She started off as a classroom teaching assistant 20 years ago, and now she's in charge of the education of 42,000 students.

Valeria Silva arrived in Minnesota as a 24-year-old who could not speak a word of English.

Now, at the age of 46, the Woodbury resident has just been accepted on to an elite training program aimed at producing inspirational and effective school superintendents across the country.

Silva, the chief academic officer for St. Paul Public Schools, is one of just 12 people nationally -- and the first ever from Minnesota -- who has been accepted to take part in the 2008 Broad Superintendents Academy.

The rigorous application procedure, which involved four interviews and a conference in Dallas, Texas at which applicants were observed from 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., saw 97 percent of those applying get rejected.

"It's such a rigorous process," said Silva. "[Now I've been accepted] I feel like I'm the best of the best -- but I don't feel like I'm the best of the best!

"I think they pick the people they see with the most potential.

"I just feel that, especially coming from another country at the age of 24 not speaking English and being able to get this type of recognition is quite something for me and my family."

From 1995-98, Silva got another kind of recognition, becoming one of the youngest principals of the time, taking over the top spot at the Adams Spanish Immersion School in St. Paul at the tender age of 33.

Originally from Chile, the mom-of-two moved to the Evergreen neighborhood of Woodbury eight years ago, and lived in Oakdale before that.

She said she likes Woodbury for its safe neighborhoods and friendly residents, and enjoys spending time with her husband and two sons, and taking care of her garden.

Silva, who sits on the boards of the Children's Museum of Minnesota, and the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, was due to fly out to Los Angeles, Calif., last month for a five-day training session.

Training from the Broad Foundation over the 10-month superintendents academy covers CEO-level skills in education, finance, management, operations and organizational skills.