Vang Pao Elementary School is as local as most MMSD school names

Making school names local, as suggested by Capital Times editor John Nichols, is a sensible goal. Make school names local The Madison School Board had an open nomination process and it held televised public hearings on the naming of the new west side elementary school. We did so to hear the preferences of local people and their reasons for their choices.
Over several months, we sought and received nominations. While we heard from some people living outside the district, we heard primarily from people from the district.
During these months I came to the conclusion that naming a school after Hmong General Vang Pao would meet important local needs, the need to recognize the sacrifices of the Hmong generation who were US allies during the Vietnam War and to explain the Hmong presence in our community which is a direct result of that alliance.
Having heard from many Hmong speakers during the hearings and from my colleague, Shwaw Vang, about the role that Vang Pao played in their lives, I did not feel that substituting a different Hmong name was an option. I could not imagine telling Shwaw Vang that I had decided that he is a more appropriate hero for the Hmong people in the Madison district. I believe that such an action would have shown great disrespect for the very people that we hope to acknowledge are part of our community and play very positive roles in our community.
The tradition in MMSD—rightly or wrongly—has been to name some schools after national heroes, some after locations, some after people who made significant contributions to the state or the district and some after people who have earned respect locally, even though the honorees were not without controversy. To me, naming the school after General Vang Pao fits in that range.