Jeanette Rodriguez-Chien will take office on July 1 as SVUSD’s Superintendent. Here she talks with the Sun’s Anna Pier about her confidence in working together to address the many issues facing the District, and her high hopes for the students and the community.
You’re currently Deputy Superintendent for San Diego County Office of Education. How does that role prepare you for the job of a District superintendent?
The beauty of being a DS at a COE is I had lots of opportunity to observe best practice in action. Currently in San Diego, overseeing 43 districts, and in Santa Clara with 30+ districts, I observed all kinds of schools, rural, urban, large and small, as they implemented many different programs. I’ve learned a lot about effective and efficient systems. I know not just theory but its application. It’s one thing to coach; I feel I’m ready to actually do it myself.
What drew you to Sonoma?
One word: potential. The longer answer, the student demographic. I’m Latina, and I’m aligned to this community. I grew up in the Boyle Heights area of LA. I know Latinx communities. I’m bilingual and biliterate, and I bring expertise in how to teach ELLs (English learners). And I want to ensure that all of our students get a well-rounded education, with innovative programs that address the whole child. Especially after the pandemic. To help students think out of the box, to solve bigger problems – community, societal, global.
Did you come with your eyes wide open? You must have been aware of the challenges, even turmoil, here.
I believe the issues are not so overwhelming that we cannot solve them. I want to rally people to do this work. There are lots of perspectives, but we need to find solutions together. I don’t want to be a hero. I want to build heroes, with everyone invested in the process.
Do you have any experience with turmoil?
My first job as principal, I came into a school in trauma from the passing, after much absence, of a beloved principal. The teachers were running the school, which was in a community with lots of poverty and violence.There were many issues to address. I am grateful for this experience.
How will you approach the job?
Any leader coming in new needs to understand the context, the culture, the community. To “get the lay of the land,” so I can bring people along with me. To get to know the community’s priorities: all the stakeholders, including students, all the parents, community including nonprofits and businesses. I need to get the voice of the staff, and I want to hear the students, because it is really all about them, and they are too often left out of the process. To be transparent, I should tell you that I’m already doing this. For the past three weeks, in the evening I have been talking with people in Sonoma. I am really doing two jobs. Anne Ching and the Cabinet have connected me with the Directors. I will be introduced at the Board meeting on June 1, and there’s a meet and greet with admin, and one with staff.
Have you connected yet with the Latinx community?
I haven’t had the opportunity yet, but I am very much looking forward to the engagement.
Specifics for beginning?
My Entry Plan is to devote 90 -100 days to finding out what people want to sustain or to address. Il’l be reviewing all the documents – School Site Plans, LCAP, etc. Finding out the glaring priorities. Mostly qualitative data, but also quantitative. After 100 days, I will report to the Board. Together we will figure out how to address them.
How do you understand your relationship to the Board?
We need mutual respect and mutual trust. My job is to get the best information to the trustees, so they can make sound decisions. I am not going anywhere soon. Relationships need nurturing, time for growth. The Superintendent and Trustees should have a cohesive dream. Kids are our common ground. My job and my purpose is to make a difference for kids.
I just found a house. It was important to me to live in Sonoma. I need to be immersed to really understand the community.
Tell me about your surname. Is it French, meaning “dog”?
No (laughing), it’s Mandarin, and means “money.” My ex-husband was Chinese. It’s pronounced “chin.” I was born Jeanette Rodriguez.
What was your childhood dream?
Perhaps because my mother, who was a Special Ed assistant, sort of hovered, I thought I didn’t want to be in teaching. As a teenager, I wanted to be a civil engineer, but I ended up applying to college as undeclared. After exploring classes in different fields, I decided on cognitive psychology – how the brain functions, how we learn. I graduated early from UCLA, so my mother suggested I try a job opening in a LA Unified school 5th grade. I did, and that was it. I never looked back.
What would you like our readers to know?
I want the community to see me as a human being, one who cares deeply about people. I followed the high and low points of my own children’s school years. I feel all the students of Sonoma are my kids, and what I wanted for my own children, I want for all the students of Sonoma.