I never expected Dr. Kieng "Bao" Vang-Dings to get the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's endorsement for Little Rock School District Board, Zone 9.
What did surprise me, but probably shouldn't have, was the not-so-subtle pronouncement that the Democrat-
Gazette's choice for Zone 9 "speaks English." The Democrat-Gazette editorial writers have cracked the case: Jeff Wood speaks English!
Well, fellas, so does Kieng Vang-Dings.
She speaks it, reads it, writes it, and uses it to great effect. And with honesty and transparency. She's a scientist, educator, wife, and mother of two children in the Little Rock School District. She came to this country as a child and an English as Second Language learner. All she did after that was make good on the American Dream.
The Democrat-Gazette's carefully constructed praise of Wood's remarkable ability to speak English in the aw-shucks-vernacular has built-in deniability of any untoward smirk at Dr. Vang-Dings' ethnic heritage.
But the signal is loud and clear: He's one of us. She's not.
Unfortunately, for the rest of us and for the Little Rock School District, the editorial writers want to keep their public education club restricted and chummy. They seem to trust lawyers and lobbyists almost to the exclusion of educators.
For the rest of us in Zone 9, those who are voting for the future of the LRSD and not the past disguised as future, we're voting for Vang-Dings. Bao is not a politician. She has zero political ambitions beyond representing Zone 9. She saw the need for forward-thinking, evidence-based, principle-centered leadership in Zone 9. So she rolled up her sleeves and got down to business.
There's only one educator with classroom teaching experience running for the school board in Zone 9; and that's Dr. Vang-Dings. There's only one educator in this race who has written K-12 curriculum, and that's Dr. Vang-Dings. She knows big budgets because she's a scientist who has to write them, work within them, and make the most of them every day in her professional life.
The other guy is a lawyer who, after serving as the politically appointed chairman of the LRSD's Community Advisory Board for five years, wrote a bill and took it to the Arkansas Legislature in 2019, asking the politicians to give the state an option for total control of the Little Rock School District for up to four more years.
What did Jeff Wood think he could get done under four more years of total state control that he couldn't get done with a democratically elected school board? I shudder to think.
Vang-Dings and Wood both moved to Little Rock at roughly the same time a few years back. He, from Texas. She, from Minnesota.
Jeff Wood seems to have quickly adopted an old narrative for public education in Little Rock. It's the one perpetuated by the Democrat-
Gazette's editorial page: Nothing gets done here without a fight. Families out west (like mine) are always mistreated when it comes to LRSD decisions. Business folk and politicians know education better than educators.
Bao seems to have been spared falling for that failing, fixed mindset. The greatest gifts Dr. Vang-Dings will bring to the Little Rock School District Board are a new voice, a fresh perspective, and a determination not to repeat the past, but to pursue a better future for public education in our city.
Tim Jackson is a product, parent, and patron of the Little Rock School District. He lives in west Little Rock and is a volunteer in the Dr. Kieng Vang-Dings for School Board, Zone 9 campaign.