Flanked by a small but influential band of supporters, St. Paul Public Schools Superintendent Valeria Silva finally broke her silence Thursday about her pursuit of a top job in Florida to say she was abandoning the bid.
She has decided to stay put, she announced, and remains fully committed, she added, to the district where she's worked for nearly 30 years.
"I have a call and the call is St. Paul," Silva said.
But the flirtation with Florida, coming just weeks after Silva received a three-year contract extension, has led some to doubt her sincerity when it comes to commitment.
"I am sure parents, community members and educators will be wondering when and where she will apply next," Denise Rodriguez, president of the St. Paul Federation of Teachers, said after learning of Thursday's development.
Silva's statement was her first since news surfaced earlier this week she was a candidate for the top schools job in Palm Beach County, Fla. Days earlier, while on vacation, she alerted her school board bosses that the names of applicants would be made public. But that e-mail offered no hint of the depth of her interest, instead offering "talking points" for them to share about successful superintendents being in demand and about trusting that she'll keep St. Paul's students and families at the forefront of her decisionmaking.
On Thursday, Jean O'Connell, a school board member, was among a group of political, civic and business leaders summoned to City Hall by Mayor Chris Coleman to meet with Silva. Afterward, Silva announced she was staying, and alongside her was O'Connell, who said she was excited Silva had withdrawn the Florida candidacy because the St. Paul district needed consistent leadership to close achievement gaps and eliminate racial disparities.
John Brodrick, the lone board member to vote against Silva's three-year extension, went to City Hall after learning of the meeting, but he did not participate. After listening in on what Silva and others had to say, he admitted to being a "little livid," and because of that, he said, he felt it best for now to say nothing more than: "We shall see."
On Wednesday, Silva was selected as one of four candidates to interview next week for the job of leading Palm Beach County's 180,000-plus-student school system.
Three Hispanic leaders there touted her candidacy before the members of the Palm Beach County school board set out to rank their would-be finalists.
Before announcing the results, Gary Ray of the search firm Ray and Associates cautioned against drawing major conclusions with regard to a perceived front-runner. He said the process simply was about deciding who to call in for interviews. Then, he said, "it's a new ballgame."
But Robert Avossa, superintendent of Fulton County Schools in Atlanta, emerged as the top pick for five of the seven board members.
Silva landed at number one on just one member's list. Five members listed her among their top three selections.
On Thursday, Palm Beach County referred calls about Silva's withdrawal to the search firm. Ray did not return a call for comment.
Earlier in the day, Silva, speaking at what would be a quick five-question news conference, acknowledged the attraction of taking her racial-equity work to a bigger district.
The decision to abandon the bid was difficult, she said, but she wanted to ensure Palm Beach County had time to get the best leader it could get.
Asked when she decided to drop out, she implied it was quite recent because she had to text it to her husband.
There has been division within the St. Paul district.
Silva's supporters have embraced her racial equity and inclusion efforts, but critics decry a "top down, one-size-fits-all management" style and argue she's pushed through ambitious changes without providing adequate support to teachers. Too many classrooms, as a result, have seen an uptick in unruly behavior, they say.
Al Oertwig, a former school board member now running again under a union-powered Caucus for Change banner, suggested earlier this week that Silva could be using the Florida candidacy to rally support at home. He added Thursday that if she had been serious about leaving, "she would've gone through the interview process."
But even with the decision to stay, he said, there is reason to question her.
"If things aren't going well for her, if the challenges continue, she's clearly signaled she's willing to go elsewhere," Oertwig said.