Three weeks after a deal was sealed reaffirming her commitment to the St. Paul School District, Superintendent Valeria Silva is an enthusiastic candidate for the top schools job in Palm Beach County, Fla.
That's the impression, at least, from an application dated last Thursday in which Silva states her case for moving on to the country's 11th largest school district. And impressions matter because Silva, for a second consecutive day on Tuesday, wasn't talking.
"As a Latina leader, I believe Palm Beach County presents an exciting and multicultural opportunity in which to focus my educational and personal background," Silva wrote in an application filed two weeks after her current school board bosses signed off on a three-year contract extension. "With nearly three decades of experience in the Saint Paul Public Schools, I have the energy, unconditional commitment and strong passion that you are seeking."
On Tuesday, Silva did not reply to phone and e-mail messages, and a district spokeswoman said late in the afternoon that she was not expected to speak on the subject until Wednesday at the earliest. That is when the Palm Beach County school board is expected to whittle its 72-candidate field to an unspecified number of finalists to be interviewed on April 16, according to that district's website.
Silva has gained a national profile for her work in the field of English language learning and as the chairwoman last year of the Council of the Great City Schools. Locally, however, she's coming off a tough year in which major changes — among them the move of sixth-graders from two-year junior highs to three-year middle schools and a shifting of more English language learners and special education students to regular classrooms — were cited as factors in increasingly rowdy behavior in the schools.
Al Oertwig, a former school board member and current candidate aligned with a Caucus for Change movement seeking to replace three incumbents now up for re-election, said the application could be little more than an effort by Silva to spur "all her supporters here in St. Paul to circle the wagons and say what a wonderful job she's doing."
He cited the example of local leaders pushing successfully for former Superintendent Patricia Harvey to abandon a possible move to Portland, Ore., in 2002 as an example of how superintendents can use candidacies elsewhere — especially when a school board's makeup changes — "as an organizing tool in your home district."
State Rep. Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul, who was listed by Silva as a reference on her application, said he doesn't want her to leave.
"She's the right leader for us," he said. "There have been some rough edges, but that's to be expected when you're trying to move a big system."
Jean O'Connell, a former school board chairwoman who still is on the board, did not know she'd been listed by Silva as a reference until informed of it by a reporter. She seconded Silva's description of the Palm Beach job as "an excellent fit" given the 180,000-plus-student district's high percentage of Hispanic students, which last October ranged from 28 percent in grades 9-12 to 31 percent in grades 6-8 to 33 percent in grades K-5.
"She's a Latina, and there are not many Latina or Latino superintendents," said O'Connell, who added that she, too, like Mariani, is "really supportive of her staying."
Board Member John Brodrick, the lone vote against the three-year renewal that runs through 2018, had little to say Tuesday.
"At this point in time, I'm very, very surprised," he said. "I'll just see how it plays out."
According to both her current contract and the extension approved on March 17, Silva has a right to resign so long as she gives 90 days' notice.
Given her silence thus far this week, it's unclear why she proceeded with or did not withdraw an application. In an interview Monday, Mayor Chris Coleman said that he'd been told by Silva that she applied before her contract was extended. Board Chairwoman Mary Doran wrote in a letter to staff members Tuesday that "she was recruited prior to her contract being renewed."
But her application is dated April 2.
Also, in an e-mail to board members last Friday, tipping them to the possibility of her name being released as a candidate, Silva wrote that the opportunity arose before her contract was renewed, but made no reference to no longer wanting the job. Instead, she suggested talking points, one of which states: "Superintendent Silva has been committed to Saint Paul Public Schools for more than 25 years and we trust that she will continue to put the needs of our students and families at the forefront of any decision she may ultimately make."
At St. Paul teachers' union headquarters, President Denise Rodriguez said she was surprised by the possibility of Silva going elsewhere.
"Valeria, after her contract renewal, reiterated her commitment to St. Paul Public Schools," she said. "Superintendents have a habit in St. Paul and elsewhere of building up résumés and moving on. I just didn't think Valeria was one who would do that."
Staff Writer Mary Lynn Smith contributed to this report.