From the Superintendent: Focusing on school climate and safety

Superintendent Silva

This week, as we focus on school climate and safety, I ask you to consider a story from the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr:

In September 1962, as King sat on the stage during a Southern Christian Leadership Convention, a white member of the Nazi party jumped up to the podium and punched him several times in the face.  As the security guards rushed to his help and pulled away the hate-filled youth, King responded, calmly, that he would not press charges. In response, he said in Martin Luther King on Leadership: "The system that we live under creates people such as this youth. I am not interested in pressing charges. I'm interested in changing the kind of system that produces this kind of man." *   

More than five decades later, we must acknowledge the many “systems” that still exist and conspire to create young people who, for myriad reasons, misbehave; whose angriness spills over and disrupts our schools and classrooms. Clearly we cannot allow this small number of children to interfere with the learning of their peers. Yet we must resist the “quick-fix” of simply kicking them out without any meaningful interventions.

In Saint Paul Public Schools we remain committed to ensuring that all students have an opportunity to succeed. We know that to achieve high standards students need to be in class, actively engaged in learning, in an environment that is safe, orderly and well-managed.

While schools are still one of the safest places for our children, we cannot ignore that a growing number of students, staff and families are concerned that behavior disruptions and subsequent student suspensions work against our goal to have all students achieve at high standards.

Working with the community, parents, students and staff, our goal is to agree on common definitions, a clear set of behavior standards, strategies for achieving those standards and clear consequences. We believe that, together, we can reinforce common expectations for our children, youth and adults that will result in academic success for all of our students.

We appreciate each of you who work hard every day to help us fulfill our mission. We also understand the need for all of our employees to feel that their work environment is safe and supportive. To achieve those school environments we must continue to refine and enforce our behavior policies and communicate clear standards. We must also work with staff to make sure the standards are fairly and equitably applied. The district also must provide additional staff development for those who may not have had experience working with diverse groups of students and parents.

Just as we work to improve our system’s response to student behavior we will continue to deliver a strong message to students, parents and the community that disruption of the learning process is not acceptable and that the district will enforce adherence to a common behavior standard. We will work with parents and community partners to make sure those standards also are reinforced outside of school. We will seek their collaboration as we continue our work to engage all students and as we try to create and maintain safe and respectful learning environments for our staff and students.

Dr. King once wrote, “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically.” This embodies what you do in service to the students and families of Saint Paul every day. It goes beyond the lessons you plan or the content you teach. It requires us to teach to the totality of our students’ needs – academic, social, emotional and behavioral. As you all know, this is complex work that requires deep collaboration among staff, students and families.
Together, we will fulfill our promise of a premier education for all students.

Your very proud superintendent,

Silva Signature


Valeria Silva

* Wadhwa, H. (2013). The Wrath of a Great Leader: How Martin Luther King, Jr. wrestled with anger and what you can learn from his example.