Two more candidates officially added their names to the Little Rock School District School Board races. The State Board, in control of the district since 2015, expanded the number of seats to nine.
Leigh Ann Wilson has filed for Zone 4 and former school board member Norma Johnson has filed for Zone 7.
Former LRSD Board member Greg Adams and Benjamin Coleman previously filed for Zone 8, as did Community Advisory Board president Jeff Wood for Zone 9.
Filing continues through Aug. 3.
I also got a release today from Keing Bao Vang-Dings, a research professor at UA Little Rock. She’s planning a run in Zone 9, welcome news for advocates who are wary of seeing Wood, who advocated for extending state control of the district, on the board.
LITTLE ROCK, AR — On Tuesday, July 28, Dr. Kieng Bao Vang-Dings, an assistant research professor at UA Little Rock’s Center for Integrative Nanotechnology Sciences, announced that she is running to represent Zone 9 on the soon-to-be elected Board of Directors for the Little Rock School District. Dr. Vang-Dings, who goes by Bao, is the mother of two young daughters, both of who attend Little Rock public schools. Though currently an immunology researcher, Dr. Vang-Dings has a background in the field of science education and curriculum design at both the K-12 and post-secondary level.
“I am not a politician – far from it – but keeping our kids safe and providing them with an excellent education shouldn’t be ‘political’ issues,” Dr. Vang-Dings said. “I am a mother, so my interest in serving our schools is deeply personal, but I am also a scientist trained to understand the specific challenges that we are facing right now. I am running because I want to help our district get through the COVID-19 pandemic without compromising our kids’ health or education.”
Dr. Vang-Dings said that her background in science also shapes the way she views education policy. “We can’t keep parroting the phrase ‘data driven’ if we aren’t willing to actually listen to the experts. We obviously need to focus on the advice of public-health experts, but we should also be listening to teachers and to parents, both of whom are experts in understanding what our students need. At the very least, we should agree to keep partisan politics out of it and just make decisions that are in the best interest of our kids.”
While many parents are understandably focused on how to keep students and teachers safe in the pandemic, Dr. Vang-Dings says that her vision for the district goes beyond the current urgent needs. “Our children are growing up in a city that is the center for medical care and scientific advancement in the state. They are surrounded by hospitals and research institutions. We should utilize those resources to better prepare students from every part of this city to participate and thrive in the global scientific community.”
Dr. Vang-Dings immigrated to the United States from Laos when she was five years old and is the first member of her family to attend college. She earned a bachelor’s degree in biology and a doctorate in microbiology, immunology, and cancer biology from the University of Minnesota. Dr. Vang-Dings says that, as a young girl, she didn’t see many scientists or elected officials who looked like her, so she hopes to inspire LRSD students from all backgrounds to pursue careers in science.
“Children are natural scientists,” Dr. Vang-Dings explained. “They are inherently curious, and it is our job to feed that curiosity and help them develop a life-long love of learning. That’s what public schools did for me, and that is the kind of environment I want to foster in the Little Rock School District.”
“Running for office is not something I ever thought I would do,” Dr. Vang-Dings said, “but I can’t sit back and watch the district struggle when I know that I have the skills and ability to make a difference. I am trying to teach my daughters that, if you can help, you should do so. American democracy is a beautiful thing, but it only works if people like you and me step up and participate in it.”