St. Paul superintendent reflects on freshman year

  • Article by: DAAREL BURNETTE II , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 19, 2010 - 7:42 PM

Valeria Silva discusses what she sees in the future for the district.

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Superintendent Valeria Silva got to know students Qali Mohamed and Alexis Xiong at an awards ceremony and music assembly recently.

Photo: Richard Tsong-Taatarii, Star Tribune

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Valeria Silva has completed her first year as superintendent of St. Paul public schools. She recently talked to the Star Tribune about her accomplishments and regrets and what lies ahead. An edited version of that conversation:

Q: What are you most proud of in your first year?

A: I feel most proud [of] the many decisions that had to be made to change the district culture in many ways. We had to make a lot of changes with the district's economic situation. We were able to accomplish major changes, such as [closing and combining some schools] within the first three months. Not only did we accomplish those changes, they have been extremely successful.

The work that we have done this year with the board has been critical. We're a very strong team. They were bold decisions and they were very, I would say, risky. For a first-year superintendent ... the books will tell you, don't take so many risks. I'm a person that likes to plan it, put it in practice and do it. And if we have to go back and redirect ourselves, I don't mind that.

Another piece I feel is a legacy I will leave in this district is the summer graduation, which we had never done before. When those kids walked across the stage, it meant so much to me. That was very powerful.

I feel very strong about the relationship I have developed with the union president. I feel very proud of the relationship I have with the principals, too.

Q: Is there anything you regret or would've done differently?

A: I regret not being able to be more in the schools. I regret not taking more time to have more conversations with the staff. This is my next step.

I also regret not being able to talk to other superintendents in Minnesota. I've committed to do more this year. It's a very lonely job sometimes.

Q: What do you see in the future for St. Paul schools?

A: We're getting ready to launch our strategic plan in January. That plan will determine how we improve instruction, how we align our system, grade level and curriculum and how we use our resources, whatever they are, big or small. It'll provide an opportunity for the city, parents and community to know what's coming so there will be no surprises.

We need to know what we're going to do with the budget deficit. We just cut $27.2 million. The idea is to cut as much away from the classroom as possible. This last year, schools got the smallest percentage of cuts. I know we have the capacity, the resources and the human capital that it takes to take this district from good to great.

Daarel Burnette II • 651-735-1695

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