Screenshot from PVUSD special board meeting on Jan. 29, 2021 to appoint an Interim Superintendent
A screenshot from the PVUSD special board meeting on Jan. 29, 2021, after the ouster of Michelle Rodriguez.
(PVUSD Streaming screenshot)
K-12 Education

PVUSD trustees reverse course, vote to consider reinstating fired Superintendent Michelle Rodriguez

An outpouring of support for the ousted district chief prompted trustees to reconsider the decision, with a meeting to review rescinding her dismissal set for 3 p.m. Sunday.

Pajaro Valley Unified School District trustees reversed course in a dramatic, nearly six-hour-long meeting Friday night, voting to consider reinstating former district superintendent Michelle Rodriguez.

Rodriguez had been fired in a 4-3 vote Wednesday, a move that came with no explanation and was quickly met with a wave of outrage and concern from hundreds of parents, teachers, community leaders, current and former district staff, and at least one celebrity.

After a marathon reading of public comments largely lambasting Rodriguez’s firing, two of the trustees who had voted to fire her backtracked, leading to a 5-2 vote to reconsider. The meeting to vote on Rodriguez’s reinstatement is set for 3 p.m. Sunday.

The board is also prepared to consider picking new officers — for instance, selecting a new board president — and to decide which legal counsel should represent it, according to the agenda.

Rodriguez, in a statement to Lookout, said she is prepared to step back into the role. “I am so appreciative of the community support,” she said. “I look forward to continuing the work with students at the center once I am reinstated.”

The reversal was led by trustee Jennifer Schacher, who introduced the motion and apologized for her vote to fire Rodriguez days earlier. Trustee Daniel Dodge Jr., who had voted to fire the superintendent, also reconsidered and backed consideration of Rodriguez’s reinstatement.

“I apologize to my community and to Dr. Rodriguez as I can’t legally discuss personnel issues,” said Schacher. “I can and will learn from my mistakes. My vote was extremely difficult and complicated, however I believe now that my grievances could have been handled differently. In light of the fragility of our current times, I believe this motion has to be made.”

Board president Georgia Acosta and trustee Oscar Soto held their course and opposed reconsidering.

Pajaro Valley Unified School District Superintendent Michelle Rodriguez
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

The special Pajaro Valley Unified School District board of trustees meeting opened with an argument as trustees prepared to pick an interim superintendent to temporarily replace Rodriguez. A prolonged and contentious meeting followed, marked by infighting about procedure.

More than 200 comments were submitted for Friday’s meeting, which started at 4 p.m. and ended shortly before 10 p.m. The first comment — a video message from by actor Edward James Olmos, who expressed support for the ousted superintendent — caused an immediate stir.

Board president Acosta cut off the video. After arguing with the public information officer presenting it, she briefly recessed the board into a closed session.

Rodriguez’s ouster comes during a pivotal moment as the district gears up to vaccinate teachers and return the bulk of...

Debate over procedure resumed immediately when the trustees returned, threatening to derail the meeting before Acosta allowed public comments to continue.

Among those speaking out at the meeting Friday was Susan True, CEO of the Community Foundation Santa Cruz County, who said she had worked closely with Rodriguez on a number of programs and called her “a champion for what kids and families need.” The board decision, True wrote, is causing “great damage” and is “clearly not demonstrating concern about the welfare of students.”

Several former PVUSD trustees, including former board president Kim Turley, also spoke out in Rodriguez’s defense. In a written comment, Turley raised questions about whether proper procedure was followed and criticized its timing.

“I find it difficult to see how the removal of the superintendent at a time when the district is preparing to vaccinate staff and return students to the classroom is in their best interest,” Turley wrote, calling for Rodriguez’s reinstatement. “Lastly, I would ask the community to take a page out of your playbook and invoke an early termination in your terms with a recall vote.”

Only a handful of comments — at least three of the 200 — criticized the former superintendent.

One commenter, identified only as Angelica Gomez-Patino, said she had confidence in school board president Acosta’s judgment. “Everything in our district was not trending in the right direction,” Gomez-Patino wrote. “I look forward to the new direction the district will take.”

Watsonville Mayor Jimmy Dutra, himself a PVUSD teacher; Santa Cruz County Supervisor Zach Friend; and Monterey County Supervisor Luis Alejo, a former Watsonville mayor, also have been among those publicly asking the board to explain itself.

A petition demanding transparency, threatening to organize recalls, and calling for Rodriguez’s reinstatement had gained more than 1,680 supporters partway through Friday’s meeting, when it was read into the record.

Based in Watsonville, PVUSD is the largest school district in Santa Cruz County, with an enrollment of nearly 20,000 students in grades K-12 — roughly half of all public school students in the county. The district also includes a small part of Monterey County.

Rodriguez herself has said she wasn’t permitted to attend the closed session in which she was fired, and she has yet to learn of the reason for her termination.

Also stoking anger was the firing’s timing, coming at a pivotal moment as the district is in the final stages of plans to vaccinate its teachers and return the majority of its students to classrooms. It also came just one day after the death of Rodriguez’s father, according to several district officials.

Watch the meeting below:

See tweets from Lookout Correspondent Nick Ibarra as he covered the meeting:

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.