From the superintendent

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Dear Colleagues:
 
There’s a phrase in English that describes me very well: I “wear my heart on my sleeve.” That means that I show my emotions openly, that those around me can easily see what I care about. If you’ve spent any time around me at all, you know that my “heart” is the children in Saint Paul Public Schools.

Those delightful children have been my focus as I’ve continued to add to the number of schools I’ve visited so far this year. As an educator, I, too, live for that moment when something just clicks, a child’s eyes light up, and a young mind opens up to all the possibilities.

Yet as superintendent, I must consider not only the individual parts of SPPS, but also the whole. Every move we make, every action we take, has repercussions throughout our school system -- and sometimes even throughout our community.

That was the case last week when SPPS made a formal and unusually early request to move contract negotiations with the Saint Paul Federation of Teachers (SPFT) to mediation. We were the ninth district in the state to do so. Mediation means that instead of public meetings between just the two parties -- SPPS and SPFT -- future meetings will be private and facilitated by an expert skilled at helping groups better understand their common ground.

I truly believe that SPPS and SPFT have much in common, most importantly the bright eyes and eager minds who come to our classrooms each day ready to learn. More than that, we have in common an ideal for those classrooms -- low student-teacher ratios, less testing, sufficient student supports, and plenty of professional development for every teacher.

Unfortunately, our reality is far from that ideal. Years of funding cuts at the state and federal level have left us having to do more with less. Yet SPPS is now one of the few districts in the state that has been able to channel money back to our schools.

We’ve done this by making strategic and sometimes difficult decisions about how we run our school district. This approach must continue, because significant increases to our funding stream are unlikely. Yes, the legislature made slight increases to our funding formula this past legislative session, but those increases barely cover the rise in our cost of living.

Walt Disney once said, “I always like to look on the optimistic side of life, but I am realistic enough to know that life is a complex matter.” In all our contract discussions, we must be judicious, realistic and far-sighted, finding a way to put a reasonable “price” on something that has unlimited value: an education. I trust that a mediated approach to SPFT negotiations will result in a contract that honors all the committed professionals who impact the lives of the 39,000 students entrusted to Saint Paul Public Schools.

Sincerely,

Silva Signature

 


Valeria S. Silva