Few top-tier school administrators can claim as high a level of intimacy with the education of English-language learners as Valeria Silva, the superintendent of the school system in St. Paul, Minn.
A native of Chile, Silva, 51, spoke no English when she first came to Minnesota in the late 1980s to help take care of her sister’s children for a few months. More than 25 years later, the woman who still calls herself a second-language learner and at times consults the dictionary to look up unfamiliar words has risen to lead the state’s second-largest district, where 45 percent of the 39,000 students are English-learners.
“Her personal background, as a woman, a Latina, and a second-language learner, makes her quite unique in the field,” says Verónica Rivera, the executive director of the Association of Latino Administrators and Supervisors, or ALAS, based in Washington. “Those are incredible assets for leading a district like St. Paul.”