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Dr. Joshua Childs: Improving Opportunities for Students with the Reform Leaders' Summit

By: Tim Will

People often talk about the power of the “Notre Dame Network” and how it connects people in unexpected ways and in unexpected places. 

Dr. Joshua Childs - Reform Leaders' Summit
Photo Credit: The University of Texas at Austin

Dr. Joshua Childs can attest to these relationships, as his connection with Notre Dame and ACE’s Reform Leaders’ Summit (RLS) began 1,048 miles away from the Golden Dome during a chance encounter at a Texas high school football game. 

“I had initially heard about the Reform Leaders’ Summit from Dr. Anna Egalite,” said Josh, who currently serves as an assistant professor of educational policy and planning at the University of Texas at Austin
. “But some of my research is around high school athletics and working with high school coaches. The way our system is set up here is that the University of Texas helps to oversee a lot of the academic and athletic competitions, which means that I get to attend many of our interscholastic state championships.”

And so Josh found himself on the sideline of AT&T Stadium, watching high school football and striking up a conversation with a man who turned out to be the father of Sean Foster, a graduate of ACE’s Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program, the principal of Central Catholic High School in Bloomington, Illinois, and a member of RLS cohort 11. Josh and Sean had gone to college together at the University of Tulsa and reconnected over their shared work in education. 

Those conversations led Josh to connect with the ACE team and join the 13th cohort of the RLS.

Looking back, it’s not surprising that Josh has chosen to work in education.

“I grew up in a family full of educators,” Josh said. “My father, aunts and uncles, and grandparents were all involved in the field of education.”

While Josh was aware of the value and importance of education from an early age, his introduction to education policy began as an undergraduate at Tulsa.

“I had this one professor who started teaching us about ‘education policy’ and I had never thought of putting education and policy together, but I thought to myself, ‘This sounds really interesting; I’d like to learn more about this.'

Josh’s initial interest led him to pursue a master’s degree at the University of Colorado Boulder, serve as an education lobbyist, and earn his doctorate from the University of Pittsburgh. 

“All of those experiences have been in the realm of education policy,” Josh said. “And all of my work has really been about trying to help kids in different educational contexts.”

Even with all of his educational and professional experiences, Josh is still finding a lot of value  from his participation in the RLS, particularly the immersion weekend experiences. 

“It’s just been a pleasure to be a part of this,” Josh said. “Our first immersion trip to New Orleans was a great opportunity for us to gain a deeper understanding by hearing from folks who are on the ground there. The Summit allowed us a unique opportunity to talk about specific types of schools and hear different perspectives.”

Listening to those different voices—particularly amid a global pandemic—resurfaced a number of issues surrounding education in America, but also uncovered some reasons for hope going forward.

“One thing we’ve definitely learned over the last 18 months or so is that the issues that have always been there in education have not gone away,” Josh stated. “But one of the things that gives me hope is more people are realizing we’ve always had kids missing school and we’ve always had inequalities that are impacting our schools—and we need to address those items before we start to work on our teaching and learning offerings.”

This expanded view has opened up more conversations with various stakeholders to address these factors impacting children outside of the school building. 

“It’s not just going to be one or two things that are going to move us forward in education,” Josh said. “It’s going to be a collection of things, and that means people in education talking to folks in transportation organizations, or the nonprofit world, or with public safety and public health organizations.”

Now officially part of the Notre Dame Network himself, Josh is excited to build off the work that has already been done and continue to advocate for kids across the country.

“The big questions for me are: how do we think about all of these various sectors influencing what is happening inside of schools, and how do they all work together to improve outcomes and opportunities for students?”

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