WATSONVILLE—Since the Covid-19 pandemic forced the closure of schools nationwide, education officials have been struggling to rebound from the significant—and unanticipated—academic and emotional toll at-home learning wrought on young people.
Pajaro Valley Unified School District has since boosted its ranks of socio-emotional counselors and mental health clinicians and doubled down on its efforts to teach literacy to young people, says Superintendent Michelle Rodriguez.
The District has also taken strides to reverse the recession-era cuts to music and art in its schools, with those programs back in most classrooms.
For those efforts, and for her work since she joined the District seven years ago, Rodriguez received a resolution in October signed by Assemblymembers Robert Rivas and Mark Stone, and by Sen. John Laird. Among other things, the resolution highlighted the fact that she was awarded the 2022 Community Hero Award by the Community Indicators Consortium.
“All of that is recognition of the work that staff and myself and our administrator team have done to try to rebound from the pandemic,” she said. “I know that many are tired of talking about the pandemic, but I think the ripple effects are still there.”
According to Rodriguez, the district increased its mental health clinicians from six to 17, and its socio-emotional counselors have increased by 160%.
Both of these, she said, are vital as students continue to readjust from the isolation of the pandemic.
“Whether it’s adults or children, a lot of people are still trying to rebound from Covid, so my job is remembering where we were prior to Covid and helping us get back on that path,” she said.
Rodriguez also says she recently expanded the District’s Student Advisory Committee from 12 to 44. That group meets regularly to advise administration on such topics as equity, counseling services, scheduling and college and career support. The District will implement some of the group’s suggestions on food services in the upcoming semester, she says.
That, she says, is part of her philosophy of seeking community feedback that includes her online Ask Dr. Rodriguez column and her weekly Friday message to staff.
“We’re making sure we react to what we hear, and listen to feedback of what we hear so we can alter what we do in response to it,” she said.
In the wake of the learning loss associated with the pandemic—which slowed academic progress and made teaching literacy to lower grades all the more challenging—Rodriguez said that test scores are beginning to rebound in second and third grades.
“We show that students are making a Herculean effort to improve,” she said. “Our internal measures show we’re rebounding really well and so I feel that we’re going to get back to where we need to be.”
And part of that, Rodriguez says, is the District’s mission of putting students first, and trying to connect with their passions, interests and talents to make them want to come to school.
“My focus on every action we have taken has tried to be with children in mind,” she said.
“We want children to love school,” she said. “We want them to see the benefit of school, and that school is for them. And then, how do everything we do lead us toward that effort, toward making school be a place where they feel like they belong.”