Get to Know Board Director Mrs. Carmen Stayton

  • Katie Pottroff

    Although not many teachers can say they’ve felt an inner tug to become a board of education member, Carmen Stayton can honestly claim she has.

    Her journey to the Special School District Board of Education started in 2009, after she completed her training with Teach for America. Hired by a school district in Kansas City, Missouri, she brought a lot of grassroots enthusiasm with her as she embarked on a career she’d been planning since third grade.

    Her district was experiencing a lot of churn at the time - teacher contracts were being negotiated and a new superintendent had been hired. To better understand how the district was managing its challenges, Stayton began attending board meetings. The experience was a revelation and captured her interest in a way she hadn’t anticipated. 

    “I became interested in the outcome of all things decided by the board,” she says. “I learned that board work is vital to the health and wealth of a school district, and I decided I wanted to be on a school board someday. After I came home to St. Louis, I said if I ever leave the classroom, I still want to have an impact on staff and families and hope to find an opportunity to do that as a board member.”

    Fast forward to 2023, when Stayton’s resume now includes many years of experience as an educator and nonprofit leader. In St. Louis County, she has been a teacher in Special School District, Jennings School District, and at the Jamaa Learning Center. At South City Preparatory Academy in St. Louis, she was dean of students. Her previous board experience includes serving on the St. Louis American Newspapers in Education Advisory Board, as a facilitator on the Jennings Trauma Action Plan Team, and on the Teach for America Alumni Advisory Board. Since 2022, she has been a program manager at Washington University’s Institute for School Partnership and studies equitable math instruction in the St. Louis region. 

    In June, Stayton was approved by the Governing Council to represent SSD’s Subdistrict 1. The council is the governmental body that selects each of SSD’s seven subdistrict representatives. Now she is positioned to represent constituents of the Hazelwood, Jennings, and Maplewood-Richmond Heights school districts, and provide guidance on issues that affect special education and career and technical education for staff and students in the entire county.

    “Because I’ve taught in SSD, I understand the nuances and complexities of the District,” she says. “I also just have a passion for kids, so I feel like I can be a voice for them.”

    What’s your life like away from work and SSD?

    Until a couple of months ago, our household included me, my husband, and my 17-year-old daughter. Now we’ve added my mother-in-law and my foster brother, who is 10 years old. We live in the Hazelwood School District, where I grew up. I’m a Hazelwood Central 2003 graduate.

    Who has been the greatest influence in your life?

    Which chapter of my life are we talking about? I’d say my relationship with God. I feel like he sends people into my life during seasons when I need them, people who are influential and impactful for me. I listen to his voice for knowledge and wisdom. But my husband is a great support system for me, too.

    What are you most proud of accomplishing?

    I would say my family and career. I feel like I’ve done some really great things before 40. I still have more to do. I’m also extremely proud of my family and what they’ve been able to accomplish.

    My daughter is a varsity cheerleader at Hazelwood West High School. She balances her school career with a part-time job. She just completed a transformational journey across the country with Cultural Leadership, a local organization that helps kids understand social justice issues through travel and other educational experiences. She met Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson in Washington, D.C.! She wrote a phenomenal speech about her experience at a time when she also was struggling with grief over the passing of her grandfather and cousin. She’s learned to persevere and grow. 

    What keeps you awake at night?

    I feel like I just want our communities to feel safe. I’m always worried whether my husband, who is a Black man, is going to be okay. There are many challenges for Black men in St. Louis and in the country. 

    If you could meet and chat with anyone in the world (dead or alive), who would it be?

    Warren Buffet! I stand on that choice. It will never change. He can give me all the knowledge I can hold, then I can be a wealth of resources for other people. He’s not just wealthy - he’s also kind and open to sharing information.

    What are you reading that you’d recommend to others?

    I’m currently reading “Choosing to See; A Framework for Equity in the Math Classroom.” It’s a good read, folks! The things the authors talk about are not limited to math classrooms. The material discussed helps folks understand how they can provide equitable spaces for discourse.

    What’s your favorite dish?

    Chicken wings! I eat them everywhere I go. It’s so bad. If they’re really hot, I like to dip them in Ranch dressing.

    What do you do for fun and relaxation?

    Cook, sleep, and hang with my husband. We’re foodies - we go out and eat for fun. We like trying new restaurants, especially minority-owned restaurants. We keep a running list of places we want to try.

    Where would you go if money were no object?

    Bali! I’ve seen pictures of the place, and now it’s one of my travel goals. 

    If you could be a fictional superhero, which one would it be and why?

    I’d be Okoye of the “Black Panther” stories in the Marvel Universe. Okoye is both a warrior and a wife. Those are titles she holds with pride. I appreciate her loyalty, plus she’s a beast in conflict! I’m also a big fan of Storm. 

    If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

    I wish I could sing.

    Describe a hidden talent you have that surprises others when they find out you can do it.

    I believe my talent is coaching people. My friends are always telling me, “You’re such a coach!” That happens even when I’m just chatting with someone.