Jim Vue has been serving on the Saint Paul School Board since last summer when he was appointed to replace Marny Xiong, who died in June from COVID-19. Earlier this month, he beat out five other candidates in a special election to serve the remaining 14 months in Xiong’s term. In the process, he inherited an unprecedented array of challenges, including grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic and dealing with what he described as the socio-historical trauma brought on by the death of George Floyd.
The Saint Paul Public Schools are a school district in mourning, said Vue, 40. Mourning is something he is uniquely equipped to handle, he added.
One cannot tell Vue’s story without mentioning his daughter, Ghia, who was 6 when she drowned three summers ago at Lake Elmo Park Reserve. On that sunny day in June, the Vue family’s typical spot at the beach was occupied. When they went looking for another spot, Ghia got separated from them. The next time Vue saw her, she was being pulled from the water.
In the midst of the darkest moment of his life, a couple of families emerged to help him bring his other children and their belongings to their car. That kindness, Vue said, left an indelible mark. “What those families did for me was save my soul,” he said. “From that day on, I thought if I was ever in a situation of crisis, I’m not just going to look around.”
The news of Xiong’s death in June felt like such a moment of crisis, Vue said. After serving on various school district committees and otherwise being involved as a parent in the Saint Paul Public Schools, he felt that serving on the School Board was a natural next step for him. “I just wanted to do something,” he said. “I didn’t think it was a big thing. I just thought I needed to do this.”
Those who know Vue best describe him as a deep thinker who is not likely to accept easy answers to his often challenging questions. Since he joined the School Board, fellow board member John Brodrick has taken note of his sincerity and his pragmatic approach to problem solving. Brodrick described Vue as idealistic and industrious. “I think he’s very conscientious, does his homework and isn’t afraid to ask questions or to voice an opinion,” he said.
Kristine Sorensen, executive director of In Progress, has known Vue for the better part of 15 years. She co-founded the nonprofit arts and educational organization with Vue’s wife, Sai Thao. According to Sorenson, Vue is likely to bring his inquisitive nature to the School Board, particularly in conversations about the impact school district decisions have on families.
“For Vue (serving on the School Board) is about making sure children and their families are well represented at a time when there is a lot of change going on and more change needs to happen.”
Vue has always valued family, Sorensen said. His values, in fact, have helped shape the way in which In Progress delivers its programs. The organization seeks to engage whole families, not just the new and emerging artists it serves, she added. “For Vue (serving on the School Board) is about making sure children and their families are well represented at a time when there is a lot of change going on and more change needs to happen,” Sorensen said.
Vue considers himself a stay-at-home father, but last year he wrapped up a three-year project for In Progress. Titled “Being Hmong,” it sought to express the diversity of Hmong culture by recruiting Hmong artists to tell their own stories in photography, video and music.
Vue has a track record of advocating for families of color, Sorenson said. He takes his work personally and embraces it with a discipline she believes comes from his military background.
A native of Texas, Vue was the first in his immigrant Laotian family to be born in the United States. Vue joined the U.S. Army Reserves and was deployed to Iraq and Kuwait in 2003. He returned stateside in 2004, and later that year moved to Minnesota to be with Thao, his then-fiancée. In 2012, Vue left his job as a mortgage collector in order to pursue an education. He earned a B.A. in history in 2015 and a master’s degree in liberal studies at Metropolitan State University in 2018.
Vue and Thao have four other children, ages 1, 9, 12 and 13. All of them attend Saint Paul district schools or early childhood programs.
— Casey Ek
COMMENTS TERMS OF SERVICE
The Villager welcomes comments from readers. Please include your full name and the neighborhood in which you live. Be respectful of others and stay on topic. We reserve the right to remove any comment we deem to be profane, rude, insulting or hateful. Comments will be reviewed before being published.