St. Paul Public Schools Superintendent Valeria Silva was elevated Wednesday to the shortlist of finalists for schools chief of Palm Beach County, Fla.
At a special meeting, the Palm Beach County school board selected Silva and three other superintendent hopefuls to interview next week. If Silva prevails, she would be in charge of a district more than four times the size of St. Paul’s.
Board Chairman Chuck Shaw said that the finalists — survivors of what had been a 72-person field — were an “exceptional group.”
The others include Robert Avossa, superintendent of the Fulton County Schools in Atlanta, and two administrators from Florida districts even larger than Palm Beach County’s 180,000-plus-student school system.
Silva is the lone female finalist and one of two Hispanic candidates still in the running.
She was singled out for support by three local Hispanic leaders even before the search firm Ray and Associates forwarded her name Wednesday as one of eight to be considered for interviews.
She applied for the job on April 2 — just two weeks after the St. Paul school board awarded her a three-year contract extension that runs through 2018.
At home, there has been unrest stemming in part from behavioral issues brought about by ambitious changes undertaken in St. Paul in 2013-14. The fallout has inspired a Caucus for Change movement that now is seeking to unseat three school board incumbents up for election this fall.
Silva’s candidacy became public earlier this week, but the superintendent, who has been on vacation, has yet to speak about it. On Wednesday, Toya Stewart Downey, a district spokeswoman, said that neither Silva nor district officials planned to comment Wednesday on the latest development.
In testimony before the search firm’s unveiling of finalists, Joaquin Garcia, chairman of the Hispanic Education Coalition of Palm Beach County, endorsed Silva, saying she was a “national leader in racial equity” who focuses on the strengths of every child. Garcia also cited St. Paul’s improved graduation rates and the district’s push to eliminate institutional racism.
Sam Román, president of the Puerto Rican/Hispanic Chamber of Commerce for Palm Beach County Florida, also spoke in favor of Silva’s racial equity work.
Silva, in her application for the job, described it as an “excellent fit” for a Latina leader who a year ago served as chairwoman of the Council of the Great City Schools. “My national reputation as an advocate for English language learners and racial equity affords me a history of innovation and success,” she wrote.
Like Silva, Avossa is a graduate of the Broad Academy. His district, with about 96,300 students, is more than twice as large as St. Paul’s.
Also making the cut for interviews were Desmond Blackburn, chief of school performance and accountability for the public schools in Broward County, Fla., and Jesus Jara, deputy superintendent of the Orange County Public Schools in Orlando, Fla.
Interviews are April 16, with a decision on a new leader expected the same day.