The recent struggle between the leaders of the Pajaro Valley Unified School District made a big impression on me. Those who follow the district know by now that PVUSD Superintendent Michelle Rodriguez was abruptly fired by the Board of Trustees in a split 4-3 vote late last month only to be reinstated days later following outcry from hundreds. There are still several questions that have gone unanswered, and the reported death threats against the trustees and their families must be investigated—those who made them need to be held accountable. But with all the facts that are before me, I keep coming back to this thought: we need more Jennifer Schachers and Alicia Jimenezes.
Schacher was one of four trustees that initially voted to remove Rodriguez as the district’s top chief. I’m not here to argue whether her vote was right or wrong. Voters in PVUSD’s Area V, which covers a diverse swath of Watsonville, including Ohlone Parkway and Clifford Avenue, have entrusted Schacher to make those tough decisions for them. Of course, as this debacle has shown us, those voters are also not afraid to let her know when they believe she has made a colossal mistake. Things are hardly ever that simple in politics, even offices that are so little-city that often single digit votes separate the winners and losers in elections. Sometimes the power of the office changes people—I argue that it reveals their true identity.
Her initial decision, and her subsequent flip have made me a believer in Schacher. Some will think she was wrong to fire Rodriguez. Others will think the opposite. I think most of us can agree that the way she and the other three trustees (Georgia Acosta, Oscar Soto and Daniel Dodge, Jr.) went about her termination was wrong. Although it is insensitive to fire someone so close to a family loss—Rodriguez’s father had died just before her dismissal, let’s set that aside for a moment and focus only on the process. I understand why the discussion was a closed session item—public boards do this to protect individuals’ reputations while discussing personnel matters, among other reasons—but to make such a gigantic move without telling the public that it will be discussed, is wrong. I’ve seen trustees, commissioners and council members reach out to the public for their thoughts on hot-button issues—whether it be through Facebook or in-person meetings pre-pandemic. This decision, as new board president Jennifer Holm so eloquently put, was a “boulder dropped into the pond of this community” and the community deserved to have its say.
When I say community, I mean every single person that is represented by this school district. There’s no doubt that there were more people who spoke in opposition to Rodriguez’s firing than people who spoke in favor. But many of the comments from the latter were anonymous, which tells me there’s a fear of repercussion for those who were glad that Rodriguez was given the boot. That’s not right, and it echoes Schacher’s reported grievances that initially influenced her decision. The process was wrong, and she admitted that and issued a direct apology to Rodriguez, the community and her constituents. But the decision, ultimately, might have been right. I can’t fault her for listening to her people, who it would seem have been asking for help from the district to no avail. To leave a classroom without heat for three months and tell kids to simply bring blankets to stay warm instead is egregious, and someone needs to answer for that failure—and others that she addressed. Schacher said her initial vote was “extremely difficult and complicated,” and I’m sure that her decision to flip was, too. But it takes a real leader to not only admit that they were wrong, but to admit fault not because it is what everyone else is doing, but because it is the right thing to do.
Which brings me to Jimenez, the district’s public information officer. Most government jobs are thankless, and the employees that have those roles are often treated like middle-tier NFL quarterbacks. When things are going wrong, it’s all their fault. When things are going right, they have nothing to do with it. When public comment was about to be silenced in the meeting following Rodriguez’s firing, Jimenez stood up to then-board president Acosta and said no. She did not need to do that. She could have—and might still—lose her job for doing it. But she did the right thing, not the easy thing.
Keep doing the right thing, Jen and Alicia.
Tony Nuñez is the Managing Editor of the Pajaronian. Contact Nuñez at [email protected].