SPNN interview with Valeria Silva falls short


Michael Wassenaar’s SPNN interview (appearing here on December 27) with Valeria Silva, the new leader of the Saint Paul Public Schools, lasted for about 30 minutes. As a very recently retired SPPS classroom teacher, I was listening to Ms Silva for the first time, and I was interested to hear what she had to say about the “fix” we’re in. (You know about the fix we’re in, right? It’s in the papers every day: achievement gaps; failure to reach Adequate Yearly Progress targets; budget cuts; low morale.) Ms Silva herself stated, upon being selected, that we had problems to deal with.

I was disappointed that the interviewer asked not one substantive, probing question. There was a brief reference to the audit. (You’ve all read about the audit, right? The first one in thirty years or so? The one that found that perhaps SPPS has signed on to too many initiatives over the years, that its teachers are overwhelmed and, thus, stressed out?) That audit. For decades teachers have been warning administration that their plates are overloaded, but it takes an academic audit to wake them up. Our system of public education has to be one of the most entrenched, top-down, ignore-the-people-doing-the-actual-work organizations in existence. The media report or comment on education issues every day, but there is very seldom a story that includes substantive policy input from teachers. The media need to dig deeper. They need to investigate. Why didn’t Mr. Wassenaar press Ms Silva on the issues? Where were the questions about curriculum and its consistency within schools and the district as a whole, the shortage of textbooks in some classrooms, and the degree to which teachers are expected to create their own materials? What about staff development expenditures–are they targeted and effective? What is her opinion of the initiative to make all teachers “culturally proficient”? What is her assessment of the charter school movement and its impact on Saint Paul? How will she relate to the union? Does she endorse Pawlenty’s Q Comp program? How do we weed out truly bad teachers? What’s her view of student discipline curricula and enforcement? Do as many Saint Paul teachers quit before five years of service as those who work in other Minnesota districts?

This was a feel-good interview that went on way too long. Ms Silva said nothing to convince me that she is unfit for the job of superintendent, but, due mostly to the “soft balls” that were tossed her way, I came away without a meaningful assessment of the state of our schools, let alone any confidence that she will make a difference. She seems nice. 🙂