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Why the upcoming St. Paul School Board election will be a referendum on Valeria Silva’s leadership

Superintendent Valeria Silva

MinnPost file photo by Craig Lassig
Superintendent Valeria Silva

In October of 2013, Valeria Silva stood before her peers, the superintendents of the urban districts that belong to the Council of the Great City Schools, and challenged them to think differently about their achievement gaps.

Combing through data after she took the helm at St. Paul Public Schools, Silva had a startling realization: Impoverished white students did better academically than children of color from wealthy families.

When educators talk about the kids schools are failing, the conversation typically centers on poverty — with sharp division whether schools can overcome its challenges. But the data told Silva there would be no closing of the 45 point gap between the city’s children of color and white children without talking about race — and frankly.

Her colleagues were listening. In part because she revolutionized the way her schools approach English-language learners, Silva is something of a rock star in national circles. Shortly before her remarks, Education Week named her a “Leader to Learn From.”

Growing up in Chile, Silva told the superintendents [PDF], her light brown skin and Latina ethnicity made her part of the majority: “I didn’t understand the privileges I had — and the skin-color privileges I would lose — when coming to America.”

It wasn’t until Silva began to challenge her own bedrock assumptions — that native English speakers were somehow superior, for instance — that she really began to understand the influence of mindset in the classroom. Beliefs had to change.

“Poverty has been our focus because it is much easier — and less scary — than to talk about race,” she said. “Please, I challenge you. Go home from this conference and look at your own data.”

Large-scale change — and tensions

Two years later those conversations have driven large-scale change, yet have caused enough discomfort that tensions within St. Paul Public Schools (SPPS) — long a place where the children of vocal parents of means could count on great educations — are at a flashpoint. The upcoming November election is seen as a referendum on Silva’s policies — and perhaps her superintendency.

A teacher union-led effort to oust several incumbent board members has gained traction with parents galvanized by what they say are behavior issues that have spiraled out of control. Administrators, they say, aren’t listening.

And the unhappy voices can’t be neatly dismissed as entitled parents impatient with calls for equity. Hmong and Karen families are increasingly taking the unusual step of expressing frustration publicly.

The number of St. Paul children of color attending school outside the district has risen from 9,149 in 2010 to 12,201 in 2014, according to the Center for School Change’s Joe Nathan, who has been involved in some of the campaigns to replace board incumbents. The number of white students leaving is up just 475 over the same time period, to 3,537.

In June, as political tensions came to a head, fourth-grade teacher Aaron Benner — who has since filed to run for a board seat — appeared on Bill O’Reilly’s Fox program under the headline “Chaos in Public Schools.”

If there was a district campaign to combat the negative headlines that preceded O’Reilly’s rant, it flew under the radar. Indeed SPPS communications staff have not reached out to this publication in several years and seemed confused by requests for interviews for this story, which was largely reported via conversations with insiders on both sides of the issue, many of whom asked not to be named.

St. Paul charged ahead; others moved incrementally

St. Paul is hardly the only community where the combined pressures of confronting racial disparities and the exodus of families of color leaving for charters and suburbs have opened painful fissures. But where other districts have taken years to make incremental steps that get incremental gains, St. Paul has charged in.

At the core of the eruptions are two separate but related changes. Soon after being appointed in 2010, Silva decided it was time for the district to confront racial inequities. Three years later she moved to change one of the most inequitable practices by returning special-education students — many of them children of color who had acted out — to mainstream classrooms.

Almost immediately rifts appeared. Many complain that the district hasn’t provided overwhelmed teachers with promised supports for dealing with the increased challenges — a claim advanced even by some staunch supporters of the changes.

At the same time, many of the adults in the system are resistant to the idea that a different belief system will have the greatest impact on classroom culture, others say.

Disproportionate discipline in many districts

As in many districts, children of color and Native American students in St. Paul are much more likely than their white peers to be subjected to punitive discipline. African-American boys, for instance, are twice as likely to be suspended as white children.

Students of color are also disproportionately tracked into special education for nonviolent behavior that is perceived as defiant. Because Minnesota’s teacher corps is 85 percent white, the teacher interpreting the behavior does so across a cultural chasm.

The effects of exclusion from the regular classroom are devastating. A student who has been suspended three or more times by ninth grade is almost guaranteed not to graduate. Isolated from their peers, children whose behavior masked a challenge at home or a learning deficit just become angrier.

Historically many schools and teachers have relied on the ability to send a child who is acting up and who does not respond to “redirection” — requests to quiet down or get back on task — out of the classroom.

Even a very young child intent on, say, competing with the teacher for a class’ attention can bring everyone to a halt. When Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) last year announced an initiative to curb suspensions in kindergarten through second grade, teachers protested.

At the same time, districts and individual schools here and elsewhere have dramatically curtailed “behavior referrals.” Strategies vary, but almost all rely to some degree on a teacher’s ability to be warm and demanding — to insist that every student can and will be engaged.

A tectonic shift

If it sounds semantic, the shift Silva hoped to get the entire district to make — from talking about poverty as the obstacle to race as a constant presence in schools — is tectonic. Among other things it prompts the question: Will proven gap-closing strategies work in schools where students of color are seen as less likely to succeed?

In 2010 Silva contracted with the Pacific Educational Group to begin staging “courageous conversations” among district staff. The intensive trainings focus on helping individuals understand and challenge their beliefs.

In much the same way that the district hoped to shift the narrative from poverty to race, leaders wanted staff to think less about managing students and more about relating to them. The resulting shift in mindset would have an impact on everything from encouraging teachers to design lessons that are relevant to students’ cultures to the well-researched correlation between teacher expectations of students’ potential and their performance.

The process started with district and school leaders, with increasing numbers of classroom teachers included in recent years. Meanwhile, each school was asked to form an equity team that would work on the issue.

In many schools, the return of students with behavior challenges to regular classrooms left staff feeling underequipped. Many complained they didn’t understand how a greater awareness of race would result in more engaged students.

Seeking understanding rather than control

For the last five years, Kristy Pierce has been a behavior and culture specialist at Battle Creek Middle School, where the mostly impoverished student body is racially diverse. A black woman, she is a fierce proponent of the approach.

“It breaks the ground a little for people who know things just aren’t right,” says Pierce. “That being able to be vulnerable is tough, that ability to give up control.”

Over the last two years she has co-taught creative expression to eighth-grade classes in which half the students qualify for special-ed services. Sometimes students get so anxious they need to leave for a little while, but Pierce has never sent one out of class.

One reason: Pierce says she doesn’t focus on control so much as understanding.

“Many times adults want kids to come in and sit down and be quiet,” she explains. “I might not be able to be quiet. In the quiet it’s so loud. So what if I create an environment in which it’s OK that [a student] stands up? What if you don’t lose control? What if they just stand up?”

Pierce acknowledges that many of her colleagues would prefer specific strategies, something district leaders say they are providing in the form of training in culturally responsive teaching methods, among other things.

But Pierce does think a shift in perception can make a crucial difference. Educators routinely move mountains to reach children they believe in, she notes. Those who are able to live with tough racial truths are likely to figure out how to reach their kids, she says.

The former superintendent in Eden Prairie, Melissa Krull, also contracted with the Pacific Educational Group after wrestling with many of the same questions as Silva. Without a belief that all children can and want to learn, even the best strategies won’t work for all students, she says.

“I believe that once we believe that all children can learn we will, in fact, act on our beliefs,” she says. “This means we will read, discuss, learn, take courses and even build relationships so that we find ourselves acting in accordance with our beliefs. If we believe in all children we will be sure our behaviors follow.”

And what of the painful interval in which students possibly long isolated from other children are absorbing educators’ energy?

Too little attention to practical issues?

A onetime SPPS teacher and administrator, Nathan doesn’t believe the district has taken the concerns to heart. Families at Ramsey Middle School spent last year trying to convey the severity of the behavior disruptions to little end, he said. Nine teachers quit.

“Information … has been theoretical vs. practical,” says Nathan. “Teachers don’t know what the district wants them to do when confronted with, say, a student calling them a motherfucker.”

As part of a federally funded collaboration with the district, Nathan’s Center for School Change asked Eli Kramer, leader of the high-performing charter school network Hiawatha Academies (and full disclosure: son of MinnPost founders Joel and Laurie Kramer) to conduct a workshop on the engagement strategies in the popular book “Teach Like a Champion.”

“Many SPPS teachers either wrote on their evaluators or told me that they had previously attended workshops about ‘courageous conversations’ that focused on teacher attitudes but did not give them specific, practical strategies to improve classrooms,” says Nathan. “They really liked Eli because he was very practical about what they could do the next day to help students achieve more.”

Michelle Bierman, SPPS’ director of race equity, has laid out a schedule for the coming school year in which classroom-level training is intensified and teachers are given a variety of options for bridging the gap from theory to practice. And there are schools where shifts in culture are well under way, she and others say.

Concerns about disruptions

Still, dinner-table talk of disruptions in class are hard to counter. Sia Her, executive director of the Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans, says she is frequently approached by Southeast Asian parents who fear their concerns are being lost in the fray.

Many aren’t well informed about the racial-equity policy, which can seem indifferent to their values, such as deference to teachers and other adults. In contrast to “model minority” stereotypes, their children may struggle with learning gaps nearly as large as those confronting African-American and Latino students.

“The conversation has mostly been about African-American children relative to white children,” says Her. “When you push it, Latinos come into the picture. But Asian students don’t come into the discussion.

“Just because my child is sitting silently watching this interchange play out between a teacher and a disruptive student doesn’t mean my child is going to score well.”

Her wishes that there were an organized effort to bring together “a well-rounded group of stakeholders from the Asian Pacific Islander community” in the hope of preventing families from either suffering or leaving quietly.

“Children don’t just carry a backpack with pens and pencils, but the expectations and dreams not just of a family but of a people,” she says. “My family would not be where we are without St. Paul Public Schools. St. Paul has done a whole lot of good for a whole lot of students of color.”

And what of its ability to continue doing good? Unknown is whether the coalition seeking to change the composition of the school board will hold, much less attempt to alter either the race-equity policy or the practice of including all special ed students in regular classrooms.

What does seem certain is that whatever the district’s future leadership, the data that propelled Silva to call for courageous conversations is not going to change without a collective willingness to confront the role that race plays in the classroom.

“This racial-equity work made me uncomfortable, and that’s how I knew I was doing the right work,” Silva told the superintendents two years ago. “I often operate outside my comfort zone. I choose to go to the ‘race place’ and stay there.”

Time, then, will tell whether the SPPS can stay there with her.

Comments (10)

  1. Submitted by joe smith on 08/13/2015 - 10:01 am.

    What has changed since Silva has taken over? Are graduation rates up or down? Are students graduating with the tools needed to compete in college or more importantly compete in a competitive work place? Are our kids able to read, write and do math at higher level now?
    I am sure after dealing with Pacific Ed Group our teachers got an earful as to how to help students, did it work?

  2. Submitted by Ashley Bullock on 08/13/2015 - 11:32 am.

    Valeria Silva Pushing Hard

    Ah, another Silva supporter who actually believes that Silva is truly concerned with racial equity. Beth Hawkins has hit all of Silva’s talking points, somewhat slyly in the use of language (“entitled parents”?), but definitely on point with Silva’s preferred narrative.

    Those of us who have been in the district for years have a different perspective. There are many voices for racial equity, but very few of us believe that Silva’s is one of them. Silva has never shown how not disciplining students leads to racial equity. Nor has she shown how her supposed efforts have produced results in closing the achievement gap. The one area she claims to have produced results in was in the very area that her actions limited the collection of data on. And this is the best example of Silva’s duplicity.

    To explain, Silva decided, halfway through the 2012/2013 school year that students should not be individually disciplined in ways that led to the collection of data about student discipline. To achieve this she told the teachers to take care of discipline problems in the classrooms rather than by sending the student to the school office. This resulted in some very strange discipline strategies. One example is that elementary schools stopped issuing behavior action plans when an individual student was chronically disruptive. Instead they issued a modified behavior ‘contract’ to all the students in the offending student’s class. Sometimes to all the students in that grade. Effectively punishing the behaving students along with the misbehaving students.

    But the important point of this strategy is not that it made addressing individual student misbehavior effectively impossible, but that it severely limited the collection of data about which students were being disciplined. You see, if you have a problem with data that shows a racial bias in student discipline it’s much easier to solve the problem by simply changing or limiting the way that the data is collected. This was highlighted by a Silva administration press release issued in June of 2013 just after school let out that crowed about the Silva administration achieving a 30% drop in racial bias in student discipline. That’s 30% in 4 months. Friends, that’s an incredibly significant result and, if true, would make Silva an instant national celebrity and earn her millions in consulting fees. If true. But the sad fact is that Silva didn’t address the very real and very difficult problem of racial bias in student discipline at all. She simply gamed the data to make it appear that she did. And if anyone disagreed with her she called them overprivileged, entitled and racist.

    There is not enough comment space to list all the examples of Silva’s poor decision making and her cynical attempts to hide behind claimed efforts to promote racial equity in her effort to invalidate the very real issues raised against her. Allow me to just make two quick points about this article, though. The first is that Aaron Benner has been on many media outlets, but when the Silva apologists want to attack his views they only mention that he appeared on Bill O’Reilly’s Fox program. The second is that the teacher’s union was in fact the venue to which many parents took their complaints after being ignored, and sometimes screamed at publicly, by Valeria Silva. But that doesn’t mean that the discontent of the parents was orchestrated by the union or that the union had as much influence as they might have liked. A good example of this was during the DFL city convention when the union tried to organize a move to support certain candidates that was rejected as a purely political union move, and rejected so quickly and decisively that the union immediately disavowed the effort.

    St. Paul deserves better reporting than this.

  3. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 08/13/2015 - 11:40 am.

    Good and bad chaos


    I’m an old white guy whose career was spent in a suburban St. Louis school district desegregated by court order. For some, that may disqualify me from the discussion at the very beginning.

    I taught social studies (mostly American history and Western civilization, but also government, economics, psychology, geography, etc.) successfully in a pair of “sister” high schools in that same school district for 30 years. If annual evaluations and student test scores are to be believed (I’m skeptical of the latter), I successfully taught deaf children, blind children, Asian and Middle Eastern children for whom English was a second language, African-American children of both recent African and American descent, Hispanic children and Caucasian children. In those 30 classroom years, I never asked that a student be suspended, and I sent a student to the assistant principal for disciplinary reasons exactly once. She was a gorgeous 17-year-old blonde who could have been a Swedish model, but who instead dropped a loud F-bomb on the boy behind her one day when he insisted on taunting her about a recent romantic breakup.

    I also have a brother, now 53, who’s fairly severely autistic.

    My own 2¢ is that successful classrooms have to have some degree of order. Not necessarily every moment of every day, but there has to be some sort of plan evident, and when there’s chaos in the class – as there sometimes was in mine – it has to be chaos with a purpose, and that purpose has to be realized. Purposeful chaos can be energizing and engaging. The disruptive variety tends to produce, instead of engagement, anxiety, anger, and other less-than-productive responses. It’s not always about sitting still, and I could have tolerated a kid who had to stand up every once in a while, but a kid who acts out on a daily basis, requiring my attention and energy in grossly disproportionate amounts, and every day, is a detriment to all the other kids in the class. My brother would have been one of those disruptive kids.

    Asking classroom teachers to accommodate a variety of learning styles is, I’d argue, part of the job, and good teachers find ways to do that in so many ways that I won’t bother to try to list them. That said, if some minimum parameters of – I’ll use a very old-fashioned term here, but one I think is precisely relevant – “decorum” can’t be maintained, then limits are being placed on both teacher and other students in the class that are, to be blunt, unfair and unjust.

    Keeping the special-needs or behaviorally-challenged kid out of a regular classroom is, as has been argued many times, segregation. Many of those who make that argument also feel that the segregation involved is unfair. I understand that viewpoint from my own experience with a younger brother who was segregated throughout his school career. In the end, however, I don’t, believe it to be unfair.

    We live in a society wherein individual rights are considered sacred, and I’m literate enough in political science to understand the Enlightenment basis for that belief as well as its practical applications throughout the society. I don’t believe, however, that individual rights trump every assertion of rights by the group or the community. At some point, the right of that one kid in the class to be whoever s/he is has to be balanced against the right of the rest of the class to learn history, math, English, biology, or whatever.

    The racial conversation can – and does – certainly make a lot of people uncomfortable. I’m pretty cognizant of white privilege, and the benefits it confers on many children. I was one of those beneficiaries. It occurs to me, however, that the lack of educational achievement on the part of a particular segment of the student population – especially if we purposely leave out the 500-pound gorilla of poverty – seems unlikely, to me at least, to be solved by the repeated application of guilt to another segment of the population. That guilt may even be well-deserved in many cases, but it doesn’t address, much less solve, the lack of achievement about which we’re wringing our hands.

    For me, at least right now, the key sentence in Beth’s piece is this one: “…Impoverished white students did better academically than children of color from wealthy families.” If that is, indeed, the case, there are numerous questions that merit investigation, not least of which is some variation of: “What’s going on in those families of color that prevents their children from succeeding academically?”

    I simply don’t believe that teachers in Saint Paul – or Minneapolis, or any of the metro suburban districts – are somehow presenting one version of history, or geography, or biology or chemistry, to a portion of their class, and then presenting some other, different version of the same material to another portion of that same class.

    It seems unfair to me, as a former teacher, to ask teachers to not only be fluent in their individual subject matter, but to also become social workers, though some degree of that also goes with the job. For 30 years, I generally saw between 110 and 135 students in class every day. Forming relationships and/or connections with the kids in your class seems to me a standard part of doing the job of teaching. But my job was, in the context of those relationships, to present to those kids a particular body of knowledge, some significant portion of which they were expected – by me, by the district, by the community – to learn. Requiring me, as a teacher, to be “culturally relevant” to every one of those 110 to 135 kids in my overloaded classroom smacks heavily of both political correctness and impracticality. There are not enough hours in the day or week or year for me to devise individualized, culturally-specific, daily lesson plans for each student – unless the taxpayers of the district are willing to lower my student load from something well north of 100 down to, maybe, 20. I don’t think that will happen, ever.

    My granddaughter’s kindergarten class last year was supposed to contain 18 children. It had 30. Her kindergarten teacher was just shy of sainthood, I thought, but even in kindergarten (perhaps especially in kindergarten), there was one generally-charming little boy who simply could not, would not, sit still and/or pay attention for more than a couple of minutes. He was bright, pleasant, and disruptive in equal measures, and he got a hugely disproportionate share of the teacher’s time and attention – in an already-overloaded class of 30 – as a result of that latter characteristic.

    For what it’s worth, I also think it just a bit simplistic for Superintendent Silva to turn the question of lack of achievement on the part of students of color into an either/or choice between poverty and race. The two are, I think, inextricably entwined in this society, and thus closely related. For that reason, I don’t personally think a discussion of poverty is necessarily “easier” to deal with than a discussion of race. Doing something meaningful to address the issue of poverty would require the society address both economic inequality and racial prejudice. Neither of those strike me as easy topics for a public discussion.

  4. Submitted by Grace Kelly on 08/13/2015 - 10:04 pm.

    Silva is a preacher with no management skils

    Just like the author above, we all fell under the spell of Silva’s golden eloquence.

    Little did we know that she had no ability to manage and no ability to deliver. Her idea of achieving racial equity was to ORDER it done. Well that was just asking for cooked books. Instead doing it the hard way of getting at root causes which would not have had immediate results, she ORDERED results. So students who were actually doing wrong things were not disciplined. The numbers looked good. But a walk through the more challenging schools told a different story.

    And then Silva doubled down on whistle blowers. Well St Paul is still a small enough city that the word still got out.

    With only one declared SIlva supporter running, it seems that already the consequences are being felt. Whether this election or next election, the voters will be heard. Change will happen.

    i only hope that Silva applies for some sort of speaking job which is her natural strength. No one should let her be an school superintendent again.

  5. Submitted by Joe Nathan on 08/15/2015 - 07:44 pm.

    The real issues in St. Paul

    This is not a debate about equity. It is a debate about how to implement change skillfully. It is a debate about the importance of accepting responsibility for not achieving goals. It is a debate about responsiveness to parents and families of various races who have raised important concerns.

    Please note the growing exodus from SPPS – up to more than 12,000 students, 2/3 of whom are from low income families & families of color.

    Good intentions are not enough.

  6. Submitted by Sam Keats on 08/16/2015 - 09:08 am.

    Opposition to Silva is about covert policies, not headines

    Our complaints with Valeria Silva began when she pushed through the move of sixth grade to middle school without citing any research to support it while ignoring all research that states such a configuration is non-productive. The only reason we could see for the move was to stop the stream of seventh graders going elsewhere–we heard that, if kids have just moved in sixth grade, Silva was hoping parents wouldn’t move them again for Seventh. Silva was arrogant and contemptuous of a large body of parents at our school, which is ethnically mixed. At events surrounding this move, we also witnessed her threatening teachers who asked questions–asked questions!–suggesting they would be fired unless they shut up.

    Then, our special needs kid hit the wall. Silva’s admin–principal, vice-principal, assistant superintendent and 501 coordinator–acknowledged the science and best practices to help our child through a crisis, but flat-out refused to follow them. (We never could get the omsbudsman in the phone.) Instead, their response was to report the kid truant, despite years of awareness of anxiety concerns, and take months to assess the child for an IEP.

    As we struggled to find any options or solutions, we heard similar tales all over the city, from parents, teachers, aides, consultants. Most particularly, we heard that the parents and teachers of children of color were finding it impossible to get their kids identified as needing special services. Though we are white, we have lived in Black neighborhoods where we were active with and adopted by our community. We are very aware of internal biases and the history of special Ed as a place to park kids of color. Today, though, special services can mean the difference between a child’s lifetime success or a life of hopelessness. Turning a child away means they flounder and often drown.

    Silva, it became clear, didn’t care about the kids. She cares about being able to point to a piece of paper that says they don’t need help. When we heard she was dismantling her brilliantly successful English Language Learners (ELL) program, we began to think she planned to move to a higher paying district, (maybe in Florida?) before the dirt got out. We were also hearing from whole extended clans of Hmong and Karen parents pulling their kids from the district from fear of behavioral issues. We understood this, because when we went to Ramsey for IEP meetings, we would see students literally swinging from ceiling steam pipes in the hallway outside the office, or playing eroticized hide and seek in the office itself, with no staff member calling them on unsafe or inappropriate behavior. Once, our horrified observations coincided with the district scolding Ramsey parents for complaining vocally. Rather than fix the problems the administration threaten to remove a behavioral specialist if enough students weren’t enrolled that year–and this would be the fault of parents striving to improve the school. This management style is distinctly Silva’s as we continued to learn.

    Meanwhile, our littlest one’s kindergarten class, with a teacher often requested by parents of color, was thrown into chaos by a new student, a tall, handsome charmer, smart, charismatic, who flung heavy objects and shoved and hit other kids, ran off the playground into the surrounding neighborhood, and yelled in class. Because the teacher was refused help for him, and called racist for asking for it, the rest of the class, many of them minority kids, some of those with special needs themselves, struggled for the rest of the year, and the teacher nearly quit. Who was served by that? Like our child, this boy’s special needs were ignored, in this case, because his skin was brown. No data was collected on him because supposedly his problems were the teacher’s. But volunteering in the classroom as I did, I recognized behavior like that of our special needs son, again, being swept aside. Who was served by that? Valeria Silva and her paper racial equity. I love that kid and our district failed him. His mother pulled him a year later.

    With our child’s crisis becoming a years-long disability due to SPPS inaction, we remain angry and determined to prevent this from happening to other kids. After two years of searching for one, contacting the press and talking about our frustration, we were thrilled when the teacher’s union finally gave us a framework for action. We were delegates for all St, Paul children at the DFL convention and will continue to work and fight for them even after our slate is elected and we get a new Superintedent.

    I teach my kids, “pay attention to what people do, because they can talk a good line, but it’s their actions that count.” I hope in future stories, Ms. Hawkins and the rest of the press will be careful to do the same. I can’t tell you how urgent it is. A year is forever when you’re five or ten or fifteen. That year lost can literally mean lifelong failure or lifelong success. Our children are counting on you journalists to find out what’s really going on in SPPS, to pay attention to the actions, not the golden words.

  7. Submitted by Dave Peterson on 08/16/2015 - 01:21 pm.

    Problems are simple

    The problems are simple as we saw at Groveland Park Elementary. Classrooms are growing, teachers are being cut, and the School Board says they will keep class sizes down and reneges on promises. The administration wants bigger and bigger salaries. Silva makes $213,000 annually. If public money is not added to the budget, then basic costs for more teachers and classroom space will be cut, because administrators will not allow their salaries to be froze or reduced. The trend these days is to blame teachers. Sorry, it is the bloated salaries of administrators and the argument that they need to have salaries keeping pace with business, where salaries are grossly bloated and workers are being screwed mercilessly. It is why the public wants teachers to feel it more, but no amount of punishing teachers will fix anything.

    There’s comments here about autism, etc. Those are real issues. But it won’t get fixed, unless it is a political fix to make things look good for a cycle. But basic teaching for kids without special needs is falling. The political fix was No Child, lots of rhetoric while funding declined, classrooms enlarged, and teachers became fewer in number–and teachers were blamed. What a load of rubbish, the problems are as simple as the nose on your face, and no amount of dancing around it, or pleasing constituents by adding another problem to an agenda of needs not being met will fix it. The increasing agenda of problems is simply divide and conquer, get us to fight over scraps in the ring while the self-appointed masters watch. The problems won’t be solved for us, but it is endless entertainment for them.

  8. Submitted by AJ Lawson on 08/17/2015 - 10:07 am.

    Meaningful change

    I find it interesting -and predictable- that Critics like Joe Nathan sit back in their ivory towers taking potshots at Silva for the change methods she has used. Meanwhile, the Leader of the Center for Change has changed NOTHING. Easy to sit back when you got no skin in the game, isn’t Joe? Try working within a school district to lead these monumental shifts in practice and beliefs and you quickly see there are no easy answers. It’s a messy process, this thing called change. But what has happened in SPPS has resulted in better conditions and outcomes for the most marginalized students. This is a fact. Oh course you won’t hear their perspectives here or at school board meetings or during the upcoming election because despite these recent strides they still operate within a system that is designed to keep them silent. Until people are willing to recognize the presence and impact of systematic racism on our students and families, enduring and meaningful change will continue to be slow and difficult. And true change agents like Silva will continue to be attacked and vilified for their efforts.

  9. Submitted by Mark Pfeifer on 09/11/2015 - 04:15 pm.

    Let’s Talk about “Change”

    I agree with Theodore Larson’s comments. Those with the loudest voices such as Joe Nathan and the so-called “Caucus for Change” led by the Saint Paul Teachers Union are those actually fighting change and want to go back to the old ways that mostly just served the most advantaged students and families and veteran set in their ways employees in the Saint Paul Public Schools. The current board had the courage to try address equity and implement meaningful systemic changes in the way things are done in the Saint Paul Schools. They are now experiencing an enormous amount of pushback by those who have a vested interest in keeping the existing systems in place.

  10. Submitted by Joe Nathan on 10/25/2015 - 10:26 pm.

    Real progress in ST. Paul

    Several assertions are made above by Mr. Pfeiffer and Mr. Larson about what the Center for School Change and I have done in St. Paul. This includes the assertion that we have changed “nothing.” The facts (which they either do not know about or choose to ignore) are

    * Over the last 4 years, CSC worked with 4 St. Paul district & 2 charters to help produce a 400% increase in enrollment in dual High school/college courses – involving these schools and their students. We did this in partnership with the terrific faculty in the participating schools. The Pioneer Press, MinnPost and Star Tribune covered this. The district schools participating were AGAPE, Creative Arts, Gordon Parks and Open World, Here’s a link to the Pioneer Press story:

    * Over the last 4 years, CSC has worked closely with Battle Creek, Harding High School, and Phalen Park Hmong Magnet. We’ve helped each of these develop new community connections, new partnerships, new opportunities for students and increased visibility and recognition for their accomplishments coverage in various news media that they selected.
    Here’s an example of a new partnership we suggested and helped create between Harding and Battle Creek:

    Here’s are examples of greater visibility for terrific work:

    We have not just talked about change (and progress). We have not spent millions on outside consultants who are long on rhetoric and short on practical solutions..

    These schools, their educators, families and students have been great partners in doing terrific things with youngsters and families. We’ve helped them make progress, and helped them gain the recognition that they deserve.

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