A New Voice for the Community
Running for political office was not something Dr. Keing Bao Vang-Dings ever considered doing. She is currently a scientist, educator and mother of two daughters, both of who attend public schools in the district. Her family relocated to Little Rock for economic reasons. She recently made the decision to run as a candidate for school board to help shape education policy and with the hopes of addressing the needs of children in the Little Rock School District.
Her journey to become a Hmong American woman scientist was not easy. She remembers a seventh-grade biology teacher who sparked her interest in science. She grew up in the Twin Cities and graduated from the University of Minnesota with a Bachelor of Science in Biology then went on to complete a Ph.D. in Microbiology, Immunology, and Cancer Biology in 2010. In 2018 she was awarded a research grant of nearly $50,000 to study the effects of tunable nanosystems on the human immune system. She believes her experience in both science and science education can offer a new voice to help reshape public education in the Little Rock School District.
Little Rock is best known for the Little Rock Nine. In 1957, three years after the Supreme Court case Brown vs. Board of Education ended segregation, the Little Rock Nine became the first African American students to enroll in Central High School; now a national historic site. This was not easy, as Governor Orval Faubus blocked their entry into the school using the Arkansas National Guard. It wasn’t until President Dwight D. Eisenhower intervened that federal troops were ordered to escort the Little Rock Nine into the school. More than six decades later, the state is still trying to address its segregated past as the number of A rating schools (based on a A-F rating system) mainly located in affluent white neighborhoods are not accessible to poorer, brown, black children due to a difference in zip codes. For instance, schools with F grades are found in working class and poorer neighborhoods. In January 2015 due to the low academic performance of eight of the district’s schools, the Arkansas Board of Education voted 5-4 to dissolve the Little Rock School Board and new School Board Members were ushered in appointed by the State.
In the 2020 election, 5 years after the locally elected school board was dissolved, the State Board will return partial control to nine democratically elected school board members. She will be running as a candidate for Zone 9 on the Little Rock School Board. If she wins this November she will become the first Hmong American elected to public office in Arkansas.