Don’t ever tell Christianna Hang, School Director, CEO/President of Minneapolis charter school Hmong Academy that she can’t accomplish something. Odds are that she’ll prove any naysayer wrong.
Through Christianna’s vision, Hmong Academy has become one of the State’s shining stars in the world of public education. She has done so through her relentless pursuit of education, a focus on bettering her community and providing a quality educational product.
A rough start
Born in Laos, Christianna is the youngest of eleven children. Six of her brothers and sisters were killed during the war. When she was three, her family fled through the war-torn jungles of Laos to Thailand. The war took its toll on Christianna’s family, claiming six of her brothers and sisters. She and her remaining family spent the next five years in a Thai refugee camp until an older brother sponsored her to come to the United States. Christianna cites her first experience with education in America as providing her with the motivation and drive to start Hmong Academy.
“My family and I arrived in Hawaii in 1980. We couldn’t read nor write, yet we were placed in a mainstream class,” said Christianna. She recalled, “We were beaten up every day going to and from school. I remember thinking, ‘If this is education in America, I don’t want to go to school.’ To this day, it was those experiences that provide me with the motivation to thrive in education.”
Arriving in Minnesota
Christianna arrived in Minnesota in 1983 and lived in “a project in Southeast Minneapolis.” She went to South High School and was one of two Hmong students accepted into their Magnet School’s linguistic program.
“I never took my education for granted. Traditionally, Hmong girls were not given the opportunity to go to school. Plus, I still had the drive to do something big…I was going to make a difference someday in both the Hmong and mainstream communities.”
In her senior year at South High, Christianna took college courses and graduated in the top ten of her class. She was awarded a full scholarship to Mankato State. Cultural traditions caused her to not accept the scholarship.
“My parents said ‘You are a girl…you cannot go.’”
Christianna spent the next eight years working for Rosemount Corporation. She began her career on the assembly line and worked her way into an administrative position. While working, Christianna found time to continue her education. She took night classes at Normandale Community College and earned her Associates Degree in Business. She left Rosemount and went to work for the Minneapolis Public Schools.
Continuing her quest for knowledge, Christianna enrolled in night classes at Concordia University in St. Paul where she earned her BA in Organizational Management and K-12 Education.
One month after graduating, she enrolled in Concordia’s MBA program and recently earned her Masters in Organizational Management and Communication. She is now pursuing her PhD at Cappella University.
I finally found my passion and it’s the kids…
In 2000, the light bulb went on. She had been working at Harvest Prep School in Minneapolis, under the guidance of Dr. Joyce Lewis-Lake and Mr. Eric Mahmoud. Through this work, Christianna realized that the Twin Cities needed a Hmong charter school. By creating a charter school, she could connect her passion for quality education with the needs of her community.
“I heard cries from the community. The need existed to provide a better educational experience for students that featured a culturally focused, rigorous curriculum and low class sizes. There were simply too many Hmong students sitting back in class and getting A’s for being good listeners.”
Christianna’s first step was to mobilize the community.
“I told my husband that we were going to do this ‘thing.’ We organized a meeting and over fifty community members and leaders attended. It’s not easy starting a charter school and we made our share of mistakes. However, we learned from them and our charter was approved in 2002. We opened the doors to Hmong Academy in 2004 to 210 students.”
Results so far…
To date, Hmong Academy is succeeding in a number of different arenas. Academically, more than 70 percent of 10th grade students passed their MN Basic Standard Tests, up from 20 percen when they first arrived. The school also has a 97.8 percent attendance rate. Fiscally, the school was in the black $335,000 in its inaugural year. Even with the move to a new facility this July and increased growth, the school will be up $100,000 in audit funds for the ’05-’06 school term.
“Why have we been successful? First off, everyone at Hmong Academy is all about the students. We focus on our parents and students—we want to hear from them. If you don’t listen to your customers, you don’t have a business. If Hmong Academy didn’t focus on students and families, our customers, we would fail. Second, charter schools allow for site-based decision making. In many of today’s public school systems there is too much management and bureaucracy. Charter schools must have business skills as well as educational skills. They must also have an entrepreneurial spirit.”
Hmong Academy will be opening the doors to a new facility for the 2006-07 school year. The current challenge …doubling student enrollment.
“We’ll get there,” stated Christianna.
No doubt she will.