Valeria Silva’s days as St. Paul schools superintendent are numbered. In less than a month, she’ll no longer lead Minnesota’s second-largest district. On Tuesday, the school board approved an agreement for her to leave the position on July 15.
The board, with four members who were seated in January, is unhappy with Silva’s leadership. Even though she had just two-and-a-half years left on her contract and said she would not seek a renewal, the board majority made the expensive and risky decision to hire a new superintendent. Under the negotiated agreement, Silva will receive her $213,026 salary, plus $11,000 per year in longevity pay, until December 2018. She will also stay on with the district for 15 months in an advisory role.
Now it is incumbent upon that board to lay out a vision of how the district should be run differently to achieve better results. The board must consider community input and communicate effectively with parents, staff members and the public. And it must conduct a fair, inclusive and transparent search for a new superintendent — arguably the most important job of any elected school board.
Silva had been a teacher and administrator for St. Paul schools before being named superintendent in 2009. Her last two years in the job have been especially difficult. The district is dealing with a multimillion-dollar budget deficit and a significant enrollment decline. Several incidents of student-on-staff violence and other school climate and safety concerns have led to scrutiny of the administration’s handling of student discipline.
And in April, a group of district parents presented a petition to board members seeking Silva’s ouster, citing not only the discipline concerns but also alleged attempts to stifle teachers who were critical of her policies. She has also been criticized for the ineffective implementation of a racial equity plan for the district, which has more work to do to address racism, bias and equal access in schools.
Though there have been challenges, there also have been signs of progress during Silva’s tenure. Graduation rates rose from 61 percent in 2009 to 75 percent in 2015. While there are still troubling gaps between students of color and white students, graduation rates increased among Hispanic and black students.
Silva’s tenure has had its highs and lows, as is often the case for superintendents of large urban school districts. Now that the board has decided to make a change, it’s responsible for charting a better course for St. Paul’s public schools. That starts with hiring the best available candidate and supporting the district’s new leader even if decisions prove controversial in some quarters.
Members of the board’s new majority — all backed by the teachers union — were swept into office promising change. They moved quickly to oust Silva. It remains to be seen if they have a better alternative.