Editor’s Note: Here we take a look at candidate Tsia Xiong who is running for the Area 2 seat on the Merced City School District’s Board of Education against Jessee Espinosa.
Tsia Xiong is a married father of four school-age children who has spent three decades advocating for underserved families and students, along with progressive policies aimed at closing the achievement gap.
The 50-year-old native of Laos is the chapter director for Faith in the Valley, a faith-based grassroots community organization that serves the Central Valley. He has also been with the group known as People Improving Communities through Organizing, or PICO, for the past 18 years.
In July, Xiong was appointed to the Merced City School District Board of Education after the Area 2 seat opened up due to a sudden resignation. It’s only been a few months since that happened, but the Area 2 seat was already destined to be up for grabs in this year’s November election. Xiong knew this when he applied for the position, and he has decided to seek the elected post.
“I ran for school board because I feel like there are a lot of inequity issues,” Xiong says. “When I came to this country in the early 1980s, there was a whole bunch of refugee kids who were not receiving adequate resources. I was in Stockton, but I’m sure the same was true in Merced. We would go to school, and many of us would go and sleep all day, so to speak. We didn’t cause problems for the teachers. They loved us Hmong students. They would pass us along — not necessarily because we excelled in academics, but because of good behavior. …
“At the time, I thought that was good, but when I entered college that’s when it started to hurt. I was like ‘Wow, school didn’t prepare me for this.’ I didn’t even know what a thesis was until I got to my second year of college. I was like, ‘What the heck, I didn’t even know how to read or write that well. How did I pass high school?’ … And I think it was because the system failed me. And if it failed me, then it failed many other refugee kids as well. That’s why I’m so passionate about running. I’ve dedicated nearly 30 years of my life to improving education, closing the achievement gap, fighting against the school-to-prison pipeline. And that means I represent kids in suspension hearings, and expulsion hearings. I have represented families in more than 30 cases across the Central Valley. Almost every school district has called on me for services. I’ve been a parent advocate. That’s what I do. And I want to make sure everybody knows that I just don’t just talk about cracks in the system. I have lived through the cracks.”
If elected, the candidate says he wants to focus on four specific areas in the next four years on the board.
“I want to close the achievement gap for all students particularly those in low-income situations, those learning English as a second language, and those who are considered foster youth. Today, we are not underfunded anymore. We have more money than we know what to do with. And I’m still fighting for more money by advocating for Prop. 15. … It’s not like 45 years ago, and there are no resources. We have a lot of resources.”
Xiong says he also wants to increase parent engagement. “We as a school district can’t afford to overlook parent support,” he says. “We don’t need parents to come to school just to rubber stamp what the School Site Council passed. The district needs to make sure parents get the necessary training so they can become huge allies for their children. Parent engagement creates a partnership with the school so that every child can learn and succeed.”
Thirdly, the candidate wants to hold schools accountable for implicit bias and cultural sensitivity. “We live in a very diverse community,” Xiong says. “I want to see a diverse school staff to represent the student population. And I want to see the implementation of cultural sensitivity and literacy programs. We need to train our staff members, teachers and administrators as part of their professional development. They need to know how to deal with multiculturalism. It’s not going to be like black and white, here are rules, and if you don’t follow the rules you are out of here. That’s not the kind of administrator or teacher that we want. …
I would tell every teacher this: ‘Teach every student as if they were your kids. Have a passion for every child, and if you do this, we will not have any problems.”
Finally, Xiong wants to hold the district, and himself, to the highest standards of accountability, transparency and equity — across the board. “If the community wants to talk about the budget, let’s not limit them to a meeting with 48-hour notice. We want to make sure parents provide constructive feedback.”
Additionally, the candidate says he will focus on improving communication between the district, board, and families, to ensure that language and cultural differences do not prevent stakeholders from being heard.
There is one other thing Xiong would like to implement; however, he does admit it’s a bit ambitious for a first-term trustee.
“I would like to implement a participatory budget process,” he says. “We could take $20,000 to $30,000 of LCAP (Local Control and Accountability Plan) funding and let parents and community members decide on individual school projects. … They vote on it. That would take care of distrust in the community. It’s not really about the money. This is a small amount of money compared to a school’s annual budget. I’m looking at the process of inclusion and constructive feedback. It’s the process of belonging and parents taking ownership in the process. … As a community member who is coming from that side, it is my diligent duty to help with this. That’s the whole thing for me. We need to make the school district see beyond the established priorities and what leaders think they know.”
Not so easy life
Xiong was raised in a Laotian refugee camp. He came to America in the early 1980s when he was 12 years old. As expected, he grew up with the challenges of English as a second language.
He went to schools in the Stockton area, and eventually graduated from CSU Sacramento with a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice. He went on to spend nearly 30 years leading in areas of social justice work and improving education equity and policy throughout the Central Valley, including in Sacramento.
The candidate has served on various local committees including DELAC, ELAC, SSC, DAC and the Bond Oversight Committees for the city school district over the past 10 years.
On his campaign website, Xiong states: “In these capacities, I was able to advocate and represent to impact the LCAP process, improve EL programs, increase parent engagement/involvement and ensure suspension and expulsion are fair and just under the law of due process.
Xiong has lived in Merced since 2009. He has been married for the past 20 years. The family includes four children, ages 6 to 16.
He has served on the county’s Municipal Advisory Council for District 3 since 2012; the Sierra Health Foundation Leadership Program, Class 12; the American Leadership Forum, Central Valley Chapter, Class 3; and Leadership Merced, Class 28.
Says Xiong, “At the end of the day, serving on the Board of Eduction is about our children and providing the best public education that money can buy. We need to ask ourselves: Do we make decisions that really reflect the needs of children? Or are we making decisions based on our own self interests, or other special interests. … I’m not big on special interests. I’m a very ordinary man. My life has been hard. I was born in Laos, raised in a refugee camp, and educated in an American system at a time when it didn’t fully benefit a lot of the refugee kids or English learners. I want to do something about that kind of achievement gap now that I have the opportunity to serve.”
Xiong is endorsed by the California School Employees Association Chapter 530.