WCHS parent Julie Yang runs for BOE seat


Photo by Jeremy Fredricks.

The homepage of Julie Yang’s campaign website, julieyang.org. Yang is running to represent District 3 on the Montgomery County Board of Education.

By Jeremy Fredricks, Editor-in-Chief

Julie Yang notices the small details instantly. She immediately asks about the background of people she meets with on Zoom, inquiring about their lives and what it shows about them. 

Yang worked for MCPS in various roles for 11 years before becoming the first non-incumbent to announce a bid to become a Board of Education member in January. She says that working in three different clusters — most recently as the College and Career Coordinator at Magruder High School — has given her a unique perspective as she runs to represent students and her former peers.

“I have worked at three different high schools and so all high schools have very different needs,” Yang said. “[It] has given me a very good understanding of our students’ needs and different communities’ challenges.”

That “good understanding” of students’ needs comes from her emphasis on building relationships with them. Yang believes that students have to feel understood by their peers and teachers to succeed in the classroom.

“We are looking at students that can develop socially, emotionally, academically and physically,” Yang said. “It’s not just about math and English; it’s also about arts, about understanding human life. It’s understanding who you are and how you relate to those around you.”

Since most MCPS instruction was online last year, few students turned on their cameras and Yang missed her connections with students. When students returned in September, she noticed they were “not ok,” which inspired her to run for a seat on the Board.

“This pandemic has brought on isolation and anxiety,” Yang said. “My career center during lunch was more popular than ever before because kids just wanted to have a place to sit, put their head on the desk or sit on the rocking chill just to chill, just to have a time to collect themselves.”

Yang grew up in a one-room house in China, where many of her peers did not even get the chance to go to school past the equivalent of elementary school. Her father was a teacher who taught individual students at a desk in the house; Yang still remembers one of her father’s students, the son of a butcher who went on to get a college degree. She eventually did too.

“When I was growing up, the girls around me didn’t get to finish school beyond elementary school. I am the only one that has gone to college,” Yang said. “Because of that experience, I always felt…that it is so important that we have education opportunities for everyone. Education made a difference for my life, and I want it to be the bridge to success for every child.”

Yang got a master’s degree in education from the University of Hawaii, worked with the WCHS PTA, volunteered in several groups, and served on the MCPS Anti-Racism and COVID-19 Steering Committees. She also worked to get Lunar New Year recognized by MCPS.

“Some of my community work includes helping immigrant Asian American parents learn to participate in the school system,” Yang said. “We need to continue to explore more ways to celebrate our diversity.  It is important that our Board of Education continues to represent all students, including our students of color and immigrant students.”

As a College and Career Coordinator, she saw how higher education could be a lightning rod for success. She clearly remembers one student who thought he would not go to college because of limitations — primarily financial — but Yang worked to change the narrative.

“Instead of just saying, ‘Oh, yes, of course, you can do it. You just need to apply and you’ll be able to do it,’ we actually want to talk about…what he likes studying at school, what he sees himself doing in 10 years, and what other things he enjoys doing,” Yang said. “During these conversations, he gained confidence [about] what he wants to do. He gained the confidence to apply to schools, and we found other resources to help him get there.”

Helping students achieve their college and career goals is one of many examples of Yang building strong relationships with students. Since leaving Magruder in December, Yang has comforted students via Twitter, including after the January shooting at Magruder and the release of University of Maryland College Park decisions.

After Montgomery County Board of Education member Patricia O’Neill passed away this past September, Yang was among the finalists to be appointed to the seat for the remainder of the term. However, Scott Joftus was selected. This time around, Montgomery County residents will elect the winner. Candidates have until March 22 to register. On the campaign trail, Yang will be joined by her family, including her son, WCHS senior Ben Lee.

“I’m really proud of her for running. It was definitely a family decision and I couldn’t be happier that she’s stepping up to the plate,” Lee said. “In terms of helping her, I’m definitely there for support, as well as helping her practice her speeches, making videos, and spreading the word.”

Her policies include mitigating the education loss caused by COVID-19 and adding new programs and recruiting more staff, particularly counselors. Yang also wants to increase opportunities for students to train and intern at local businesses and government offices. According to Yang, many school districts have similar programs in place.

Yang’s campaign is currently hosting virtual meet-and-greet sessions and is hoping to move to in-person events as COVID-19 subsides. Yang is looking forward to the campaign and connecting with community members as she looks for a chance to represent her constituents. 

“My whole idea of how we can run a school system better is to empower…all the stakeholders, the students, the teachers and the community so we are all on the same page,” Yang said. “For me, because of my background, I believe that every child deserves a chance for a brighter future.”