New Associate Principal Ties Past to Lead Neenah’s Future

Associate Principal Yang (right) and her husband, Jerry (left), celebrate graduating with their masters degrees with a graduation parade during COVID. Photo provided by Sae Yang.
Associate Principal Yang (right) and her husband, Jerry (left), celebrate graduating with their master’s degrees with a graduation parade during COVID. Photo provided by Sae Yang.

A student, a guidance counselor and a teacher. These are roles some Neenah students think Mrs. Sae Yang inhabits. None of them are correct. 

Yang clarifies: “I’m the new associate principal, and I’m here to make sure this is a place where people feel they belong.” 

In comparison to her other coworkers walking the halls, she is largely unknown. If students really knew her, a story of generational struggle, new beginnings, questioning identity and a desire for change would be revealed. 

At 12 years old, Yang’s father was recruited by the CIA to help fight the secret war. Before the Vietnam War officially broke out, conditions in Laos were pointing toward major conflict. He was chosen because of his ethnicity, Hmong. According to the Smithsonian, the Hmong had been a third party to the conflict brewing in the region and this became an invaluable cover for this child soldier. Laos, the land conflict quickly grew in, was home to the Hmong people, and as ethnic minorities, they were pushed into the outskirts of society. These soldiers never received formal training, but instead were instructed to utilize guerrilla warfare, which led to a grueling and bloody war. The war took Yang’s father’s family and over 10 percent of the entire Hmong population in Laos. After the war, those who were not fortunate enough to seek refuge were killed or taken into concentration camps noted by the Hmong American Center

What follows is what makes Yang’s story so special. She was born in Chiang Kham Refugee Camp and her family spent only seven months there before having their lottery ticket called. This experience is different from other families who had been waiting for over 10 years for the chance to find sanctuary. Conditions in refugee camps were disastrous and destitute, yet hopeful. Families sold their treasured remaining personal belongings to start their new life.  This hope guided her family as they made their way to the United States, full of possibility.

After her arrival in America, life did not get any easier. After escaping an external battle, an internal battle would rage on. By middle school, Yang discovered that she differed from the students around her. Living between cultures made belonging difficult, and school was not a strong suit. After her social studies teacher saw the possibility within her to achieve things, however, her desire to pursue education grew. This desire took her to UW-Oshkosh, where she completed her bachelor’s in education and eventually her master’s in education administration. 

Now acting as the associate principal, she understands the unseen struggles of students. Yang continues to be a light for students by reminding them, “You are not defined by the conditions you are born into.”

For her, this looked like breaking the cycle of generational poverty and graduating high school. She even went higher, graduating with her master’s degree alongside her husband. She leads by example with this mantra and hopes to inspire others to aspire for more.

Although part of her work consists of administrative duties, truancy and attendance reports, she finds the most valuable way to spend time is through creating personal connections with students. For her, this means cheering on students in and outside of school hours, and supporting everything from sports teams to drama programs. She leads NHS with the values of compassion and honesty, which guide her to create a space where everyone is included.

Overall, Mrs. Yang is a collection of stories. Stories of hardship and dedication that may be unknown to students. Next time Yang walks the halls, though, instead of a student, a guidance counselor, or a teacher, she will be recognized as an innovative associate principal, a shining example of dedication — a friend.  

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    Hilary HerouxMar 13, 2024 at 2:50 PM

    What an enlightening story! Mrs. Yang has been a great associate principal and I’m appreciative of the recognition she is receiving from this!