Valeria Silva '90
Valeria Silva graduated summa cum laude and quickly found her niche in Twin Cities education circles - teaching and helping improve achievement rates for immigrant and special-needs students.
St. Paul superintendent Valeria Silva '90 came to the United States from Chile a quarter-century ago speaking little English.
Today, she directs the state's second-largest school district with 85 schools and programs that educate more than 39,000 students and employ nearly 5,400 staff. View her superintendent's webpage.
"I came here on the coldest day - it was below zero," Silva recalls. But her desire to learn English was stronger than her desire to return to a warmer climate.
Working at a Sartell nursing home she learned English language and culture from the residents, including a couple of retired elementary school teachers.
Silva entered St. Cloud State to earn her teacher's license and the 90 credits needed to complete a bachelor of elective studies degree, which she did in 1990.
"I was one of the few international students at that time to come with a degree from another country," she said. But the team formed by the international students helped open her mind in new ways. "I totally learned how to appreciate other cultures, St. Cloud State gave me confidence."
Silva began her career as a teacher at Adams Spanish Immersion School on St. Paul's west 20 years ago rising through the ranks to principal, director of the English Language Learner program from 1997-2006, eventually to become the district's chief academic officer.
Her experiences as an international student gave her the perspective to emphathize with immigrant students in St. Paul. "I see the world differently because I've experienced these situations," she said.
Recently, she was recognized by the Chilean newspaper, El Mercurio, as one of the top 100 female leaders for 2010. She was recognized alongside former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet and Cecilia Morel, Chile's First Lady.
In addition, Silva earned recognition from her school in Santiago, School of San Gabriel, with the alumna of the year award. Along with the award, the International Schools Association invited her to visit Chile in April to work on education issues in the country.