MEJA Announces New Executive Director Vatsady Sivongxay
The Massachusetts Education Justice Alliance (MEJA), the statewide coalition of parents, students, educators, and community activists that most recently led the campaign to pass the state’s landmark Student Opportunity Act, today announced the hiring of the coalition’s new executive director, Vatsady Sivongxay. She will succeed Charlotte Kelly, who stepped down from the role of MEJA Executive Director at the end of 2020 after leading the coalition since 2018.
“We couldn’t be more excited to have Vatsady coming on board as MEJA’s new Executive Director. Her background, experience, skill set and creative ideas about how to strengthen and grow MEJA impressed all of us,” said Lisa Guisbond, Executive Director of Citizens for Public Schools and President of the Massachusetts Education Justice Alliance. “She has brought her experiences as a refugee immigrant, public school student and now parent to her work as a community advocate, attorney, and entrepreneur, bringing people together to deliver concrete results for our communities. And now, we feel Vatsady is exactly the right person for this moment and for MEJA as we advocate for resources and policies to help Massachusetts’ students, schools, and communities recover from the pandemic and repair the inequities that this crisis has exposed and worsened.”
“As a refugee immigrant, parent, and a product of public school education, I know first-hand how critical high-quality public education and collaborative partnership among students, parents, educators, and communities are to ensure a better future,” said Vatsady Sivongxay, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Education Justice Alliance. “Every student should have access to high-quality education, no matter where they live, where they come from, their gender or identity, or their abilities. I’m deeply committed to MEJA’s shared equity goals, and I’m thrilled to build upon the momentum of the past three years — centering our work around students and families living at the margins, especially youth, immigrants, and people of color.”
Vatsady Sivongxay most recently served as the Director of Organizing and Census Manager for the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA), where she directed statewide organizing, coalition building, and training for civic engagement and immigrant rights, including managing and implementing the Statewide Complete Count Committee outreach strategies for the 2020 Census. Her background as an attorney, advocate, public policy director, and entrepreneur as well as her experience as a refugee immigrant collectively inform her strong commitment to democratic engagement and advancing equity, diversity, inclusion and racial equity.
Prior to joining MIRA, Vatsady managed, collaborated on, and led community outreach and public policy initiatives, and even ran for elected office. As Director of Public Policy for Boston’s District 7 with Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson, she developed and directed public policy and strategic initiatives aimed at supporting and amplifying the voices of those living in the shadows and struggling everyday. These included:
Protecting public education and fighting against unchecked charter school expansion during the No on Question 2 campaign;
Shining a spotlight on the issues of recruitment and retention of a diverse teaching workforce and pipeline;
Collaborating with youth, parent, and teacher groups regarding advocacy such as but not limited to youth voice, representation, and school-to-prison pipeline issues; and
Facilitating cross-functional collaborations that led to positive outcomes such as a local-job training community benefits package.
Prior to her work for District 7, Vatsady served as a community legal service pro-bono attorney and opened a law practice to help entrepreneurs realize their small business dreams and guide immigrants through the complex immigration system. Vatsady serves as an advisor and board member of several community organizations, including the Harry H. Dow Memorial Legal Assistance Fund and the Asian American Lawyers Association of Massachusetts. She has a J.D. from Suffolk University Law School and a bachelor’s degree from Creighton University. She lives in Cambridge with her husband Stephen and their son, who is enrolled in the Cambridge Public Schools, currently in remote kindergarten.
The Massachusetts Education Justice Alliance (MEJA) began to take form in 2015 at a dark time for public education. Corporate privatizers were coming for our communities’ public schools. Generations of students — especially low-income students, immigrants and students of color — were suffering in underfunded schools, with no end in sight. Public college students trying to stay afloat were burdened with crushing debt, while public college workers took on more and more responsibility for less and less pay.
MEJA brought together hundreds of organizations, unions, and community groups to fight to Save Our Public Schools and vote No on 2 in 2016. We defeated the push to allow unlimited charter school growth to destroy public education as we know it. We won big, by 62% to 38%.
After the 2016 election, MEJA became a nonprofit with a membership coalition of students, parents, educators, community activists, and union members committed to fighting against the Trump/DeVos Administration and defending public schools and colleges from corporate vultures. MEJA hired Charlotte Kelly as Executive Director in 2018 and built coalition tables in seven regions of the state to advocate for equitable resources and democratic control of our schools. MEJA hired local parents and community organizers to lead these battles.
MEJA pulled together our coalition once again to demand that we Fund Our Future by ensuring the promise of our K-12 public schools and demanding that our lawmakers cherish our public higher education system. We fought hard. We rallied, called, wrote letters, assembled at the State House, and made it clear that “no” was not an answer. Once again, we fought and we won! The biggest piece of education legislation in Massachusetts in 25 years, the Student Opportunity Act, phased in over seven years, committed $1.5 billion per year in new aid to K-12 public schools. The resources will be focused on the students and educators who need these resources the most after decades of neglect.
Now, as the COVID-19 pandemic crisis and economic collapse present massive challenges for our public schools and colleges, MEJA is working to ensure that the state’s commitment to K-12 funding is upheld, to provide our public colleges and universities with the resources they need to provide affordable, high-quality public education, and to address the root causes of systemic education inequities as we recover from this generational crisis.
The Massachusetts Education Justice Alliance (MEJA) is a coalition of parents, students, educators, and labor, religious, student and community activists and organizations committed to protecting and improving public education and fighting for economic, social and racial justice. Learn more at https://massedjustice.org.