STOCKTON UNIFIED SCHOOL District’s new biliterate superintendent of schools hosted a meet and greet with the community Wednesday evening inside the Arthur Coleman Administrative Complex in Stockton.
Michelle Rodriguez, the former superintendent of Pajaro Valley Unified School District in Monterey, will be entering the new position amid the San Joaquin County District Attorney’s investigation into possible fraud in the district, audit reports and deaths of students.
“I am here today to tell you that I am not here to fix you. I am not here to fix the system,” Rodriguez told the crowd. “I am here to lead, to support, and to collaborate with you so we jointly move Stockton forward.”
AngelAnn Flores, the district’s board president for Area 2, said during the interview process that Rodriguez had ideas on how to fix the district budget, had done a study on the district needs and had already watched previous board meetings.
“So, she really knew the type of fire she was stepping into … and she still said yes to Stockton Unified,” Flores said.
Before showcasing her plans and ideas for the school district Rodriguez gave attendees some insight into her personal life and explained how she became an educator.
“I am here today to tell you that I am not here to fix you. I am not here to fix the system. I am here to lead, to support, and to collaborate with you so we jointly move Stockton forward.”Superintendent Michelle Rodriguez
“I come from a family of educators,” Rodriguez said. “Almost every single person in my family is in education.”
Rodriguez said for several years she lived in Spain and was a dual immersion teacher where she taught in English and Spanish. Her bilingual ability could be of use for the approximately 45 percent of Stockton’s residents who are Latino.
She said one of her personal beliefs was that children are the heartbeat of what educators do and that to keep the best interests of students in mind she may make some decisions that won’t be the easiest but will be best for the students.
During a presentation Rodriguez said some of her plans include goals of giving students a world-class education, continuing to be inclusive and care about diversity and holding people accountable including herself, and give a 30-day progress report.
“I just learned this yesterday, but I think it’s amazing … 75 percent of all graduates stay in Stockton,” Rodriguez said. “So that means if we have a world-class education, we’re going to have a world-class community.”
Getting ready for day one
She said to prepare for the first day of the school year she has already held meetings with the former interim superintendent and has worked with the SUSD board trustees to better understand what they want and need for the students in their district.
From July to September, she said there will be listening sessions held with sites, departments, union leaders, elected officials, parent leaders and community partners to understand the current challenges being seen and priorities.
Earlier this year FCMAT, a state agency that works with California’s education agencies to identify and resolve financial and operational problems, found in their “extraordinary audit” alleged sufficient evidence of fraud, misappropriation of funds and other possibly illegal fiscal practices within the school district.
Following the FCMAT report, the agency recommended that the San Joaquin County superintendent notify the governing board of SUSD, the state controller, the state superintendent of public instruction, and the county district attorney about the possible findings of fraud and possible violations of the state’s Brown Act laws regarding public meetings.
A civil grand jury report released this month stated that more could be done to keep schools in the county safe after examining 14 public schools and the county’s Office of Education.
In the report jurors raised the question of whether schools in their district are taking appropriate measures to protect students and staff.
In 2022, Alycia Reynaga, 15, was fatally stabbed on the campus of Stagg High School in Stockton after a man entered the campus through an unattended security checkpoint.
Earlier this year, two Cesar Chavez High School students were attacked at Unity Park. Thai Khin, 17, died after being shot and another student was pistol-whipped.
Making strides on safety
Rodriguez said the district has begun making “really good” strides on safety and noted that safety was one of the main components that parents are talking about.
She said the district has been focusing on cameras at the school gates to make visitors buzz onto the campus and kiosks where people sign in and add their personal information into the device that will be run through a database.
“We definitely need to have a focus on school safety because we know that when parents send their child, they expect them to be safe,” Rodriguez said. “And that’s not always how people feel now in public schools, right?”
Victoria Franco is a reporter based in Stockton covering San Joaquin County for Bay City News Foundation and its nonprofit news site Local News Matters. She is a Report for America corps member.