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New SUSD Superintendent Aims to Restore Community Trust

Dr. Michelle Rodriguez. Photo courtesy of the Office of the Superintendent.
Dr. Michelle Rodriguez. Photo courtesy of the Office of the Superintendent.

Dr. Michelle Rodriguez is the new Superintendent for the Stockton Unified School District. She assumed her office on July 1, 2023. She is an action-driven and goal oriented superintendent who has gone out to set and accomplish many goals that she believes will bring restoration to the SUSD community. Her goals for restoration were based around the fact that her position was marred by a scandal.

After a year in office, former SUSD Superintendent John Ramirez resigned on June 9, 2022. According to the Stockton Record, Ramirez said the reasoning was that he wanted to focus on caring for his elderly parents.

However, weeks later, the San Joaquin County Civil Grand Jury released a report about the misappropriation of district funds. Ramirez continues to be under investigation for this and a DUI charge in August of 2022.

After Ramirez’s departure, SUSD needed a new superintendent. SUSD School Board President Angle Ann Flores told the Stockton Record that they were in search of a superintendent who is “strong” as well as who “understands budgeting and hiring practices — an innovative visionary who works well with direction and collaboration, is willing to listen to the community and take risks.”

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SUSD spent $43,900 to retain the recruiting firm McPherson and Jacobson, LLC, to search for their new superintendent.

After a three-month search, Rodriguez was selected from 25 candidates.
She was elected June 6, 2023, after the SUSD Board of Trustees voted, and officially came into office later that summer.

Educational Background

For college, Rodriguez attended Chico State, where she got a part of her bachelor’s degree. She was a foreign exchange student in Alicante, Spain, originally intended to attend Alicante in Spain. However, she stayed to take care of her after her mother got sick. After her condition improved, she was sent abroad for two years. There, she earned her Master’s and later her Doctorate from USC in educational psychology and her Certified Building Official (CBO) certification.

Previous Occupation and Accomplishments

Before becoming superintendent of SUSD, Rodiguez was superintendent at Pajaro Valley School District(PVUSD) for seven years.

“I loved that community, and I loved the school district,” Rodiguez said. “ I promised them that I would be with them for seven years cause I believe you should be at some place for [the] long term to make an impact.”

Before that, she also worked in San Anna for seven years and in the San Diego School District.

When asked about accomplishments or highlights from this previous role, Rodriguez said, “I was super proud of the fact that by the time I left, every single elementary school child had 45 minutes of music instruction and 45 minutes of gardening instruction, so I focussed heavily on building towards children’s passions and interests and talents.”

She then mentioned that the school district also went through a significant increase in dual immersion, and in her last year, their graduation rate increased by 5%, and 96% of her students were graduating from high school this past year.

Transitioning

There were a couple of factors that led to Rodriguez making the transition from superintendent of PVUSD to superintendent of SUSD. One factor was that she believed in keeping her promises, so after serving the seven years she promised to PVUSD she promised herself that she would return to a bigger school district.

The two school districts she worked at before PVUSD were larger, and she wanted to return to working at a bigger school district so she could impact more kids.

Rodriguez said that her main target is to serve vulnerable student populations that focus on helping Latino students.

So when it was announced that SUSD was searching for a new superintendent, Rodriguez looked into it and decided it would be where she spent the last eight years of her career.

Rodriguez said that she had a list of things she wanted from the last school district she would serve in, such as having over 30k in student population, having a large population of Latino students, as well as English learners and students living in poverty. Additionally, Rodriguez said she wanted to stay in California, so SUSD had all she sought.

Goals for SUSD

When asked about the goals she set out to accomplish upon entering the superintendent position at SUSD, Rodriguez said she had been working on a 100-day plan built around four key points. These were quality assurance, high expectations, operation and efficiency, and community trust. This plan was released on Oct. 18, along with 44 “priority recommendations.”
“We’re making really good strides on those recommendations,” said Rodriguez. Rodriguez will publish the district’s progress regarding those 44 recommendations on Jan.18, 2024.

Rodriguez has been working on accomplishing her goals for SUSD through feedback from people in the district. Twice a week, Rodriguez has what she calls “conversations with the superintendent,” where she meets with different district staff members each week.
“I try to be with staff as much as I can,” said Rodriguez, “…so that I can continue to hear what needs to change.”

Additionally, on Dec. 1, Rodriguez released her applications for Superintendent Student Advisory.

Restoring Trust

In the middle of searching for the new superintendent, Angel Ann Flores told the Stockton Record that they are looking for a superintendent who could “restore hope and trust in the community and (who) understands that we are going to be demanding results through action.”

For this reason, Rodriguez’s 100-day plan has a whole section on community trust . Rodriguez believes trust is built on “one decision, one interaction, one day at a time.”

Rodriguez believes that to build trust, one must be “ever-present.” Moreover, for that reason, she has visited every single campus in SUSD.
“I think what I’ve heard from some is that they haven’t had a superintendent on their campus in 10 years… for me, I think that one way of building trust is building relationships.”

Rodriguez acknowledges that many superintendents fail to do those things because any work they do not complete during the workday they are then expected to be completed at home. However, she says she is willing to do that to rebuild trust in the SUSD community.

Rodriguez concluded the interview by saying, “I think it’s good for the community, for the system to see the highest official keep themselves accountable to what they’re supposed to do, and so I’m actually kind of an action-driven superintendent, so I actually appreciate the pressure.”

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