Michelle Rodriguez led Pajaro Valley Unified School District and its approximately 19,000 students through many challenges, including the COVID-19 pandemic and the Pajaro River levee breach, and also helped bring new arts programs and develop its career technical education pathways.
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Pajaro Valley Unified School District Superintendent Michelle Rodriguez is leaving her role to lead Stockton Unified School District after serving for seven years. Her last day at PVUSD is June 30.
Rodriguez led the school district of about 19,000 students through many challenges, including the COVID-19 pandemic and the Pajaro River levee breach, and also helped bring new arts programs and develop its career technical education pathways.
“I care deeply about this community. It will always be very special to me,” she said Friday. “I have always said that when the opportunity comes where I can impact more students and serve the population of students that I wish to serve — which is vulnerable and disinvested populations — that I’m going to do it.”
In Stockton Unified School District, she said the more than 36,000-student district has a very similar population to PVUSD — which is made up of about 65% English-language learners, 85% students living in poverty, 16% students in special education, 10% students from migrant families and 14% of students experiencing homelessness.
Rodriguez said her promise from the start was to serve for seven years, but she’ll miss being part of the community. Her term was set to end in June 2026.
PVUSD board president Jennifer Holm said she’s sad to see Rodriguez leave the district, but that the superintendent has left it in a better place than when she found it. Holm said she’s always been most impressed with how Rodriguez supported her decision-making and positions with data and evidence.
“Even when we didn’t agree, she said, ‘Well, this is why.’ She would provide me with a rationale,” said Holm. “That impressed me so much. Oftentimes, when we had a difference of opinion, she was able to sway me because she had good evidence.”
Holm said initial planning for a superintendent search will be in closed session, but in the short term the district will likely have an interim superintendent. There’s not a set timeline, Holm added, but PVUSD will seek community input and hopes to have a new permanent superintendent by the fall.
She added that, as a board member for the last five years, she’s seen how the district has progressed, and also appreciates Rodriguez’s commitment to increasing access to the arts and music.
“When my oldest was [in the district] there were no music programs — art was not something that was readily available,” she said. “We’re at the point where we have music instruction in every elementary school. That is a huge deal.”
Rodriguez obtained a 10-year commitment from Save The Music Foundation providing 45 minutes of music instruction to all elementary school students on a weekly basis. Additionally, she brought the Latino Youth Film Project into elementary and secondary classrooms.
She helped establish the district’s first multilingual and multiagency Family Engagement and Wellness Center to provide a range of services from health to legal support. Rodriguez also oversaw efforts in the district and among the wider community to fundraise and build a specialized garden and culinary education program at Starlight Elementary, known as the Emeril’s Culinary Garden and Teaching Kitchen.
Her time wasn’t without hardships.
In January 2021, a majority of the district’s board members voted to terminate Rodriguez, contributing to what she has described as “the hardest 36 hours” of her life.
Trustees at the time said it was a personnel matter and therefore couldn’t provide details and Rodriguez said she wasn’t given a reason. After an outcry from the community and the county’s superintendents, she was reinstated days later by the board.
She also had disagreements with the teachers union, the Pajaro Valley Federation of Teachers. Drawn-out contract negotiations over salaries led to an impasse in 2018 until the two sides finally reached an agreement. For years, teachers and administrators have fought for increased pay at the district and say turnover has had negative impacts on students.
Nelly Vaquera-Boggs, president of the teachers union, said the union wishes Rodriguez the best as she moves on.
“We look forward to working with our board of trustees to identify a new superintendent who will work constructively with the workers who are essential to students’ success in our district,” she said.
Rodriguez was hired as superintendent in August 2016 after the retirement of longtime district leader Dorma Baker.
“I always try to leave a system only when the systems are in place and when the work can continue and I feel that that’s going to happen here at PVUSD,” she said. “So I’m excited to go on to the next district.”