English-Learners & Immigrants

St. Paul Will Lose Top Hmong Official

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The highest-ranking administrator in the St. Paul, Minn., school system who is Hmong, a member of one of the city’s largest ethnic groups, is leaving the school system to help create a charter school that focuses on Hmong language and culture.

Mo Chang, the charter school liaison and special-projects coordinator for the school district, plans to leave Feb. 28 to become the start-up director for the Community School of Excellence, scheduled to open next fall. The school’s sponsor is Concordia University, in St. Paul.

Ms. Chang, who began working in the school district 21 years ago as a teacher’s aide, has earned a master’s degree in teaching and learning and has become licensed to be a principal or superintendent. She said she believes she can better meet the educational and cultural needs of Hmong students in a charter school than through the St. Paul school district.

With charter school governance, she said, “I will have leeway and the autonomy to do whatever it takes.”

She added: “We can initiate a project and start the next day if we want to. It’s harder to do in a big district.”

Twenty-nine percent of the district’s 41,000 students are Hmong, and most are English-language learners. The Hmong are a Laotian ethnic group whose members began coming to the United States as refugees in the late 1970s after the Vietnam War. ("Team-Teaching Helps Close Language Gap," Dec. 6, 2006.)

Ms. Chang, the only Hmong member of a “cabinet” that meets regularly with St. Paul Superintendent Meria Carstarphen, told Education Week in November that if the St. Paul school district didn’t create a magnet school focusing on Hmong language and culture, it would continue to lose students to charter schools such as Hmong Academy and Hope Academy.

Deb Henton, the chief of staff for the St. Paul school system, said that she hasn’t received or seen a formal proposal for a Hmong-focused magnet school, but said the idea was discussed in a meeting the superintendent had with Hmong leaders last fall.

At the time of the Education Week interview, Ms. Chang already had decided to leave the school system but wasn’t ready to say so publicly, she said recently.

Vol. 26, Issue 18, Page 8

Published in Print: January 10, 2007, as St. Paul Will Lose Top Hmong Official
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