Reinstated PVUSD superintendent Michelle Rodriguez back to work after ‘hardest 36 hours of my life’
‘I am willing, and believe it’s my responsibility, to try to meet them in the middle,’ Rodriguez says of trustees who initially voted to remove her. ‘And I will do that, because that is what’s best for children.’
Michelle Rodriguez’s life turned upside down in the span of two days.
The Pajaro Valley Unified School District superintendent lost her father — William Gibson, a career superintendent in whose footsteps she followed — on Tuesday.
The next day she lost her job.
“It truly was the hardest 36 hours of my life,” Rodriguez said, speaking to Lookout a day after she was reinstated in a dramatic reversal late Sunday night. “I guess I’m just lucky that my father raised a strong woman.”
PVUSD’s board of trustees had shocked the wider community by abruptly firing Rodriguez in a surprise 4-3 vote Wednesday night. Rodriguez was unanimously reinstated after trustees faced a tidal wave of backlash from a community that rallied around her.
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On Monday, Rodriguez was right back to work. And she said she never wavered from her desire to step back into the job, if able.
“For me, it’s just, can we continue the work? If we can continue the work, then I’m going to do it,” she said, though there was a period last week when she was resigning herself to moving on. “I was thinking, ‘I’m just gonna let a few days pass, I’m gonna bury my father, and then I’ll figure out what I’m going to do.’”
Rodriguez said her immediate goal is to “settle the district” into a sense of normalcy. She called a morning leadership meeting to reconnect with management across the district and penned an all-staff email. “I wanted them to know I was really proud of them for not giving in to the chaos and the drama of what was happening,” she said.
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With nearly 20,000 students, PVUSD is the largest district in Santa Cruz County — accounting for about half of all public school students.
Appointed PVUSD superintendent in 2016, Rodriguez has won praise from student advocates and her counterparts at nearby districts for her laser-like focus on forging new programs and partnerships that have helped improve outcomes for disadvantaged students. More recently, she has earned praise for the district’s decisive response to the pandemic.
“Over the 30 years I have worked for this district I don’t think I would have ever spoken in support of one of our superintendents until now, during this pandemic,” wrote Mar Vista Elementary teacher Joanne Tabasz, urging Rodriguez’s reinstatement and citing the district’s comparatively quick and effective distribution of technology and other resources during its transition to distance learning.
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But Rodriguez’s tenure hasn’t always been without friction. She memorably sparred with union leaders over teacher contract negotiations earlier in her tenure — talks dragged on for years, reaching an impasse in 2018 before the two sides eventually settled. Teachers and the district have since reached an understanding, and the Pajaro Valley Federation of Teachers was among the many raising questions about her abrupt termination.
Rodriguez said she, too, remains surprised by her abrupt dismissal. She reiterated Monday that she wasn’t allowed to attend the closed-session board meeting, a meeting she said was held using a non-district Zoom account. She said she understands the restrictions relating to disclosure from a closed session, but believes she should have been allowed into the conversation.
Questions around her ouster may persist. But Rodriguez said she is ready to reconcile with the trustees who had tried to show her the door.
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Four trustees had initially voted to dismiss Rodriguez: Georgia Acosta, Oscar Soto, Jennifer Schacher and Daniel Dodge Jr. Acosta was previously the board’s president, and Soto the board’s vice president; both were ousted from those roles in a shakeup Sunday night, though they remain on the board.
“I am willing, and believe it’s my responsibility, to try to meet them in the middle,” Rodriguez said of the trustees who initially voted to remove her. “And I will do that, because that is what’s best for children. It’s not best for children for there to be disagreement. So I will make that pledge to do everything that I can do to ensure that we have a good working relationship because that is best for the district.”
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