Valeria Silva’s passion for St. Paul Public Schools and her long experience in SPPS were the touchstones of her presentations Wednesday, as she emphasized her readiness to transition smoothly into the district’s top leadership position and meet the challenges of academic achievement and budget cuts.
SPPS, she said, is “where I have put my soul, where I have dedicated my life, where I have given you guys my children to educate … This is not just a job, this is a passion, this is a commitment of giving up everything for the kids.”
Silva said she is ready to lead SPPS, and to continue the work she has done as Chief Academic Officer, and before that as ELL coordinator, principal, assistant principal, curriculum coordinator and teacher in St. Paul schools.
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A native of Chile, Silva came to St. Paul at the age of 24. She said that retired teachers in the nursing home where she first worked helped her to learn English, “or rather, Minnesotan.”
Her familiarity with SPPS was evident as she talked about increasing test scores for African American students at Jackson, about integrating early childhood and pre-kindergarten programs throughout SPPS, and about a community partner providing health services at Gordon Parks. Silva emphasized that her strategy would be to “find the jewels in the organization and bring them up and duplicate the programs that are working.”
In response to a board question about zero-based budgeting, as the district looks at a $27 million deficit next year, Silva said her approach would be collaborative and would involve the community at the beginning and throughout the decision-making process. She said the superintendent would need to be a good listener and to be open to ideas from many places, including unions.
She also emphasized the need for community partnerships, not only for financial support from business, but also by making both businesses and community agencies partners with the schools. “Our schools need to become the center of the community,” she said, citing the example of the Harlem Children’s Zone in involving each member of the community, “truly involving them, not just little pieces here, little pieces there.”
Percent of SPPS students demonstrating proficiency in reading
District African ELL
2008-09 53 41 37
2007-08 51 39 37
2006-07 48 36 37
While Silva talked about successes in ELL programs, the district’s proficiency scores for ELL have not increased over the past few years. She acknowledged that the achievement gap persists, but said that SPPS has the best results for ELL students, for Hispanic students, and for Asian students of any district in the state.
Saying that she respects NCLB for what is has brought to the educational system, she said that it has also “given us goals that are almost impossible to achieve.” Referring to her work at the national level, Silva said that “I have really, really pushed that the way to measure accountability is to measure what the students have gained. You cannot compare one school with another school where students tart from very different points.” Test scores, she emphasized, are only one way toward accountability.
In her closing statement, Silva talked about being the first generation college graduate in her family, noting that her mother was watching the evening interview from Chile, and recalling past discussions with her father at various stages in her career.
“Can I do this job?
“Yes, but I cannot do it alone. I feel that I can do this job because I have maniy, many people behind me jto support me. People that know that I won’t be a perfect superintendent, but I will aim for the best. Can I lead and change the life of 38,000 [students]? Not alone. It has to be with your help, with the help of everybody who works in this organization. Together we can.”
Valeria Silva, chief academic officer in SPPS; Charles Hopson, deputy superintendent in the Portland, Oregon public schools; and Deb Henton, superintendent in North Branch were named Saturday afternoon as the three finalists for superintendent of St. Paul Public Schools (SPPS). Final interviews begin Monday, November 16, and a decision by the board is scheduled for Monday, November 23.
To offer feedback to the board, fill out a feedback form at the afternoon public candidate forums or at the SPPS website. Candidate meeting days and the schedule for each day are:
Monday, November 16 – Charles Hopson
Wednesday, November 18 – Valeria Silva
Thursday, November 19 – Deb Henton
Each day’s schedule will be:
2-2:30 p.m. – press conference
5-6:15 p.m. – public reception, including candidate presentation and Q&A
6:30-8 p.m. – finalist interview by Board of Education