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Superintendent Message on Dec. 9 Regarding School Climate

Posted Dec. 9, 2015

Colleagues,

You likely know by now that two of our colleagues, a teacher and an assistant principal at Central High School, were viciously assaulted on Friday when they intervened in a lunchroom fight. Both staff members were hurt and the teacher was seriously injured. I talked with the teacher and was heartened by his remarkable resilience in the face of this trauma. I know you join me in wishing them both well.

The unfortunate reality is that this appalling act began over an argument about football. There was nothing in the student's past while at Central that would indicate he was capable of such a destructive act of violence. But it did happen and we must respond to do what we can to ensure similar acts do not happen again.

I've said it before and it bears repeating: I will not tolerate any behavior that puts our schools, students or staff at risk. Our discipline policies specify severe consequences for students who jeopardize the safety of others and we enforce these policies up to and including expulsion for the most egregious behaviors. In fact we recently exercised that right and held an expulsion hearing on December 8, 2015.

Our commitment and top priority is to being proactive and equipping our young people with the skills required to resolve their conflicts peacefully and to learn to manage their own behavior.

Numerous proactive efforts take place every day in every school to help students with their behavior but there isn't one solution that works for all students. Some methods that have shown the most success in SPPS include counseling, mental health supports, Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS), restorative practices, social work services and partnering with community based agencies.

It has become clear, however, that we must be more public and strategic with these efforts. Last month I announced the new Department of School Climate and Support (DSCS). Without adding any new district level staff, this aligns existing supports to better serve our students and staff and commits to a collaborative, timely approach to making a difference in our schools as quickly as possible. This is a core component of the district's restorative practices proposal to the Saint Paul Federation of Teachers (SPFT) and was simply too important to wait for negotiations to end. I am committed to working with teachers and staff in order to succeed, so I have spoken directly with the leadership of SPFT and asked that they will join us in this effort.

Finally, schools cannot be expected to solve the issue of youth violence alone. This is a community-wide issue and requires broader action. Just yesterday Ramsey County Attorney John Choi announced the creation of a task force to address the increase in youth violence across the whole of Ramsey County. The task force will include superintendents, students, families, teachers, government officials and other community leaders from across the county. I will be part of this group and will work in partnership to develop effective strategies to help our young people in their classrooms and well beyond. I will provide regular updates and will share with you the impact this work has on our students, families and staff.

My friends, the violence we saw last week shakes us to our very core. It's not right, it's not acceptable and it's not how we learn, teach and lead in Saint Paul Public Schools. We can move forward together to find real solutions and I look forward to everyone's contributions to those successful outcomes.

Our students expect no less from us.

Sincerely,

Valeria S. Silva