LRSD School Board Candidates: Kieng Vang-Dings, Zone 9

Oct 19, 2020

Credit kbvangdings.com

Why are you running for the Little Rock School Board?

“One of the reasons [is] I feel at a time where there’s so much mistrust in science. I feel almost it’s a moral obligation for scientists to run. And on top of that, in addition, I also feel that the Little Rock School District, having been under state control, I felt in the last five years, there wasn’t an overall improvement in the metrics in student learning and gains and I feel that with my experience in both science and education, I feel morally obligated to try and make a difference." 

What experience do you have in public education?

"I graduated from the University of Minnesota with a biology bachelor’s of science. I have a PhD, also from the University of Minnesota in microbiology, immunology and cancer biology with an immunology focus. I did two postdoctoral studies. The second one was based in education, particularly science education, curriculum design, scientific teaching, inquiry based learning and assessment…I have experience in the area of teaching and learning. I was and am committed to student learning, whether that’s in the laboratory setting or in a lecture hall."

Did you and/or your children attend public school?

"I am a byproduct of public education. I have two daughters, both in the Little Rock School District. I came here as a young child, when I was five, from Laos. I went to public schools all my life. I feel that public schools can open doors for someone like me and there’s a lot of children like me out there in the U.S. I feel that it can almost transform one’s position from someone who barely spoke a word of English and propel them into college and perhaps graduate school." 

What are your main policy goals/policy points that you would want to implement?

“What I hope to do is in order to bring these schools out of the academically distressed category and improve public education of the Little Rock School District…what I want to do is with my experience and background in teaching, I would like to work with teachers, share my experiences and develop new curriculum in STEM, aimed at proving access to quality science and math programs.”

How have schools fared in the Little Rock School District without a school board for five years?

"I think since the state took control in 2015, I believe there wasn’t an improvement in terms of how the students did overall on certain tests. I think when the state took control, six out of the 48 schools were in distress. And I believe now that number has increased [to] eight. And so because there wasn’t more local control, I felt the state, more in particular perhaps, the governor and perhaps the Secretary of Education, they pretty much were the school board for the past five years, and I feel that there wasn’t a clear plan and metrics in terms of how to change or how to develop change to provide a better direction for Little Rock School District parents, teachers and students." 

How do you reintroduce the concept of a school board to an area that hasn’t had one for so long?

“In general, when you talk to people about education, no matter what their background, whether they’re a republican or democrat or independent, I believe everybody strongly believes in public education, or that education is a priority for all of our children no matter where we come from. So my message has been when I’m going out and talking with people in my zone is exactly that. They want to talk about education. I’ve had individuals donate to my campaign who share completely different political beliefs than I do. So it’s been very exciting and I think people are very excited that we will have on the Nov. 3 ballot this choice of electing nine new school board members.”

Do you believe that the state takeover of the Little Rock School District was fair?

“We had just recently moved actually in 2015 when the school board was dissolved. I cannot speak [for] them myself, but I felt they should have been given an opportunity perhaps to rethink and develop new strategies to try to make the Little Rock School District a better place. With the state takeover, I believe it hasn’t improved with the state takeover so it’s only rightly so that we should have a new democratically elected board so that we can develop strategies to move the district forward and help improve the lives of children and administrators and teachers in the school district." 

What would you do to avoid a repeat of the state taking over the district?

"I mean, in all honesty, I cannot control what the state does, what the government does. I am not here to fix the issues and the problems that have plagued the Little Rock School District in the past. What I am truly here to is utilize my strengths both in science and in teaching and learning to help build stronger curriculum through teachers [and] improve how the district will do in the long term.”

Do you feel that you’re going to have to build trust with educators, with parents, with the community?

"I think that we have a lot of work ahead of us. If I was to be elected next year to represent zone nine, I think that trust [has] to be built with educators, with parents, with the state. It’s not going to be an easy process. I think with nine newly elected members from the district and from the district[s] of where we live, it would be easier because all nine of us will be connected to our zones and it will be easier for us to perhaps bring the public into our trust.

Are you worried that expectations will be more than what the school board can actually accomplish? 

"Oh definitely. I think this process is not going to take three years or five years. When you’re talking about the instruction of children and perhaps building new curriculum, it’s a process that’s going to take maybe five, 10 years. It’s not something easy to tackle. I think it’s going to be hard but I am willing to put in the work and the effort and with my experience, to try and make it better." 

With this move to a school board, there are some set limitations. Do you think that that really puts a limit on what you can accomplish?

"I do believe that does impose some sort of limits on what we can do in terms of the school board’s power. [On the board’s inability to recognize any employee bargaining agent] I feel that when you don’t recognize any sorts of bargaining agencies, you pretty much take the voice and the dialogue, you don’t recognize the voice or the importance of conversation in trying to solve an issue. And I think in order to solve the issues in the Little Rock School District, we need to have dialogue from all members, whether they’re union members, teachers who are non-members, parents, administrators, the people from the state, the governor or the secretary. This dialogue needs to happen in order to improve and move forward the state of the school district." 

How do you anticipate handling any disagreements?

"I would draw on my scientific background and experience. In science, we realize that in order to solve and tackle the most difficult scientific questions, we will need to work together with a team of specialists that have a diverse set of experiences and opinions. It is only from collaboration, hard work, and dedication that we can find solutions to difficult questions. The experience I will bring to the LRSD school board will be of a seasoned scientist, one who has a history of working in a team-based environment to solve the greatest challenges in our respective fields. Now applying this to the question itself, it means I am willing to work as a team, to lend my expertise (scientific abilities, critical thinking, analytic skills, and problem solving skills) to provide a solution to the “disagreements” and issues within the school board or with the community. Mostly though, we should look past our disagreements and do what is best for the LRSD children."