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Lathrop School makes positive changes under Silveiras leadership
Lathrop Elementary Principal David Silveira and Vice Principal Karen Olsen look over an old picture of the original school that was built in the late 1800s. - photo by JASON CAMPBELL
LATHROP – David Silveira loves his job.

In a typical day as the principal at Lathrop Elementary it isn’t uncommon to see him smiling widely as he meanders through the sprawling campus joking with staff and students alike – using his upbeat and friendly demeanor to raise the morale of all of those around him.

And it’s with that approach that Silveira tackles the day-to-day duties of managing Lathrop’s oldest school.

In his five years at the helm Silveira has made some sweeping and significant changes at the elementary school in response to a myriad of situations ranging from gang problems to the overblown status of eight-grade “graduation” ceremonies. And that’s in addition to trying to push the school above the Academic Performance Index rating of 800 – the State of California benchmark for success on the mandated standardized testing.

But while he’s flourishing in his administrative role, that position wasn’t always one that he wanted to occupy.

Transition to the administrative ranks
After starting his education career as a student teacher at Nile Garden Elementary, Silveira spent several years as a primary-grade teacher at August Knodt before thinking about progressing up the ranks.

Once he got his administrative credential, Silveira took a job as the program director at August Knodt and Great Valley and eventually the Great Valley vice principal before realizing that he’d rather spend time in the classroom working with students.

“I love what I do now because it’s more like teaching, where you get to be creative about some of the things that you incorporate at your school,” Silveira said. “I didn’t think that was the case with the program director position, and as vice principal you’re more of the disciplinarian. It’s the creative aspect of pursuing your vision that drives me in what I do now, but it wasn’t always something that I wanted to do.”

And when he finally did get the nod to become a principal, he wasn’t quite sure that Lathrop was where he wanted to go.

“I really wanted to be at a new school, but those spots weren’t available, and at the time there was a stigma associated with being at Lathrop elementary,” Silveira said about the gangs and other influences on the campus. “But when I got here, I realized that kids are kids, and you just have to take problems as they come across rather than worrying about things before you actually get there. It has really been a great place to be, and I’m glad that I’m here.”

Making changes
When he arrived at Lathrop, the school was still holding its eighth-grade graduation ceremony at Sierra High. The length of the program was more than two hours.

While he had his own ideas of what the end-of-the-year ceremony should entail, it was a group of parents he was meeting with that really sparked the fire that brought the event back to Lathrop.

With a new stage erected in the middle of campus, eighth-graders and their parents could now take pride in having their celebration at home rather than having to travel to Manteca – to the school where, at the time, most would end-up attending.

“We cut the time down to 40 minutes, and it was something that everybody really accepted,” Silveira said. “There was something that still needed to be done to make it a little bit better though, in my mind.”

So he sent out a bulletin to parents informing them of an upcoming meeting where they would discuss ending “graduation” – hoping that the vague language would create a large turnout of people to discuss the matter.

And a large turnout he got.

After informing parents that he had no intention of canceling the graduation ceremony, he was able to talk about other ideas such as shortening the ceremony to 30 minutes, referring to the event as a “promotion” ceremony rather than a graduation, eliminating the gown and awarding “certificates” rather than diplomas.

The idea went over well, and was incorporated into the annual school calendar.

“We’re pushing a K-12 education platform today, and not a K-8 program like it   was done at one point when a lot of people would go to work rather than going on to high school,” he said. “And by eliminating the gown we were able to cut the cost of graduation down to $50 a family – which includes the trip to Great America.

“I have this drive to kind of spark something and quietly do it, and that is something that I wanted to do.”

Addressing the gang problem
Not long after taking the position of principal, Silveira began to notice the massive number of students and young adults wearing red in and around Lathrop.

Being the flagship color of the Nortenos – the collection of Northern California gangs affiliated with the Nuestra Familia prison gang – Silveira had problems with not only the prevalence, but also the fact that the school itself had red as one of its official colors.

So he teamed up with the school resource officer and decided that maybe it would be best to change the school colors to something else.

“What we did was give the students the opportunity to pick what the colors were going to be, and they chose black and gold,” he said. “What was cool about that is when Lathrop High opened, they had the Spartan mascot – we had a Spartan warrior – and they also chose black and gold as their colors. Being a feeder school to Lathrop High, I thought that was pretty neat.”

But the challenges to stifling the gang presence didn’t end there.

Since then, the school has adopted a rigid dress code and an optional uniform to prevent students from hiding gang affiliations and article of clothing underneath layers – something else they’ve banned at the school.

Life outside of work
When he isn’t busy working or staying plugged in with the community, Silveira likes to spend his time landscaping, gardening, and riding his quad both at home and down at Oceano Dunes State Vehicle Recreation Area.

And of course he enjoys spending time with his Stacie and their two children – Lawrence and Patrick.

He also serves as the chairman of the board of directors for Give Every Child A Chance.

“There are a lot of other organizations that I get asked to be a part of, but I simply don’t have time,” Silveira said. “I love spending time with my family, and that’s something that I can never spend enough time doing.”