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School board member and principal Joe Slavin's death a suicide, police report

Joe Slavin

The death of Joe Slavin, the South Washington County School board member and Oakdale principal found dead in a Woodbury park June 7, has been ruled as a suicide.

A preliminary autopsy by a Ramsey County medical examiner determined Slavin’s death was caused by a self-inflicted gunshot wound, according to Woodbury police spokeswoman Michelle Okada.

“This is a very difficult time for everyone that knew Mr. Slavin," Okada said in a news release. "The family is grateful for the outpouring of support, (and) asks that everyone is respectful of their privacy as they grieve this sudden loss."

The investigation will remain open until reports and medical examinations are final, as is standard. That could take up to eight weeks.

According to Woodbury police, officers were called to Carver Lake Park about 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, June 7, after someone at the park reported a man who appeared to be unresponsive near his vehicle. Police said there was no threat to the public and they were not seeking anyone connected to Slavin’s death.

Slavin, of Woodbury, was married with three school-age daughters and had coached youth softball in the East Ridge Athletic Association. He worked as principal at Skyview Middle School in Oakdale and had served on the South Washington County School Board since 2015.  

The District 833 School Board planned to go forward with its regular meeting Thursday, June 8, a decision made knowing Slavin had a passion for education and the district’s work, according to a statement. The board planned to hold a moment of silence at the beginning of the meeting to honor him.

“Joe was a thoughtful person who had only the best interests of our students and community in mind as he served on our School Board,” District 833 Superintendent Keith Jacobus said in a statement. “His colleagues appreciated his thoughtful comments and decisions made for students and staff. We are sincerely sorry for his beautiful family.”

School Board Chairwoman Katy McElwee-Stevens said in an interview she will miss Slavin’s interesting perspective on education issues in his dual role as a school administrator in one district and an elected board member in another. She said Slavin could provide an “in-the-trenches perspective” when discussing how certain curriculum ideas could be applied in the schools.

“He just always had different ideas also because of that, because he sees how things work,” McElwee-Stevens said. “He could give us hard facts about how things played out every day.”

McElwee-Stevens added in a statement: “Joe offered this board great insight by having been a teacher, principal and Board member. He had this amazing sense of timing, be it with an insight, a perspective or something witty.”

Leaders in both districts said their thoughts were with Slavin’s family.

“At this time we extend our sincerest condolences to Joe’s family. He will be greatly missed,” a statement from District 833 said.

Superintendent Christine Osorio of the North St. Paul-Oakdale-Maplewood district sent a letter to Skyview staff and families informing them of Slavin’s death and explaining resources offered to students and staff grieving his death.

“Mr. Slavin was a warm and caring person,” Osorio said. “His presence and leadership will be deeply missed by the Skyview School community.”

Slavin had worked in the North St. Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale district since 1995 and was set to move from his principal position to a new job as the district’s director of communications and technology innovation.

“We were excited about the prospect of him moving into this new position,” Osorio said.

Slavin was appointed to the South Washington County School Board in mid-2015 and elected to a full four-year term in November 2015.

After his appointment, Slavin said he was bringing a unique perspective to the school board, given that he also worked in the neighboring district.

“It’s something that I’d been thinking about for a while just because of my career in education, my passion for public education and wanting the ability to serve in the South Washington County Schools,” he said in a 2015 interview.

The National Suicide Prevention Hotline can be reached at 1-800-273-TALK(8255).