WATSONVILLE—The Pajaro Valley Unified School District Board of Trustees on Wednesday fired Superintendent Michelle Rodriguez after a closed-session meeting that delayed the beginning of the public session by more than two hours.
The decision came after a 4-3 vote, with trustees Jennifer Holm, Maria Orozco and Kim De Serpa dissenting. Trustees Oscar Soto, Georgia Acosta, Jennifer Schacher and Daniel Dodge, Jr. voted in favor.
There was no discussion about the decision. Acosta, the board president, did not immediately return repeated calls, emails and texts for comment. Likewise, Schacher, Soto and Dodge did not immediately respond to several requests for comment.
Employers typically are legally restrained from discussing personnel matters.
Rodriguez’s termination came one day after her father died. During their comments, the trustees all gave their condolences, despite the fact that she was absent.
Rodriguez was hired in August 2016, replacing Dorma Baker. It is not yet clear when she will be replaced. Such positions normally are first put out to the public for candidates, who face a thorough vetting process.
The trustees will convene for a special meeting on Friday at 4pm to discuss appointing an interim superintendent.
In an email, Rodriguez said she was not allowed to attend the closed-session meeting where the vote occurred, and was not given a reason the board invoked the early termination clause in her contract.
“I believe in the students, staff and families of Pajaro Valley Unified,” she wrote. “For the last 4 1/2 years I have served them with dedication and commitment to move towards greater levels of educational equity.
“We were doing powerful work and I hope that the staff continues to center their focus on what is best for our students,” she added.
The announcement came after a short meeting with a visibly shaken board making otherwise routine decisions about district business.
De Serpa said that, under Rodriguez’s tenure, student achievement was improving for the first time in recent memory.
“This is a devastating blow for PVUSD for sure,” De Serpa said. “The impact she has made to the youth in this district cannot be overestimated.”
De Serpa also said that Rodriguez was able to move the long-awaited track and field project at Pajaro Valley High School forward for the first time since the school was completed in 2004.
She was also responsible for the purchase of the district headquarters known as the Towers, a move that saved the district an estimated $28 million over 30 years.
She also helped bring back performing arts and music back to the district after they were slashed by previous budget cuts, De Serpa said.
In addition, Rodriguez brought to the district a student film program created by actor Edward James Olmos called the Youth Cinema Project, she said.
Rodriguez also saved money by creating a district-run Career and Technical Education program, which was formerly run by the Santa Cruz County Office of Education, De Serpa said.
“Those types of collaborative programs were direct results of her ingenuity,” De Serpa said. “She improved every single department and process noticeably. Measurably.”
Pajaro Valley Federation of Teachers President Nelly Vaquera-Boggs said the news came as a “complete surprise.”
“What we’re wanting to stay focused on is the continued mission of serving our students, and supporting them through these challenging times,” Vaquera-Boggs said.
Alicia Jimenez, who served as Rodriguez’s assistant before becoming the district spokeswoman, said she considered her a “warrior for our students.”
“I think for the first time we brought some real learning experience for these kids,” Jimenez said. “We were led by someone who is knowledgeable, who cares about education. Her only job every day was for the kids. I have never seen such dedication.”
Jimenez said she thinks the district will weather the coming transition thanks to Rodriguez’s work.
“We have a very strong foundation that will be leading the way,” she said. “As long as we stay on that pathway our students should continue to reap the benefits of these four years.”