.Michelle Rodriguez Leaving PVUSD

The Pajaro Valley Unified School District Superintendent is leaving with three years still left on her contract.

Pajaro Valley Unified School District Superintendent Michelle Rodriguez will be leaving the school district, after taking the same position with Stockton Unified School District.

Rodriguez made the announcement Friday. Her last day will be June 30.

“To the remarkable Pajaro Valley community that has embraced me over the past seven years, I have a heart filled with gratitude for each and everyone of you who have been part of our efforts to improve the lives of our students, our staff, our families and our community,” she stated in a press release. “Together, we have built a District committed to excellence, resilience, and growth.”  

She started with the district in 2016, and leaves as its three largest high schools boast their highest graduation rates in years. 

Pajaro Valley High reached 86% in 2019, which then was a peak. But this year the school saw 95% of its students receive a diploma. Watsonville High’s peak of 92% in 2019—after hovering for years in the mid-80s—was surpassed this year with 94%.

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Aptos High saw 97% of its class graduate, after peaking at 94% last year.

Rodriguez’s new district has an enrollment of 36,000 nearly twice that of PVUSD. It has 44 elementary schools, 44 middle schools and 13 high schools, according to U.S. News & World Report. Hispanic and Latino students make up just over 68% of its enrollment, and nearly 13% are Asian or Asian/Pacific Islander. About 10% are Black.

The school has a 79.5% graduation rate.

Although Rodriguez is leaving with three years left on her contract, she says she fulfilled her pledge to stay seven years and to bolster student achievement.

She said that a larger district has long been a career goal. She plans to only work in districts that supports “disinvested populations,” of which the said are only 10-15 in the state.

“The timing was perfect in that I fulfilled my promise to the community,” she said. “Also, it is an opportunity that I think is going to be a benefit to (the Stockton) community, and I think I will be able to do good work.”

During her time at PVUSD, Rodriguez led the district through challenges such as the COVID pandemic, the CZU fires, and storms that required the relocation of Valencia Elementary School in 2017.

She also oversaw the educational response to the storms in January, February and March that forced the evacuation of hundreds of families and the relocation of Pajaro Middle School.

She earned the Community Hero of the Year from United Way of Santa Cruz County in 2019 and the 2020 Phil Rather Award from the Pajaro Valley Community Health Trust.

She received a Legislative Resolution 1445 from Assemblyman Robert Rivas, Senator John Laird and Assemblyman Mark Stone and was named Superintendent of the Year by the Association of California School Administrators (ACSA). 

Board Trustee Kim De Serpa said that Rodriguez’s leadership style includes visiting several campuses every day.

“She got to see clearly what was happening, and what was not happening, for the kids in the district,” De Serpa said. 

The district has increased its test scores in literacy by 63%, De Serpa said. She credits this in part to Rodriguez’s efforts of utilizing reading programs such as Systematic Instruction in Phonological Awareness, Phonics, and Sight Words (SIPPS). The program has expanded to 24 sites, 478 staff members and 7,720 students.

De Serpa praised Rodriguez for leading the district through the distance learning of the COVID pandemic, which resulted in less learning loss than other districts.

“We were the quickest pivot in the whole state in terms of making sure that  every single kid had a Chromebook and that every family had access to the Internet and that our teachers pivoted very quickly in learning how to teach online,” she said. 

Rodriguez also brought in more than $20 million in grants that have funded music and art programs and the Emeril’s Culinary Garden and Teaching Kitchen.

She was also instrumental in implementing the Latino Youth Film Project into elementary and secondary classrooms

“Dr. Rodriguez’ record speaks for itself and under her leadership, our students achieved more than they ever had before…from our literacy rates, to graduation rates, she set high expectations and those were often exceeded with her careful guidance,” De Serpa said. “We were fortunate to have her in PVUSD as long as we did and I thank her for her work here.

PVUSD Board Chair Jennifer Holm said she has been impressed by Rodriguez’s reliance on evidence-based practices when delving into student achievement data.

“As a nurse that’s important to me,” she said. “It was always looking at, what evidence do we have, how can we make the best possible decisions with the evidence we do have? And trying to really gauge what’s going to be in the best interest of the students.”

Holm said that the Board will begin discussions soon on selecting a new superintendent. 

Pajaro Valley Federation of Teachers President Nelly Vaquera-Boggs said the union wishes Rodriguez the best.

“And we look forward to working with the board of trustees to identify a new Superintendent who will work constructively with the workers who are essential to student success in our district,” she said. 

Rodriguez’s time with the district was not without controversy. Led by then Board President Georgia Acosta, the Board of Trustees fired her in January 2021 in a 4-3 vote, a decision that was reversed unanimously days later.

Acosta was removed as president and censured by the board in the wake of the vote. She has never publicly explained the reasons for the dismissal.

Both she and Trustee Daniel Dodge, Jr. did not respond to a request for comment. 

Rodriguez says her departure she is leaving the district in good shape and in good hands.

“I believe we have the team, we have the structures, we have the system in place to continue to strive for excellence,” she said. 

The high graduation rates, she said, exemplify the structure she has helped build.

“That’s having unified goals that every member of the community, every member of the organization knows what they are, ” she said. “And having faith and trust in each other that we’re going to do our part.”

A previous version of this story incorrectly listed the amount Rodriguez raised as $2 million. The correct figure is $20 million.


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