office assuming that the office holder has more power than she really does. This is an administrative job. The Superintendent holds one seat on the State Board of Education which sets the standards. The Superintendent doesn’t really shape education policy unless she knows how to work with the Governor and the Legislature. She also has to know how to use the power of the bully pulpit. Superintendent Douglas never understood those things.  

What's one interesting thing about you personally?

I love baseball. My family and I have D-Backs tickets, and we go to 20-30 games a year. We’d go to more, but with school and activities we can’t quite make 81 games. There’s just something about baseball. I know some people think it’s boring, but they don’t understand the game. Some of my greatest memories are baseball/softball related from playing as a kid to taking my kids to the ballpark today.

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